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Author pens the baffling story of the 'Bushman of the Shuswap'

Author Paul McKendrick
Image Credit: SUBMITTED: Harbour Publishing
March 23, 2021 - 8:00 PM

Two decades ago, he grabbed national headlines and was nicknamed the "Bushman of the Shuswap," a fugitive living rough in a cave deep in the bush, raiding cottages for supplies and travelling by canoe only at night.

Now, 20 years later, Canmore-based author Paul McKendrick has brought the deeply intriguing story of John Bjornstrom, a.k.a. the Bushman of the Shuswap, to life in his book, The Bushman’s Lair: On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap.

It's a story that McKendrick has been mulling over since he stood in the infamous fugitive's cave on the banks of Shuswap Lake shortly after Bjornstrom was arrested in the early 2000s.

"It made quite an impression on me," McKendrick said. "It stuck with me. What would drive someone to do that?"

McKendrick's book will be in bookshops later this week and is the culmination of three years of research piecing together the fascinating and baffling story.

"There was some unique circumstances that right from the beginning started steering (Bjornstrom) down different paths," McKendrick said. "His parents were Hungarian refugees, (but) he was adopted by a Norwegian couple, raised him in B.C. He left home on horseback to go find work, it's a circumstance after circumstance that eventually leads him to where he ends up being.”

And where he ended up being is quite bizarre.

He worked as a private investigator which got him involved in the fraudulent Canadian gold mining company Bre-X. He fled to Shuswap Lake but got arrested and sentenced to eight months jail for breaking into multiple cabins. His jail time didn’t last long and he escaped heading back to the Shuswap to play a cat and mouse game with police that lasted for two years.

He made his home in a cave which McKendrick says was kitted out with a kitchen and amenities.

"It looked like a desirable place to ride out Armageddon,” he said.

Bjornstrom made media appearances before disappearing back into the bush, only to be finally arrested by RCMP officers disguised as reporters.

In his research, McKendrick scoured through endless court documents and talked to people that knew him, from cabin owners to Bjornstrom’s daughter and sister.

He also spent time talking to Bjornstrom’s lawyer Don Campbell.

“He had this view of Bjornstrom as this larger-than-life person who really made an impression on him, and be believed he was a very honest person and (Bjornstrom) genuinely believed he was in the Shuswap to serve a greater purpose,” he said.

That greater purpose was his investigation into a child pornography ring in the Shuswap.

McKendrick says that’s just one of a few things in the book that sounds “a bit outlandish.”

Another is that Bjornstrom ended up in a top-secret CIA program that recruited psychics.

"I can't say definitively that that happened but there were enough pieces I put together that I think it’s a very credible case that it did,” McKendrick said.

Bjornstrom died in 2018, aged 58, just when McKendrick was beginning to start on the book. However, the author says he feels like he got to know Bjornstrom while writing.

"Hopefully readers will feel they do as well once they see the whole story,” he said. “(The book) really allows you to really have a different interpretation of some of the more unique things that happened along the way."

For more information and to purchase The Bushman’s Lair: On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap go here.

Image Credit: SUBMITTED: Harbour Publishing

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