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Author recalls pipeline bombings seven years on

Josh Massey and a coworker were driving a company truck down a forestry road when they heard a voice over the CB radio.
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Josh Massey recently published a fantasy novel based on the pipeline bombings that took place in the Tomslake area in 2008.

Josh Massey and a coworker were driving a company truck down a forestry road when they heard a voice over the CB radio.

"We're driving out at the end of the day and basically hear a threat letter being read over a channel," said Massey, 36, seven years later from his home in Terrace. "We're like 'what the hell did we just hear?'"

It was Massey's closest brush with the Encana bombings, the series of largely-unexplained attacks on oil and gas facilities that rocked Northeast B.C. between October 2008 and July 2009. 

The saga became grist for The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree, Massey's third novel, published this month.

The "fable," as Massey calls it, is set in a fictionalized version of Northeast B.C. during the 2030s. It follows Jeffery Inkster, "an ex-hipster-turned-elk farmer" who is implicated in a series of pipeline bombings.

Laced with pseudonyms (the Peace Region becomes Enderbee County; Alberta, Cowberta; Encana, Gasbro; Dawson Creek, Byzantium), Innisfreeis a "non-linear and experimental" novel that's plenty weird. In that sense, the book fits the times that inspired it. 

"It was a close brush with something crazy going on in the woods," Massey said of his experience in Dawson Creek. "As a creative person, that inspired me later on."

Massey worked as a forestry technician in the Peace Country between 2007 and 2008.

"I was doing a lot of silviculture surveys, which was really sort of idyllic work out in regenerating forest cut blocks," he said. "It was such a peaceful, wonderful job." 

That work put Massey in and around Tomslake, the epicentre of the bombings. Threat letters like the one read over the CB radio were delivered to the Dawson Creek Daily News office, among other places. 

The first bomb, discovered by a hunter on Oct. 11, left a two-metre crater beneath a pipeline in the South Peace. Bombs at two other sites caused small leaks in pipelines on Oct. 16 and 31. The RCMP deployed an anti-terrorism unit to Dawson Creek, while reporters from across the country were dispatched to the region.

Suddenly, Massey's life became a lot less peaceful.

After hearing the letter threatening oil and gas companies, Massey recalls a climate of suspicion settling over the region. One day, while working in the woods, a woman in a truck pulled up and demanded he identify himself.  

"She looks at our truck and says 'okay, you're legit, but just so you know, a bomb went off a few kilometres away from here.'

"It's a chilly feeling," he goes on. "There's this chill that goes over society, and there's this feeling that the worst fears of the community are coming true. It kind of feels like fiction."  

Massey now lives on the north coast, where he is a reporter for the Terrace Standard.

He finds the northwest "chiller, but with the same massive influence of these mega-projects. Anywhere you go in the north, that tension is palpable, but in the northeast it's years advanced.”

"There's some really original art going on (in the Peace)," he added. "I think it's an example of when there are some tensions, great art is produced."

Massey said his publisher hopes to distribute some of the books in the Peace Region.

At least one man, Wiebo Ludwig, was arrested in the case. He was later released without changes and died soon after.

In a five-year retrospective on the bombings in the Globe and Mail, then-detachment commander Milo MacDonald said the issue had blown over.

"I think that the community has moved on," he said. "We don't hear about it any more that often."

reporter@dcdn.ca