In the mid-1960s, as the Vietnam War escalated, over one million draft resisters and deserters fled the US, 150,000 to Canada, the largest single political exodus in US history. Among them were Irving and Dorothy Stowe from Providence, Rhode Island; Jim and Marie Bohlen from Pennsylvania; Will and Ann Jones from California, and others who played a role in the founding of Greenpeace.
In Vancouver, BC, they met Canadian peace and ecology activists such as Denno Birmingham, Bill Darnell, and Rod Marining, and established journalists such as Bob Hunter and Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe. In 1965, the United States began a series of nuclear tests on Amchitka Island in the Aleutians. The Vancouver pacifists rallied to stop these tests.
December 1968: An environmental group called “SPEC” (Scientific Pollution and Environmental Control Society) was founded in Vancouver by Gwen and Derrick Mallard and Dr. Alfred Turnbull. Bob Hunter, Terry Simmons, and Irving Stowe attended some of these meetings.
1969: Hunter visited Cliff Humphrey in Berkeley, whose Ecology Action group had staged creative environmental protests. In Vancouver, Hunter and Hamish Bruce formed a similar activist group that they called the “Green Panthers.” They bought a boat for ecology actions, but the badly damaged boat eventually sank.
Journalist Ben Metcalfe – on his own initiative, at a cost of $4,000 – placed twelve billboards around Vancouver. “If you can promote companies and products,” he told his friends, “you can promote ideas.” The billboards declared:
“Ecology? Look it up! You’re involved.”
Summer of 1969: a stranger showed up at Bob and Zoe Hunter’s home and delivered a copy of the Naturegraph book: Warriors of the Rainbow: Strange and Prophetic Dreams of the Indian People. This book played a significant role later.
August 1969: the United States announced a one-megaton nuclear bomb test, “Milrow,” scheduled for October on Amchitka Island, in the Aleutian Islands.
September 1969: Terry Simmons, a geography student at Simon Fraser University held a meeting of 30 Sierra Club members affiliated with the US organization in Seattle. They formed The Sierra Club of British Columbia. Jim and Marie Bohlen joined, along with Katy Madsen, who was fighting uranium mining in BC, and Ken Farquharson from a group saving the Skagit River valley. Farquharson was elected the first Chairman; Jim Bohlen headed the Conservation Committee.
September 24, 1969: Bob Hunter wrote in the Vancouver Sun: “The United States will begin to play a game of Russian roulette with a nuclear pistol pressed against the head of the world.” He had researched the risk of an earthquake and threat of a tidal wave. “There is a distinct danger,” he wrote, “that the tests might set in motion earthquakes and tidal waves which could sweep from one end of the Pacific to the other.” This wave image would prove important.
September 29, 1969: SPEC – Gwen and Derrick Mallard – organized a demonstration at the US Consulate in downtown Vancouver to protest the nuclear bomb test. Bob Hunter made placards for the protest and came up with, “DON’T MAKE A WAVE.” Attending this protest were Bob and Zoe Hunter, Irving Stowe, Bob Cummings, Lille d’Easum, Paul Watson, Ben Metcalfe, Rod Marining, Paul and Linda Spong, and others who would eventually form the core of Greenpeace.
October 1, 1969: SPEC and the UBC Alma Mater Society organized a demonstration at the US/Canadian border. The same group was there, blockading the highway. Irving and Dorothy Stowe held the Quaker banner. SPEC brandished their DON’T MAKE A WAVE signs. That night, the Milrow blast was detonated 4,000 feet below the surface of Amchitka Island. The blast registered a Richter 6.9 shockwave.
October 25, 1969: Cartoonist Ron Cobb designed the ecology symbol and published it in the Los Angeles Free Press. In December, Hunter reproduced the symbol in his Vancouver Sun column. “I venture to predict,” Hunter wrote, “that it will become as familiar as the peace symbol.” In that same month, Marshall McLuhan, working for Toronto’s Pollution Probe, said: “In the 1970s we will see a rampage of ecological prosecutions.” McLuhan’s media theories had a profound effect on Hunter, Metcalfe, and ultimately on Greenpeace.
November 1969: the US Department of Defence announced a 5-megaton thermonuclear test, Cannikin, scheduled for Amchitka in the fall of 1971. Quaker pacifist Irving Stowe wanted to form a group to protest the bomb and he borrowed the name “Don’t Make a Wave” from the SPEC slogan coined by Hunter. Dorothy Stowe recruited the BC Association of Social Workers and Deeno Birmingham from the B.C. Voice of Women. Jim and Marie Bohlen and Terry Simmons from the Sierra Club joined. Bohlen recruited Paul Cote, a law student he met at the border blockade. Stowe, Bohlen, and Cote became directors of the Don’t Make A Wave Committee.
Irving Stowe recruited Hunter, Ben Metcalfe, Bill Darnell, and Rod Marining, who were working on the same project through SPEC or independently. As working journalists, Metcalfe and Hunter were the most prominent ecology voices in Vancouver, at the CBC and The Vancouver Sun. Bob Cummings, writing for the radical underground Georgia Straight, helped promote the cause and joined the group.
December 11, 1969: Fishermen trapped twelve whales in Pender Harbour, 50 miles north of Vancouver. New Zealand scientist Dr. Paul Spong and his wife Linda visited the whales and recorded the interaction of the captured whales with free whales outside the nets. Dr. Spong had been hired by the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Aquarium to study the first captive Orcinus orca, Skana. Spong’s experience with the whale had converted him into a full-time advocate for whales. Eventually, the Spongs’ passion for whales would change the face of Greenpeace and the environmental movement.
February 8, 1970: Marie Bohlen, inspired by the Quaker boat Golden Rule, came up with the idea to send a boat to Amchitka to protest the nuclear tests. The Vancouver Sun announced the plan as a Sierra Club campaign, but when the Sierra Club in California rejected the idea, Vancouver’s Don’t Make a Wave Committee embraced it. At a meeting at the Unitarian Church that week, as Irving Stowe flashed the "V" sign and said “Peace,” Bill Darnell, replied modestly, “Make it a green peace.”
February 15, 1970: The Vancouver Sun ran story about the intended voyage, dropping the Sierra Club reference and mentioning a boat to be called “the Greenpeace,” the first time the term appeared in print as a single word.
Marie Bohlen’s son, Paul Nonnast, designed the first button with the ecology symbol above, the peace symbol below, and in the middle, the single word: GREENPEACE. The Don’t Make A Wave Committee published the first “Greenpeace” pamphlet in March 1970: Nuclear Testing in the Aleutians, written by 71-year-old Lille d’Easum, an executive of the BC Voice of Women.
March 1970: Paul Cote met Captain John Cormack, 60, on a Fraser River dock, and Cormack agreed to use his fishing boat, the Phyllis Cormack, for the voyage. The boat was renamed “Greenpeace” for the campaign.
October 5, 1970: Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Phil Ochs, and BC band Chilliwack staged a benefit concert in Vancouver for the Don’t Make a Wave Committee, which raised $17,000. Thereafter, the Sierra Club and Quaker groups in the US contributed funding to the campaign.
1971: Hunter, Metcalfe, Bohlen, Darnell, and Simmons formed the activist core of the boat crew. Underground journalist Bob Cummings, ecologist Patrick Moore, engineer Dave Birmingham, medical doctor Lyle Thurston, and photographer Robert Keziere joined them. When Marie Bohlen decided to stay ashore, Lou Hogan and Rod Marining stood next on the waiting list. Marining deferred to Hogan, believing that a woman should be on the boat, as did Hunter and Metcalfe. In the end, Richard Fineberg, who had met Bohlen in Alaska, joined the crew instead of Hogan. Marining later met the boat in Kodiak in October 1971 and replaced Fineberg on the crew.
September 15, 1971: the Phyllis Cormack, rechristened Greenpeace for the voyage, departed Vancouver.
Throughout the voyage, Dorothy Metcalfe served as the primary media link, via radio in her home. She and Irving Stowe acted as local spokespersons.
During the voyage, Hunter re-read the book: Warriors of the Rainbow, which had been given to him two years earlier. He was particularly moved by the story called “Return of the Indian Spirit,” in which a 12-year-old boy’s Great Grandmother, Eyes of Fire, tells him of a prophecy that someday people from all the races of the world will join together to save the earth from destruction. Hunter begins talking to others on the crew about the “Warriors of the Rainbow.” In his September 25 newspaper column, Hunter wrote about the myth of the “Warriors of the Rainbow.”
September 30, 1971: The Greenpeace boat was arrested the US Coast Guard at Akutan Island, charged with a customs infraction, and sent back to Sand Point for formal customs entry. However, eighteen crewmembers of the Coast Guard ship signed a document in support of the protest. The Greenpeace boat never reached Amchitka Island, but the furor it set in motion was decisive in halting the series of underground tests.
October 29, 1971: On the way back to Vancouver, Hunter and Metcalfe proposed that upon their return, they should reconstitute the organization as the “Greenpeace Foundation.” Hunter borrowed the term “Foundation” from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.
During the voyage, McClelland and Stewart in Canada published Hunter’s book, The Storming of the Mind, about media and social change.
November 1, 1971: Jim Bohlen, Irving Stowe, and Paul Cote met to wrap up the Don’t Make a Wave Committee. They decided that Hunter should set up Greenpeace Foundation as a separate organization, but this isn’t what happened. The Don’t Make a Wave Committee had legal standing and a surplus of funds, so upon reflection, it seemed counterproductive to start over. Ben Metcalfe brokered a deal to keep the organization in tact and turn its attention on French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.
January 1972: Metcalfe organized a protest against Canadian Fisheries Minister Jack Davis and Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mitchell Sharp. Davis had attempted to stall boat insurance for the Phyllis Cormack, and Metcalfe wanted to force Sharp to put nuclear testing on the agenda of the United Nations Environment Conference to be held in Stockholm that summer. Ben and Dorothy Metcalfe, the Stowes, Bohlens, Hunter, Thurston, Moore, and Keziere went to a Liberal Party brunch, where they confronted Davis and Sharp. After the event, they returned to the Metcalfe’s’ home and proclaimed themselves “The World Greenpeace Foundation” with Ben Metcalfe as chairman.
January 21, 1972: The Don’t Make a Wave Committee resolved to change its name to the “Greenpeace Foundation,” and turned over $9,678 to Dorothy and Ben Metcalfe.
May 4, 1972: The Provincial Societies office in Victoria, British Columbia registered the name, “Greenpeace Foundation.”
That spring, Metcalfe recruited David McTaggart, to sail his ketch Vega to Moruroa to protest French nuclear tests, which he did in 1972 and again in 1973 when he was severely beaten by French commandoes. The French sailors gave Greenpeace (Hunter) the idea to use Zodiacs for the whale campaign.
Paul and Linda Spong were simultaneously organizing their crusade to save the whales, which merged with Greenpeace in 1973.
November 1973: Spong, Hunter, and others formed the “Stop Ahab Committee” in
April 27, 1975: The first Greenpeace whale campaign was launched from Vancouver, again using the fish boat Phyllis Cormack, skippered by John Cormack. Greenpeace found the Russian whalers two months later, on June 27, 1975, over the Mendocino Ridge, 40 miles off the coast of California.
By 1976, the Greenpeace name was used by pacifist and ecology groups in Toronto, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Auckland. Paul Watson and David Garrick (Walrus) launched the first Greenpeace seal campaign in the spring of 1976.
The UK Greenpeace Group purchased an Aberdeen fishing trawler in 1977, renamed it Rainbow Warrior, and commenced ecology actions in the North Atlantic. A Greenpeace group in Paris made alliances with anti-nuclear and labour groups to form a political ecology movement. A group in Hamburg formed Greenpeace Germany, secured a boat, and began ecology actions on the Elbe.
Greenpeace International was formed in November 1979, in Amsterdam.
Lingering myths: Several stories have maintained that the term “Greenpeace” was independently coined in places outside Vancouver, such as London or New Zealand. These are all apocryphal.
One such story persists from the Peace News group in London, which still uses the name “Greenpeace” independently. A July 1971 issue of Peace News carried a story called “Greenpeace Survival” about the merging of the peace and ecology movements. The general discussion of pacifist philosophy makes no mention of the group in Vancouver. Dr. Frank Zelko points out correctly in his Ph.D. dissertation about the history of Greenpeace that this Peace News essay is “Similar to and perhaps lifted from Stowe’s Greenpeace is Beautiful columns. … There is no mention that the name or ideas originated in Vancouver. Perhaps a myth sprang up in the UK that Peace News had come up with the name independently.”
The Peace News group’s “History of Greenpeace (London)”, including the implication that the group coined the name in 1971, is not documented and is not supported by the historic record. Irving Stowe had been writing his “Greenpeace is Beautiful” column in Vancouver’s underground newspaper, the Georgia Straight, since 1970. The London Peace News group had subscribed to this publication and thus had access to Stowe’s columns and news of the Greenpeace campaign to Amchitka. On October 8, 1971, Peace News ran a second story about Greenpeace, quoting Ben Metcalfe and Bob Cummings, and reproducing the original Greenpeace button. The stories are clearly derivative of Stowe’s columns, Bob Hunter’s columns, and Metcalfe’s CBC commentary.
A group in Hawaii currently calls itself the “Greenpeace Foundation,” and claims to be “The oldest & original ‘greenpeace’ in the USA.” In fact, the first Greenpeace entity in the US was Greenpeace San Francisco, founded in 1975, followed by groups in Seattle, Portland, Denver, and elsewhere. These offices became “Greenpeace USA” in 1979. A Greenpeace anti-whaling boat, the minesweeper James Bay – with crew from Canada, the US and Japan – visited Hawaii in 1976 after two seasons of confronting whalers in the Pacific. Thereafter, a group of whale advocates in Hawaii adopted the Greenpeace name in 1977, affiliated with Greenpeace USA in 1979, and later broke away. Although the Hawaii group has contributed a great deal to environmental action since the late 1970s, it’s claims of being the first Greenpeace group in the US and of being “the sole organizational remnant of the 1970’s-era Greenpeace organizations” are not accurate. The original Greenpeace Foundation became Greenpeace Canada in 1979 upon the creation of Greenpeace International, a lineage unambiguously reflected in the historic record.
The Hawaii and London groups continue to perform useful work, and their differences of policy with Greenpeace International may be relevant, but their revisions of history are not supported by the record. The history of these events, including the early schisms reflected in these latter-day spin-offs, are documented in Greenpeace: How A Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World. Also see Book Notes and Resources.