It’s the end of a strange chapter in Shuswap history: John Bjornstrom, who earned the nickname the Bushman of the Shuswap, passed away in January.
After walking away from a correctional facility in 1999, Bjornstrom was able to avoid police arrest until 2001 by hiding out in the bush and raiding cabins.
Now almost 20 years later, one of the investigators involved in that search is reflecting back on his experiences.
During part of Bjornstrom’s tenure as the Bushman, Jim Harrison was the RCMP detachment commander in Sicamous.
“Throughout it, there was an awful lot of media attention obviously and some of the media attention tended to want to glamorize the fact that he was the Bushman of the Shuswap,” Harrison said.
“My opinion at the time — and [it] still remains my opinion — is that an awful lot of people were victimized by his actions and some people were very afraid.”
At one point during the hunt from the evasive fugitive, Harrison said the RCMP’s extensive searches by boat, helicopter and on the ground had found “no trace of the man whatsoever.”
“We had dropped a phone off in the bush for him to talk to one of our negotiators. That wasn’t successful but he did call me at my personal residence several times,” Harrison recalled.
“At which point I told him, ‘Listen John, at the end of the day we are going to catch you.’”
Not only did he call police, Bjornstrom also met with reporters on at least two occasions.
“What that did do is show us that he had weakness, he had an affinity [and] he wanted to tell his story. That of course lead to the actions that we took to capture him,” Harrison said.
That arrest involved an undercover operation where police pretended to be producing a documentary film.
“Interestingly enough, the evening that he was apprehended I was at the dock in Sicamous when that boat came in and John stepped onto the dock and recognized me right away and said, ‘Sgt. Harrison, I presume.’ Of course I responded, ‘I told you John, we’re going to catch you.’”
The news of Bjornstrom’s passing has given Harrison pause.
“His behavior and his actions created an awful lot of problems in the community and fear in the community but quite frankly, I’m sad to hear that he has passed on,” Harrison said.
In a television interview done in 2001 while he was in hiding, Bjornstrom told reporter Ted Chernecki he was investigating corruption involving the disappearance of people.
“So far I’ve actually survived basically on the backs of a lot of the cottage owners. Should I be a cottage owner and suffer the same consequences, I would be pretty ticked off too. I try not to break anything,” Bjornstrom said.
“It is unfortunate but it is a necessary evil for now, but I am after something that is [a] far greater evil than what I could ever be.”
– with files from Simon Little, Kimberly Davidson and Mohini Singh