Michel Joseph Hubert Vallée, January 6, 1950 – January 5, 2022
When you went for a walk in the woods with him you would learn all kinds of wonderful, esoteric things—the species of trees, the vicissitudes of nature affecting growing conditions, the topography of the land, the geological formations, the flow of the creeks, how the local geography influenced weather conditions—and anything else you wanted to know about the lay of the land—and the trees. Especially the trees.
Officially, he was a professional forester and for 30 years a professor of forestry at Vancouver Island University specializing in forest policy, soil science and silviculture. It all came naturally to him. He was a lifelong outdoorsman, a lover of nature, a fly fisher, a wood worker and a world traveller organizing and leading forestry and cultural tours for students and fellow forestry professionals throughout Britain, Europe, the United States, South America and New Zealand. The teaching came naturally, too. He loved to share with you his enthusiasm for the woods, and what he knew.
Michel Vallée passed away peacefully at Nanaimo Regional Hospital on the morning of January 5, 2022 with family members at his side. He was one day short of his 72nd birthday. When he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in the spring of 2020 he told a friend: “I’m not ready to go. I have too many things to do.”
Michel was born in Trois Rivières, Quebec to Rodolphe and Eleanor (Levasseur) Vallée, the fourth of seven children. He grew up in the Montreal area and after graduating high school decided to head west, ending up in Vancouver, landing a short-term job as a driver for a rental car company, Tilden. Later, he managed a French-style restaurant on trendy Fourth Avenue on the west side of Vancouver. On weekends he was—naturally—outdoors; hiking in summer, skiing in winter.
He worked several summers in remote areas of Canada’s North on a mineral exploration crew, conducting geophysics, flying into locations accessible only by helicopter. The job necessitated backpacking heavy equipment halfway up mountains, tramping through swamps, bushwhacking through willows, all the while fighting off the relentless bugs. For weeks at a time he lived in the wilderness, sleeping and eating in tents and washing in glacier-fed creeks and rivers. He was in his element.
Destined for a career outdoors, he started studying forestry at Selkirk College, in Castlegar, in the early 1970s. After graduating with a diploma in forest technology, he worked in the field for several years, including for the B.C. Ministry of Forests stationed in Duncan, on Vancouver Island. He would later complete a Bachelor of Science in Forestry at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, but meanwhile his instincts for adventure led him in another direction.
He became a national park warden, first in Waterton Lakes National Park, straddling the Alberta-Montana border, and then in Yoho National Park, near Field, B.C., where he lived in a cabin next to Takakkaw Falls and spent many of his days on horseback checking on park conditions, and on the well-being of the tourists. This is where he met his wife of 40 years, Sheila (McWilliams).
He eventually went back into forestry, working for both industry and government in locations on the coast, in the southern interior of B.C. and in Alberta. He also worked in wood product marketing as a partner in a private forest products company that specialized in the Asian market providing services in timber development and custom cutting.
He joined the forestry department at Vancouver Island University (formerly Malaspina College), Nanaimo, in the late 1980s where he taught for more than 30 years before retirement in 2018. He served as department chair on several occasions but was most proud of his forestry field trips to a variety of countries around the world, which he organized not only for VIU students and faculty but also for industry through the Canadian Institute of Forestry.
Through these trips—close to 30—he made many friends abroad, and, of course, it also provided him with an opportunity to try local wines and food, especially the cheeses, which he loved. Michel was an excellent cook himself, sometimes concocting gourmet-style meals from odds and ends in the cupboard or fridge. It was not unusual for friends to request the recipe for his sought-after tourtière.
Michel was actively involved in a number of industry and professional organizations, including the Association of B.C. Forest Professionals (since 1982) and the Canadian Institute of Forestry, where he was chair of its Vancouver Island section. He was the institute’s national president in 2012-2013. He also served as a board member of the Coastal Silviculture Committee for some 10 years. He was on the board of the Festival of Forestry and a founding member of the B.C. National Forest Week Coalition. In 2019 he received the Canadian Institute of Forestry’s Presidential Award for outstanding contributions to the institute, and to the forestry profession in Canada.
In summer of 2020, while undergoing treatment for cancer, he completed work on his cedar strip canoe, which took over the family’s garage for nearly a year. It was a beautiful canoe, and it floated on the water like a leaf. Michel’s perfectionist nature meant the woodworking had to be precise. He was extremely proud of his accomplishment—but the second canoe, he said with a twinkle in his eye, would be even better.
New friends and old friends alike agree that Michel exuded an energy and warmth. It was fun to be in his company. He was appreciated for his characteristic wry and sometimes irreverent sense of humour. Someone described him as sassy. He scolded his students for referring to soil as dirt. Dirt was something under your fingernails. Soil was life.
Deep down, he was a serious man. The quietude of the woods inspired his philosophical and contemplative side. As a young man, he carried with him a small hardcover book of Robert Frost’s poetry.…miles to go before I sleep.
In addition to his wife Sheila, Michel is survived by their three adult children, Nicholas of Nanaimo, Stephen of Victoria, and Alexandra of Nanaimo. He is also survived by his siblings Kathleen Gilfillan (Cliff), Pierre (Bodil), Madeleine, Edgar, and Marie, as well as by the McWilliams family, Melanie, Wendy (Scott McNie), Holly, and David. He was predeceased by his parents Rodolphe Vallée and Eleanor (Levasseur) and brother Francois (Dianne). He also leaves 14 nieces and nephews.
The family would like to thank the caring staff at the palliative care unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. Special thanks to Dr. Love, and to Pat, Carly, Angela and Emma. Thanks also to Bob Priebe, a fly-fishing friend, who made a beautiful urn out of aspen and walnut for Michel’s ashes. Cremation at Evergreen Cremation Centre.
The family plans a small, private memorial at Michel’s request. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Michel’s name to Forests Without Borders at https://www.fwb-fsf.org.
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