Remembering Lone Wolf
(Chester Starr – 1950-2020)

A month ago we lost a dear friend and mentor: Chester “Lone Wolf” Starr, of Bella Bella, B.C. Lone Wolf touched many lives and ultimately the direction of Raincoast’s work on the coast. In honour of his influence on us all, below we share, with permission of his loving wife Denise, some of our memories from a few of his Raincoast-affiliated friends, including a eulogy written by his adopted daughter Johanna Gordon-Walker (which was read at his funeral in Bella Bella), his mentee Chris Darimont, and more recent friend Kyle Artelle. 

All photos provided by friends and family of Chester, Lone Wolf, Starr.

Eulogy to commemorate the life and work of Chester “Lone Wolf” Starr

By Johanna Gordon-Walker

Chester Murray Starr was born on December 28th, 1950 in Bella Bella, B.C. and was reborn into his spirit life on July 27th, 2020. His parents were Beatrice Starr (nee Johnson) and Jackson Starr. His maternal grandparents were Walter and Lillian Johnson of Hartley Bay, and his paternal grandparents were Susannah Starr (nee Hall) from Bella Bella and Peter Starr from Klemtu. He had connections to many other families, and maintained close relationships with family both at home and away.

Chester is survived by his loving wife, Denise. Chester and Denise were married on December 23rd, 1975 and celebrated 45 years of marriage. He is also survived by his brother Raymond Starr and sister Suzanne (Ken Newman); his children Roxanne Walkus, Johnny Starr (Bessie Paul), Beatrice (Glenn Groulx), Carlena (Donald Grant), Theresa Starr (Aaron Otis Humchitt), Shawn Starr (Chelsey Wells-James), Clarissa Starr (Dennis Newman); adopted daughters Johanna Gordon-Walker and Phoebe Newman; many nieces and nephews; twenty-six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

Chester was predeceased by his parents; siblings Michael, Walter (1), Percy, Henry, Walter (2), Clifford, Lillian, Thelma, Deanna and Joyce; grandchildren Ally Faith Crystal Starr and Adele Hope Humchittand many other close family members and friends. 

Chester lived all his life in Bella Bella. He attended the Bella Bella Day School up to grade five or six. Chester spent lots of time on the trapline at Neekas with his dad. From his dad, he learned to read the land, and to closely observe the animals. For example, his sister Suzanne remembers him predicting a storm was on its way from the way the eagles were soaring high above a mountain; he told his family that the eagles were letting them know a storm was coming, and sure enough there was a storm the following day. While working on the wolf project, he explained to his co-workers that wolves only show themselves when they are trying to tell us something. Chester was humble about his deep knowledge of the land, and enjoyed sharing what he knew. 

Chester also learned traditional harvesting skills from his dad. As a young man, he was the main provider for everyone in his immediate family. His mom bought him his first boat. She told him as the youngest son he would be the provider of the family, and he lived up to this. Chester went and got the yearly supply of salmon, clams, ducks, swans, geese, abalone, seagull eggs, deer meat, seal meat, seaweed, traditional medicines, wood for the smokehouse, and anything else his parents needed for their extended family. He made sure that they never lacked for any traditional foods. He spent lots of time travelling throughout Híɫzaqv territory on his small tin skiff with a 6 or 9.9 HP engine, often on his own. Chester went on many hunting and harvesting trips with his nephew Kenny Windsor Jr. (d), Carl Brown, Paul Newman Sr. (d), Rennie Mason, and Roy Gladstone Sr. (d) among others. Chester, Carl, Paul, Rennie and Roy would spend Easter long weekends up at Ellerslie, trout fishing and camping for three days. They would go goat hunting up Roscoe, and often went hiking for a few days at a time. Chester and his friends went food fishing, jigging, hunting, clam digging, and on other harvesting trips, spending long hours and days on the boat. Over the years they had numerous boats, including Carl Brown’s 16-foot fibreglass boat the Nina B. 

Throughout Chester’s life he worked in many kinds of employment and he shared good memories from these many roles. He worked for Heiltsuk Tribal Council with Tony Reid and Carl Brown doing general maintenance and roofing on houses. He also worked on the new wing of BBCS when it was built. He was employed by Waglisla Cablevision, with local canneries, with Heiltsuk Fisheries, and for the Cultural Centre doing surveys for culturally modified trees. 

Chester began working with Raincoast Conservation in the spring of 2000. Larry Jorgenson connected him with Chris Darimont, who at that time was a graduate student and was planning a wolf research project in Híɫzaqv territory. Chester was not only knowledgeable about the territory and the animals living there, but was an incomparable mentor for the whole crew. He had an amazing eye for spotting wildlife along the shore or in the forest, and he shared the knowledge that was passed down to him about how to observe the animals and everything around him. He could howl just like a wolf, and would often howl to see if the wolves were nearby; sometimes a wolf pack responded. The wolf research project ran for a number of years, during which Chester made many strong connections, including his especially close friend Chris Darimont and Johanna Gordon-Walker, whom he began calling his daughter in 2003. In 2004 the International Fund for Animal Welfare recognized Chester, along with Chris, with a Compassion in Science Award for their research that treated wolves with respect and compassion. Raincoast began a number of other projects in Heiltsuk territory over the years, and although Chester retired from fieldwork, he made friends with the new researchers and field assistants, attending dinners and the occasional boat ride. He and Denise became close with Kyle Artelle and Diana Chan, who made Bella Bella their home. Chester also loved his visits to Koeye during Raincoast’s week at Koeye Camp. He took lots of pride in all the work he had been a part of and loved to watch and share the numerous films made about the wolf project by organizations such as National Geographic.

Johanna Gordon-Walker and Chester Starr.

Chester loved to catch up with friends and family, whether in person, on the phone, or on his trusty VHF. He had daily or weekly calls with many family members and friends. He loved to share stories of his time on the land, about wildlife; hunting for mountain goats; fishing; finding old trails, CMTs, canoes (both complete and partly finished), spears, stone tools, and other signs of his ancestors’ lives. He loved to collect trade beads, feathers, old bottles, and other things he found on his travels, and shared some of these with his family. He held great respect for the deep knowledge of his ancestors, for example how they harvested planks from trees while leaving the tree to grow. He always had the VHF on while in his house, and could be reached by his call sign Lone Wolf. He never ended a phone conversation with the word good-bye, but always said “Ciao” instead.

Chester’s immediate family meant the world to him. He had so much love for his wife, all of his children and his grandchildren, and he did everything he could for them. He did much of the cooking and cleaning, and often had his young grandchildren on his lap or playing nearby. He spoke of them all with so much pride. As they began to move away from home, he would be overjoyed when they came back for visits. Chester referred to his downstairs bedroom as his den. He didn’t like the heat, so when the rest of the family wanted the house warm and cozy, he made sure the furnace was going strong and then hung out in his cool “den”. His collection of hats and old-fashioned bottles decorated the room, along with his wolf paintings, figurines, and other decorations. 

In Chester’s later years, he lived with serious health problems, and was medivacced to Vancouver a number of times, where he made repeated strong recoveries. His nephews Evans Lawson and Jordan Barton accompanied him as medical escorts and helped him get to his appointments and navigate the city. He really valued his visits with family who live in Vancouver when he was down for appointments or in the hospital. During some of his longer stays, he befriended the doctors and nurses; he made friends wherever he went. While we are filled with sadness and will miss you every day, we are thankful that you are no longer in pain or suffering our beloved one. Your love and knowledge will live on in the many friends and family you so generously shared it with.

May he rest in sweet peace in reunion with his loved ones and his ancestors.

In memory of Lone Wolf

By Kyle Artelle

When I met Lone Wolf he had already retired from field work but his teaching never stopped. I always knew when the phone would ring with “Lone Wolf” on the call display that I was in for a treat. “Wolf man here!” is how the chats would start, or, “you got your listening ears on?”. We’ll all miss his rich conversations, which ranged from catching up on life at the moment, talking lovingly about his family and how everyone was doing, or about what he’d been cooking, always reminding that HE was the cook of the house. 

Even from home he could transport you throughout the territory with stories about all his adventures – goats he’d hunted, bears he’d shooed away with his wolf howl, old trails he’d found and walked, his time spent up the mountain road, and all the treasures he found in so many places. He was always willing to share – he shared stories, shared his wisdom, shared his time, and shared all of himself. Some nuggets have stuck with me in ways I would have never anticipated.

Years ago I lived in Vancouver and he was down for a few months for medical. We were visiting one day, looking out the window. He pointed out a bright ‘donut’ around the sun and as an aside he mentioned, “Weather’s about to change.” To this day when I see a ring around the sun I remember those words – and the weather, inevitably, turns sour within a day. 

He also shared wolfy items – along the lines of Chris’s t-shirt described below (and of a similar artistic style), he shared with his friends wolf-themed blankets. Ours has adorned our couch for years, and is a welcome frequent reminder of him. 

It’s hard to imagine how many lives he touched. In addition to so many people in the community, he has had a huge influence on people who visited here even briefly. Students and scientists who have met him, without fail, mention visits with Chester as a highlight of their time spent in the territory, and when recalling these visits years later their eyes still light up. Many others were able to meet Chester from afar through the movies, TV shows, and media pieces he was featured in, including one of his favourites, a movie on coastal wolves called Rainwolves.

His knowledge and guidance has helped to shape science and carnivore conservation not only here but across the coast and beyond. He will live on through his family – Denise, siblings, children, grandchildren, and all his beloved relatives, and through those that he welcomed into his life from places near and far. 

I feel so lucky to have had Chester in my life for these past years – we are all so lucky. Heaven has gained a legend. I miss you dearly. Ciao, my friend.

“The wolf family is my family.”

— Chester Starr, as recorded by Paul Paquet in his field notes

In memory of Lone Wolf

By Chris Darimont

I first met Lone Wolf in early May of 2000. Larry Jorgenson (of QQS) connected us, knowing that there was only one choice for a colleague from Bella Bella who would have the knowledge to work with a totally naïve young graduate student who wanted to learn about wolves.

It was an interesting way to meet one another. A few days prior someone had shot a wolf that was coming into the village, and the body laid on the beach near Martin’s dock.  The ravens and eagles were at its guts and eyes. We were to meet at the beach.  

I wanted to get some genetic material, given this was a central goal of our project. I mentioned to Chester that teeth provided a good source of DNA but wanted to know if it was appropriate to pull a tooth. I did not want to do anything to disrespect any cultural protocols I had not yet known. When I asked Chester he said it would be just fine.  I was still feeling uncomfortable, if only about the wolf. And then he said something like, “I don’t think he’ll mind. He is dead”. Or something like that. He had a way with reminding me of some of the basics.  

So moments after our very first meeting, we were with a wolf. Not as alive as I had hoped, but it was a start. Lone Wolf, as he did commonly, had a smoke is his mouth and held the head. I yanked with pliers from a Leatherman.

The next day we got into our modest and somewhat leaky 15’ Double Eagle boat to start the season. It had a new 50 HP and we would put hundreds of hours on it over the season, which ended a little before Halloween.  As we idled from the government dock that morning, heading north towards Deer Pass, he said he had something for me. Inside a plastic shopping bag was an amazing wolf shirt.  

Twenty years ahead of the hipsters, the black tee-shirt had three wolves, one howling at the moon. There were epic mountains and a purple sky fractured with several lightening bolts. It read, “Bella Bella” at the bottom.

Now I am not a superstitious guy but that shirt became my travel shirt on every single trip up to Bella Bella over the last 20 years.  That’s a great many trips. Last year it was threadbare, and had a massive rip across the back. It had also stretched and fit me like a muumuu. But I sure loved it.  When I noticed the band store had a 2019 version, I picked up similar versions for each of us.  

The original tee-shirt was just one of a great many gifts Chester gave to me over the years.  While we worked in the field together until about 2007 or so (into Heather Bryan’s field work), we remained close. We liked to visit by phone, in the village, and on the occasional ‘rip’ in the boat or camp trip down to the Koeye River. Only now that he is gone I realize that I wish I spent a lot more time with him. I am glad my daughters got to spend time with him during a couple Koeye camp trips.

It is hard to summarize the gifts Lone Wolf gave me over those 20 years.  They mostly revolved around knowledge.

Chester Starr holds a wolf skull up for examination.

He was the kind of teacher who taught by letting me figure things out, even if it made me sweat. On another early trip, he leaned over to me as we bombed south down Lama Pass. He said something like, “I guess you didn’t know about that reef, eh?” I throttled down in horror and consulted our chart, which I typically had clutched pretty hard during the first week on the unfamiliar water. I asked why he didn’t tell me before.  He said that I didn’t ask, and he’d figure I would have a few inches to spare at that tide.  

I started to pay more attention to the water and to Chester than to the chart for the rest of the season. (Although I still piloted like a ‘steamship captain’ Chester would say, gently chiding me, given my penchant to favour the middle of the waterways over the more efficient shore hugging).

Lone Wolf also taught me how to think about things I was trained not to believe. Like how some locations had spooky energy. Like how wolves did not like to be spied upon, and choose not to reveal themselves unless they had something to tell us.  All true I found out.

He also let me work by myself, which can teach you a lot. We so enjoyed one another’s company but it was also our way to split up once we reached a sampling site. We each had a VHF, bear spray, and a few hours.  Then we would re-connect and share observations before heading to our next sampling location.

He almost never let me know that I had made mistakes. And there were a whole bunch. But he did not have to tell me. He would answer in a way that let me know. It was part out of compassion and kindness. It was also his teaching style.

One day he did tell me, “You probably shouldn’t have done that”.   We were in a watershed in which his dear dad once had a trap line. On my side of the river I found an old trap, mostly buried in the duff and moss. I pulled it out to show Chester when we reunited. I knew right away this was a mistake, even before he told me.  

Then things got spooky fast. First I slipped and smashed up my kneecap, requiring a half hour of rest before hobbling downriver. Then as I walked a log to get the boat on anchor at the higher tide, I fell in up to my neck.  Finally, as we idled out of the bay, something really spooky happened. Despite the day being windless, a huge rotten hemlock tree fell towards us. Well away from us but sending spray, waves, and a message. Lone Wolf did not say much. He did not have to.

We experienced much more magic than spookiness though, starting from the tee-shirt on day one. Later that morning and up Deer Pass with no set itinerary, we chose a multi-pronged bay, with four of five little arms to it, as our first stop of the day, the season, and the project. Thousands of jelly fish greeted us just below the surface. I slowed to idle and we headed towards one of the little bays. 

Would you believe it but out and into the morning sun ran a few wolves. One stayed behind to watch us approach, holding her ground until our bow almost touched the shore. She squat urinated and scratched the ground, telling us clearly that this space belonged to her and her family. Then she trotted off. With his blessing we referred to the previously unnamed bay as Starr Bay from that day forward.

Lone Wolf often remarked how similar we are to wolves. We mark territories. We cooperate to hunt and fish and to provide for our families. And sometimes wolves liked being alone. And so did Chester.

Chester told me lots about his alone time in a 12’ tin boat with a 9.9 HP engine. He’d explore his territory throughout the year. And for years, hunting and fishing among wolves and everything else from the inlets to the outer halibut banks. On the VHF his call sign became Lone Wolf.

He kind of operated like a wolf out there. He moved efficiently and quietly, and noticed everything. 

And took advantage of opportunities. Once, he told me how he saw a family of wolves starting in to dine on a freshly killed deer. He went ashore, scared away the wolves, and brought home the quarters. Once with us (and a National Geographic film crew, one of several that followed Lone Wolf over the years), we came to a little creek with lots of Coho holding below a little falls. He asked if we wanted some for dinner. Seeing our eyes light up, he rolled up his sleeves and caught one (or maybe two?) by the tail.

Lone Wolf also fed our interest in his culture. He showed us all the pictographs he knew, and that was many. Without saying, we would just always throttle down as we past by one, and idle close, so as to recognize those who came before us and kept the land and waters healthy.

I only heard Chester sing once. We were ‘inside’ Hunter Island. We had shot the rapids and went all the way to the head of Kildidt Lagoon. It was a sunny but colder late September or early October day. Lone Wolf built a fire in the upper estuarine grasses next to a glacial erratic (boulder) to reflect the head. He built himself a shelter nearby to sleep, with just his mack jacket as a blanket. Yoey (Johanna Godon-Walker) pitched a tent and I slept in the fold down seats in the boat.  We awoke to Haíɫzaqv songs and a newly crackling fire.

He not only provided gifts, knowledge and food but also safety. If I was waffling about going certain places in a sketchy forecast, he’d just make it clear one way or the other.  It felt especially secure to be with him when we camped.  I have this indelible memory of being awaken most nights by Lone Wolf.  He would wake up to have a smoke in the wee hours.  I typically hate the smell of cigarettes, but there was such comfort to know that I was sharing a little Haíɫzaqv cabin with Lone Wolf. Or more that he was sharing the cabin and the land with me. And I know many other people with whom we eventually worked (and especially Johanna) felt the same way.  He’d take care of us and we would do our best to take care of him.

In 2004 I finally could guide Chester a little when we went on an extraordinary adventure together. Lone Wolf and I were to receive a Compassion in Science Award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare for our non-invasive approach to learning about wolves. The gala was to be held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  Prior to that trip, Chester had never been outside of British Columbia.  As is common, his family – and many in the village – were fully behind him. I think his loving wife, Denise, started a fundraiser for him, so a tailor could make a traditional vest for him to wear to the formal event. It was gorgeous, and he wore it very proudly.

We flew Westjet, and the adventure begun before we left the Vancouver tarmac.  I remember Lone Wolf loved loved loved the jokes that the flight attendants told on the PA system before takeoff!  It was a clear day across most of the country. He took the window seat and looked at the scenery below almost the whole flight. Just taking it all in, just as he did while onboard a boat or in the forest.  “Commercial free!”, he would always remark when he spoke about his time just watching the natural world go by.

Although enjoying his own company, Lone Wolf could sure make (and keep) friends easily. Jane Goodall was at the same event, there for a Lifetime Achievement Award. They were drawn to one another. They hung out all throughout the mingler before the event.  And they sat beside one another as we took our seats.  At one point, as Chester’s achievements were being read aloud, she reached over to hold his hand. It was very, very sweet.

The day after we took a little trek across the river to Hull, Quebec and the “Canadian Museum of History”. He wanted to go because he heard that there was a Haíɫzaqv canoe there.  We spent a long time at the museum, with the canoe and with some of the other treasures that belong to the Haíɫzaqv and their neighbours.  

I repeated this trip in late November of 2019 and called Lone Wolf from the museum to have a visit by phone. He was in good spirits and wanted to know how the canoe was doing. It was one of the last long calls we had. During this unusual spring and summer, we did not have a chance to visit in the village. I wish we had.

I love you and miss you, old friend.