Curiosity, high energy levels push Paquet to success
Maggie Paquet's immense intellectual curiosity is matched only by her high energy levels.
She has been a legal secretary, a Hansard editor and a group home operator. For the past few years, she has combined her passions for letters and sciences into a career as an independent consultant, writer and editor, while doubling as a chief elections officer and environmental activist.
This outspoken lady was a war baby, born in Lancashire, England, to an English mother and an American father. She was three years old when the family moved to the Lansing, Michigan area, where she grew up. Her father, grandfather and all of her brothers were mechanics and engineers.
"My dad won the Legion of Merit for his inventions in aircraft that are still used today," she said.
So great is her respect for mechanical skill, that she once dumped a boyfriend who refused to get his hands dirty.
"My car broke down, and I got out, raised the hood, and noticed there was water in my fuel line. I hollered out to him to come tell me what was wrong with my car. He said he didn't know, but he wasn't going to get any grease under his fingernails. I thought, 'Oh right. You're out of here,'" she said.
After studying comparative literature and earth sciences at Michigan State University, she travelled widely, living in New York City and San Francisco, before heading to Montreal for Expo 67. In La Belle Province, she met a Scottish boy named Rob whose family had moved to Victoria. He followed her back to Michigan, where she worked for the U.S. Post Office, winning a big cash award for an idea that saved them millions of dollars. When she used her prize to visit her relatives in England, Rob came along. The couple lived in Britain, where Paquet worked in the law courts of Lincoln's Inn, for two years. When they returned to Canada one chilly October, they hitchhiked all the way from Gander, Nfld, to Victoria in October.
"Boy, was it cold. And it took a long time," she said.
But the trip opened her eyes to the beauty and diversity of Canada's landscape and wildlife and made her wish that she had studied biology.
In Victoria, Paquet got a job as a secretary with a legal aid lawyer, then moved on to bigger law firms, mostly working on family law and doing a lot of court registry work. When one of her employers tried to push her into switching to real estate law, she left to become a Hansard editor and transcriber.
"That was probably the most enjoyable job I ever had, because I've always been interested in politics," she said.
At the same time, she and her husband operated a group home for emotionally disturbed teenagers, caring for up to five kids at a time, mostly boys. The youngsters thrived under their care.
"My husband was a carpenter, a builder and a heck of a fine mechanic," she said. "He had great success with some of the boys. Instead of stealing cars, which a lot of them did, he got old wrecks and showed them how to fix them up."
Paquet grew a big vegetable garden and made sure the kids were properly fed.
"The police would come over and showcase our place. They called it the health food group home," she said.
Unfortunately, tensions within the marriage led to a break-up after a few years. Paquet decided to go back to university to pursue her interest in biology and anthropology. One day she answered an ad in the paper looking for someone to type manuscripts.
"I was so lucky. The person was Nancy Turner, one of Canada's foremost ethno-botanists," she said.
After completing her science degree, Paquet worked at Hansard when the Legislature was sitting, and also got a job with B.C. Parks as an interpreter at Goldstream. She loved it so much that she went back to volunteer after being laid off two years later. During her Victoria years, she wrote a book, B.C. Parks Explorer.
In the mid-1980s, she went to work in Vancouver, where she was hired to write a tourist travel book called Vancouver, the Second Century and embarked on a new career as a self-employed writer, editor and consultant. While living in North Vancouver, she wrote, designed, published and marketed a second book on B.C. parks, called Parks of British Columbia and the Yukon. During the next three years, she would sell 10,000 copies.
"I took my niece and nephew from Wyoming and my big malamute dog, and we marketed my book all through B.C. and the Yukon. I did bookstore signings and library presentations," she said. "I put up with two prepubescent teens squabbling constantly. And I just loved it."
She has done many newsletters for environmental groups, and a lot of writing and editing for the B.C. Wildlife branch of the Ministry of the Environment, including the background documents for the grizzly bear and mountain caribou conservation strategies, and a book on the effects of access on tinhorn mountain sheep in the Muskwa-Kechika.
In 1999, she came to Port Alberni to housesit for a friend and decided to stay.
"I liked that I could walk almost everywhere. People were friendly. Bread was cheaper than in Vancouver, and so was the rent. I decided I liked the place," she said.
Since setting in the Alberni Valley, Paquet has been deeply involved with the Bear Aware program. She wrote bear hazard assessments for a number of municipalities and regional districts, including Lions Bay, Coquitlam, Squamish, North Vancouver and Port Alberni. She has also written bear-people conflict management plans for Port Alberni and Whistler and cowrote a plan for the Upper Slocan Valley with noted bear biologist Wayne McCrory.
She won a B.C. public service award for organizing the Bear Aware program in Ucluelet and Tofino.
"My strength was in bringing together a really wide variety of volunteers from those communities, including First Nations, hunters, rabid environmentalists, people fed up with bears getting into their garbage, people who would never call a conservation officer because they were afraid a bear would be shot, RCMP and conservation officers," she said.
She jumped right into environmental activism by teaming up with Keith and Bernadette Whytton in the Citzens Stewardship Coalition in their successful opposition to B.C. Hydro's plan to put a gas-fired electricity generation plant on Tebo Avenue.
"Nobody wanted it. Even doctors and nurses and people who never spoke out about anything showed up to speak at the rezoning hearing," she said.
She has also done considerable volunteer work on a national scale with the Canadian environmental network on mining and fisheries issues. In September of 2010, she became the first ever recipient of the Martha Kostuch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Environmental Network and got a standing ovation from the 200 people who attended the ceremony in Montreal.
She has also served as chief electoral officer in elections for several First Nations bands, including the Ucluelet, Huu-ay-aht, Kyuquot-Checkleseht, Hupacasath and Snuneymuxw.
"I sometimes wonder who am I anyway," she said. "Am I a biologist, a writer or a s-t disturber? But being a Gemini, I can handle it."