Art Downs, once described as "the first of the environmental editors," became one of the forefathers of the B.C. publishing industry.
Arthur George Downs was born in 1924 in England and emigrated with his parents at age five. They settled in northeastern Saskatchewan, where he grew up during the Depression. “I attended a typical one-room rural school," he recalled, "with a frustrated teacher attempting to teach grades 1-8 to some 50 impoverished farm boys and girls." His father joined the Canadian Navy during the Second World War and the family came to the west coast. In 1943, Downs joined the merchant navy and worked for seven years, mainly as a radio officer. Unable to pursue his hopes of becoming a reporter due to his lack of experience, he returned to help operate his father's ranch in the Quesnel River Valley in the Cariboo. "Our ranch was the same as about 90 percent of Cariboo ranches," he said. "The owner needed an outside job to support the operation. I reluctantly abandoned ranching but left with a double legacy—the knack of stilling a potent beverage christened 'Quesnel River Screech' and an incurable malady known as Caribooitis. The most noticeable symptom of the latter affliction is an unsettled feeling when the victim is anywhere else except the Cariboo."
His first published story, “The Saga of the Upper Fraser Sternwheelers,” appeared in 1950 in the Cariboo Digest, a regional magazine published in Quesnel since 1945. With Wes Logan, he bought the Cariboo Digest from Alex Sahonovich in 1955 and became its editor. It evolved into BC Outdoors, a successful blend of history, wildlife and conservation that served a broad readership. He didn't believe in fishing derbies or trophies, but he recognized the importance of tourism. He deplored clear-cut logging and was a tireless conservationist and grassroots organizer. Selling BC Outdoors in 1979, he and his wife Doris turned to publishing books by BC writers and for BC readers under the name Heritage House. Downs eschewed the city and affected a down-to-earth bluntness that disguised his sophistication. Along the way he served as president of the BC Wildlife Federation, director of the Canadian Wildlife Federation and a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission. He died at his home in Surrey on August 13, 1996.
We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts,
and of the province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.