News Ticker

Review and Excerpt – Heart Waters: Sources of the Bow

October 7, 2015


By Mike Cotton

In Heart Waters (Rocky Mountain Books, 2015), best-selling author, naturalist, fly-fisherman and conservationist Kevin Van Tighem, along with his son, landscape photographer Brian Van Tighem, take the reader into the heart of the watershed located along the eastern slopes of the Continental Divide where the mighty Bow River is born.


Heart Waters: Sources of the Bow River is a deeply personal story, which takes readers on a journey through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains of Western Canada. Part memoir, part history and part ecological manifesto, the story told in Heart Waters by former Banff National Park Superintendent, Kevin Van Tighem, is one about the importance of the Bow River to the future of Calgary and the water supplies of the Canadian prairies.

In Heart Waters, Kevin Van Tighem weaves in his tales of hiking deep into the backcountry and fishing the tributaries of the Bow River with his brothers and father as a youngster, and rebukes the modern-day backcountry user for brash and uncouth behaviour.

Building upon this personal narrative, the book includes photography from Kevin’s son, Brian Van Tighem. The Jasper-based photographer’s images play an important role in Heart Waters, and bring to life – visually – the various sources of the Bow River.

Rivers are often seen as a source of water. Yet, in Heart Waters the Van Tighem’s show the reader where the Bow River gains its strength, and how the water does not come from the river; instead, it comes to the river from the surrounding landscape.

This book is an ode to not just the Bow River, but also its tributaries – the Quirk, Cougar, Ford, Johnson, Prairie, Meadow, Bateman, Pekisko Creek and Sheep. Heart Waters discovers these sources and demonstrates the beauty of the Bow River, delving into the human activity that is intrinsically linked to this watershed, and what the future might hold.


Clean water, clean gravels and lush riparian vegetation: a healthy headwaters creek. Photo by Brian Van Tighem, from Heart Waters.

Clean water, clean gravels and lush riparian vegetation: a healthy headwaters creek. Photo by Brian Van Tighem, from Heart Waters.


The following excerpt is provided courtesy Rocky Mountain Books.

Too many decades have slid by since the late-summer evenings I used to spend with the Bow River. After dinner, I would slip away with my fly rod and a few homemade flies, dodge the traffic on 12th and 11th avenues, pick my way across the creosote-smelling CPR tracks and scramble down rip-rapped banks to where my home river lapped quietly against old slabs of broken sidewalk.

The river was always there for me, hissing through shallow riffles, chattering against bridge pilings, its waters warping into hypnotic lines and swirls, where they parted around partly submerged rocks or slid out of long pools into the sleek, V-shaped runs that broke into standing waves and spilled into eddies where unseen trout awaited. The river was my place of refuge and renewal during those turbulent teenage years. It was an undemanding companion at an intensely self-conscious time of my life. I could lose myself in its quiet chatter and mysteries, unaware of its history and of how changed it was from its original condition. Instead, in my naïveté, for me the Bow was a reassuring constant in a world full of change.

It was the trout that first brought me to the Bow. As cars flashed by on Memorial Drive across the river, and the shadow of the Crowchild Bridge grew longer before merging, at last light, with the long shade of Shaganappi hill, I worked my way along the shadowed shore, watching for rising trout. If there were no rises, I would try to place my handmade flies – messy amalgams of Christmas-tree tinsel, Mom’s sewing thread, my brother’s model airplane glue, scraps of pheasant tail feathers from last fall’s hunting expeditions and snipped-off bits of my long-suffering dog’s tail hair – into the current lines where little rainbow trout fed or the eddies behind large boulders where I was sure bigger fish lurked. There was trans­cen­dence to that fishing. It immersed me completely in the mysteries of water movement, the challenge of laying out a good cast and a drag-free float, and the suspense of what might happen on the next cast. Time changes people and these are found memories, however my mind has shifted over to rifle hunting of late. Ever since I window shopped on for some nice scopes, I have been hooked and can’t wait to get out there each year.

One September evening, so late that I had to find narrow aisles of reflec­ted light from streetlights across the river in order to see where my casts landed, my fly swung into a drift of floating leaves at the tail of a long pool and vanished into a massive boil. Half an hour later, heart pounding in my throat, I slid a 46-centimetre brown trout up onto the streamside grass and pounced on it, feeling its cold thickness vibrate in my hand as I subdued it with a stone. Unseen, unnoticed in the shadows beneath the bridge, I sat beside the Bow River and held a creature that, to me, at that time, was the distillation of all the mystery, fecundity and vitality of my home river.

And the water whispered past, dark and secret, unchanging from one moment to the next, yet continually in the process of arriving and departing. Upstream, unseen, its many tributaries coursed constant and true out of shadowed hillscapes and looming mountains to become the river, to become the trout; to become me. I took my trout home through the busy streets like a talisman or a gift of initiation, or perhaps a sort of grail.

Later, we ate it.

A broad U-shaped valley and sparse vegetation betray the recent glacial origins of this headwater valley, where the meltwater from Bow Glacier drains down to Bow Lake. Photo by Brian Van Tighem, from Heart Waters.

A broad U-shaped valley and sparse vegetation betray the recent glacial origins of this headwater valley, where the meltwater from Bow Glacier drains down to Bow Lake. Photo by Brian Van Tighem, from Heart Waters.

The trout brought me to the river because I was part of a trout-fishing family. My father, Jack, took his many offspring fishing as soon as each of us became old enough to keep up with him. Our weekend outings and longer summer camping trips took us to headwater streams surrounded by elk tracks, birdsong, paintbrush flowers and forested hills. In my heart’s eye, I see those places with crystal clarity even now, all these many years later.

Childhood may be brief, but childhood summers seem eternal and more intensely real than any other time in one’s life. Those were bonding times – bonding to family, to landscape and to the living waters that tumble out of western Alberta’s high country. But they were too brief. Dad wasn’t available to take me fishing as often as I wanted. So, although it wasn’t a small foothills stream like the ones we usually fished, I found my way down to the Bow, a river that held the intermingled waters of so many of those far streams where I would rather have been.

A river has its own music: rhythmic sounds and re­­curring tonalities. Small waves slap and chatter, cur­rent tongues lap against stone, sediment hisses around cob­bles, deeper resonances seem to murmur from the depths. There is no one river sound; there are many. They overlap, harmonize, ebb and flow, and the many sounds become one voice: the voice of living water telling of the far places from which it has come.


Mike Cotton is a former journalist from the UK, currently living the dream in Fernie, British Columbia.

The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor, the editorial team or the publishers.