Park warden and outdoor enthusiast Michel Vallée courted his future wife on horseback


Michel Joseph Hubert Vallee: Forest. Teacher. Nature lovers. Canoe builder. Born January 6, 1950 in Trois-Rivières, Quebec; died January 5, 2022 in Nanaimo, BC; lung cancer; 71 years old

Michael Vallee.Courtesy of family

When you went for a walk in the woods with Michel Vallée, you were offered all kinds of esoteric details concerning the lay of the land, the flow of the streams, the nature of the soil and the trees – especially the trees.

Michel was a professional forester and for 30 years a professor of forestry at Vancouver Island University, specializing in forest policy, soil science and silviculture. Everything came naturally to him. He was a lifelong outdoorsman and always eager to share his knowledge.

Michel grew up in the Montreal suburb of Pierrefonds and after graduating from high school he headed to Vancouver. He worked several summers in northern British Columbia and the Yukon as part of a mining exploration crew, flying in places accessible only by helicopter. The job required hauling heavy equipment halfway up mountains, walking through swamps, weaving through willows, all while battling relentless insects and dodging grizzly bears. For weeks he lived in the wild, sleeping and eating in tents and bathing in glacier-fed creeks.

Destined for a career in the outdoors, he studied forestry at Selkirk College in Castlegar, British Columbia, in the mid-1970s. After graduation, he worked in the field for several years, including for the Ministry of British Columbia Forests on Vancouver Island. He would later complete a Bachelor of Science in Forestry at the University of British Columbia, but his instinct for adventure led him in another direction.

In the summer of 2020, Michel brought the canoe he built to Westwood Lake in Nanaimo, BC for its maiden voyage.Alexandra Vallée/Courtesy of the family

He became a park ranger, first in Waterton Lakes National Park and later in Yoho National Park, where he lived in a cabin beside Takakkaw Falls and spent many days on horseback. It was there that he met Sheila McWilliams, a nurse. She remembers the meetings with Michel on horseback. They have been married for 40 years and have three children, Nicholas, Stephen and Alexandra.

In the late 1980s, he joined the Department of Forestry at Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, where he taught before retiring in 2018. He has been involved with the Association of BC Forest Professionals and the Canadian Institute of Forestry.

As a teacher and parent, Michel exuded energy and warmth. He had a wry and sometimes irreverent sense of humor. Someone described him as sassy. He pushed his children to explore and berated his students for calling the floor dirt. The dirt was something under your fingernails. The ground was life.

Now adults, the children remember the mischievous and sometimes “slightly delinquent” behavior of their father, as Alexandra puts it. Like the time he poured vodka into water glasses at an unexciting forestry convention. Or taking out-of-town attendees to the mountains instead of sitting through another long seminar.

Stephen remembers weekends looking for a secluded lake for a day of fishing. While he enjoys those times with his dad, he wonders why they couldn’t go to a lake closer to home.

Alexandra, who followed her father into forestry, says she almost quit within the first week of her first job, trudging over the rough terrain. She called her father crying. “He assured me that it would get easier, that I would find my bearings and everything would click into place. I didn’t quit and that first job made me stronger and able to understand the tough exterior of my father after all these years working in the woods.

At home, Michel’s scientific mind demanded order. Nicholas describes him as demanding, meticulous, stubborn and sometimes bossy. Be careful if you have not loaded the dishwasher correctly.

In the summer of 2020, while undergoing cancer treatment, Michel built a cedar strip canoe, which took over the family garage. It was a beautiful canoe and it floated on the water like a leaf. Michel’s perfectionist nature meant that woodworking had to be precise. He was most proud of his achievement, but the second canoe, he promises, would be even better.

Rob Dykstra is a longtime friend.

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