About Bonnie Lee

I am curious and passionate about science and its ability to shed light on the under-explored connections that govern life. I strive to understand how biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics shape the haphazard elegance of our existence and to share those discoveries with any pair of willing eyes and ears.

Fall foraging season

Fall is mushroom season in B.C., a time when experts and amateurs head up mountains and onto trails searching for earthy morsels. Some find them, others get sick, and, this year, one died.

According to B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the number of people falling ill after eating a foraged toxic mushroom in 2016 is more than twice what it was last year. There are over 2,000 known fungi in the area, but new ones are found regularly. Researchers are not sure how many are out there, or how many are dangerous. Not knowing enough about mushroom diversity before going foraging can poison or kill a person.

“People are afraid of mushrooms,” said biologist Mary Berbee from the University of British Columbia. She studies the genealogy and variation in mushrooms, trying to understand how they fit in to the tree of life on Earth.


Not edible, but stunning to look at. Robin Kort suggests look at the base of the mushroom to help identify what it is. Photo Bonnie Lee La Madeleine

To make hunting for mushrooms safer, research and education is essential. Robin Kort, a professional chef and mushroom forager understands how little amateur foragers know about mushrooms. She sees the need to study more than just their edibility.

Studies on the role of mushrooms in sustaining the health of local forests and the planet also show the effects of human influence. Humans change the environment at microsystem levels that, in the case of mushrooms, could have a significantly larger impact on a forest’s ecology.

The role a fungus plays in its ecosystem depends on the type of mushroom and its environment. Kort likes to tell people on foraging tours that one Armillaria solidipes, or honey mushroom,  in Oregon, is the largest living organism on Earth. This single organism covers several thousand acres and is more than 2,000 years old.

“It is in fact a wood decay organism and it can be really aggressive, so it can kill trees,” said Berbee. “But most often in forests, trees are moderately resistant so it infects them when they are dead, but doesn’t actually kill the live ones.”

Healthy trees fight back.

It was the diversity of fungi that initially drew Berbee into the study of mushrooms, or mycology. It is their mystery that keeps her motivated. Like an iceberg, most of the fungi organism’s body lives beneath the surface. The only way to study them is when the fungi fruit.

“The mushroom is considered to be similar to a blueberry, in that it’s for reproduction. It’s not the whole organism,” said Berbee.

Which is why foragers need to be careful not to take too many mushrooms from any location when picking mushrooms. Mushroom “berries” need to send out spores.

Beginner foragers should proceed carefully. A three-year old boy died this fall after eating a death-cap mushroom, one of the deadliest of fungi, and it looks a lot like a button mushroom.

Kort suggested learning about two mushrooms, and getting to understand where they grow and the often minute differences they have with other species that look like them but not edible. It makes foraging more fun.

“Look for chanterelles,” she said. “Chanterelles don’t have anything that look like it that would put you in hospital.”


Chanterelles on Mt. Seymour. Photo Bonnie Lee La Madeleine.

Archives and Land Claims


The past just got a bit closer for anyone wanting to dig deeper into history.

Vancouver Public Library’s new partnership with the Library and Archives Canada, will bring Canadian historical documents within arms reach of professional and amateur historians. The agreement will bring over 5,000 boxes to the seventh floor of the central branch of the library.

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for patrons.” said Chief Librarian Sandra Singh. She said having these resources at the library will help students with history projects, patrons wanting to learn local first nations history and anyone researching their family histories.

It goes beyond the convenience of location, however. According to Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, the shared values and goals of the organizations also helps.

“Our clients will benefit from shared expertise, complimentary public programs, extended reference services, and outreach, and, of course, a more accessible location,” he said.

The two librarians were at the Vancouver Public Library to shake hands and announce the new relationship that will give library patrons direct access to the Library and Archives Canada staff, its digital archives, and physical access to documents related to local first nations history.

“I think its great that they are keeping all this material and giving ordinary people access to things that we never would have access to,” said Adele Makcrow, the manager of the Vancouver Public Library Store.

According to Kristina Lillico, director, regional services and ATIP division at the Library and Archives Canada, this move will increase the archives visibility and reach.

“We’ve almost been one of the best kept research secrets in the Vancouver area,” she said. “People who have known us have come to us, but I think we’re now on the cusp of an opportunity where we want to try to meet and reach some new audiences.”

Berthiaume said that the Library and Archives Canada had served as a hub for research related to our indigenous peoples, including land claim rights, and works of reconciliation while in Burnaby. He and Lillico both expect continue these serves in Vancouver.

“We’ve had a very traditional research base who know that we are there and have come to us,” Lillico said. “But now we are in are much more public space so there will be people who might be walking in the library and drop by to come see us and find out about what the Library and Archives Canada is and what we do for all Canadians, in an expanded way.”

Singh expects doors to open next May.


Time for words are over: Action needed to create inclusive communities


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip scans reactions to his boycott before speaking to Langara students. Photo Bonnie Lee La Madeleine, all rights reserved.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has a lot to say about two generations of  Trudeau-leadership, promises, missed chances and reconciliation.

“Reconciliation is becoming a word that’s overused, misused, and that’s misconstrued,” said Stewart Phillip. “It’s become a word of political convenience for both the government of Canada and the province of British Columbia.”

He was speaking in a nearly full auditorium at Langara College, two days after making international headlines for his refusal to join the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the Royal Black Rod Ceremony in the B.C. legislature in late September.

“On the one hand, the Trudeau government has made much of embracing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and it went to NY and made those grandiose statements,” Phillip said. “But, in terms of actually implementing it, they are not moving in any decisive fashion. Reconciliation is the flavour of the month for politicians with no follow through.”

The Grand Chief said that Canada’s national and provincial political leaders need to go beyond lip service and act on their promises. He wants real actions, actions that support meaningful change for First Nations, aboriginals and all Canadians.

Don Bain, executive director at the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said that reconciliation will only happen if the government makes time to do the work.

“To have true reconciliation, you are going to need change how funding is distributed,” Bain said. He would like to see, both on and off the reserve, a concerted effort across the country to bring graduation rates up for First Nation students in secondary and post-secondary schools.

Both men want to see Canadian leaders move beyond spin and photo-ops.

“Governments have to walk to the walk.” said Phillip. “These grandiose symbolic ceremonies convey to the general public a message that things are going very well for the indigenous peoples, aboriginal peoples, in this country.” He said nothing could be further from the truth.

“To participate in a grandiose photo-op sends the wrong the message.”

Phillip said he has advocated for the rights of First Nations and indigenous peoples for almost 50 years. Throughout his pursuit of social justice, he clashed with Federal and provincial leaders repeatedly.

During the first period of “Trudeau-mania”, Phillip said Pierre Trudeau  openly mocked the queen and protocol. Yet, it was Pierre Trudeau, working with Jean Chretien, who drafted a white paper that set out a systematic plan for assimilating First Nations and aboriginal peoples into Canadian society.

Fifty years later, Phillip is now upsetting protocol  with British royals as he waits for Justin Trudeau to do more than talk about truth and reconciliation.

“To participate in a grandiose photo-op sends the wrong the message,” he said.