50 years ago Greenpeace was launched in the Fireside Room

The meeting in the Fireside Room that launched the voyage of a fishing boat renamed Greenpeace to Amchitka Island

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Above: Fireside Room as seen in 2020

Few people know a meeting in the Fireside Room at Hewett Centre, in 1970, ratified the first voyage of a fishing boat renamed the Greenpeace, or that the inspiration for the name Greenpeace occurred in the courtyard outside the Centre.

The now-legendary voyage of the fishing boat Phyllis Cormack, — renamed Greenpeace, — is considered the inaugural voyage of Greenpeace International, one of the most successful environmental organizations in the world today.

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Above 1971: Robert Hunter, Co-founder of Greenpeace, aboard the Phyllis Cormack
Photo Credit: Robert Keziere | He writes: My contact sheets indicate the photo was taken at sea, eastbound, somewhere between Akutan Island and Sand Point, Alaska. Our ship was underway to the customs office in Sand Point, alas, away from Amchitka Island and the Cannikin nuclear test. Understood at the time.

According to the author Rex Weyler, in 1970, an eclectic group of academics, anti-nuclear activists, ecologists, journalists and “visionaries” held an emergency meeting in the Fireside Room at the Unitarian Church on Oak Street.

Without a boat, or the funds to charter a boat, the group unanimously ratified a plan to sail a vessel to Amchitka, Alaska, to protest nuclear testing at this remote island 2400 miles north of Vancouver, BC.

As the meeting wound down, people drifted into the church courtyard, and congregated in small groups to continue their discussion. Irving Stowe flashed the “V” sign as he left the meeting and said, “Peace.” Bill Darnell an ecology activist responded, “Make it a green peace.”

A hush fell over the assembly.

Everyone heard the magic in the two words. Over the next few days, people talked about the hypothetical boat as if it existed, and some called it the “Green Peace.”

Above: Courtyard outside Hewett Centre

Above 1970: Amchitka Concert, backstage at the Pacific Coliseum. On the right, from background to foreground: Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Elliot Roberts (Neil Young‘s manager), Phil Ochs

On October 16, 1970: Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Phil Ochs and the band Chilliwack performed in the historic Amchitka Concert before 16,000 people at the Pacific Coliseum in East Vancouver. The money raised was used to charter a 25-metre fishing boat, the Phyllis Cormack based in Richmond, BC.

On September 15, 1971: the Phyllis Cormack, renamed Green Peace and then Greenpeace, set sail from Vancouver for Amchitka with a crew of 12 activists. The vessel was turned back by the US Coast Guard 600 miles before reaching its destination.

This voyage is considered the inauguration of the eponymous Greenpeace International, a global environmental organisation and movement, headquartered in Amsterdam, with offices in more than 55 countries.


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Environment • Social Justice • Stories from the Past