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Biography & Autobiography Criminals & Outlaws

The Bushman’s Lair

On the Trail of the Fugitive of the Shuswap

by (author) Paul McKendrick

Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd.
Initial publish date
Apr 2021
Criminals & Outlaws, Post-Confederation (1867-), General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2021
    List Price

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In the summer of 2002, the discovery of a cave on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia by a group of houseboaters made headlines across the country. It had been the hideout of a fugitive known as the Bushman—real name John Bjornstrom—who had been arrested the previous winter after raiding cabins in the area for supplies.

Shortly after the cave was discovered, and before it was imploded by local authorities, author Paul McKendrick was able to explore the nine-hundred-square-foot bachelor pad. Its elaborate construction left the impression that the occupant was more than just a common thief with a preference for uncommon living arrangements.

Nearly two decades later, McKendrick set out to better understand what led the Bushman to the cave. The Bushman’s Lair is the culmination of numerous interviews, reviews of RCMP and court transcripts, declassified US government files and McKendrick’s own adventures in the Shuswap. The resulting book follows Bjornstrom’s circuitous path: a child of Romani refugees raised by nature lovers from Norway; a bizarre, top-secret US government program that recruited individuals with supposed psychic abilities; an investigation into the infamous Bre-X mining scandal that led to an alleged hit list; and an ardent mission to safeguard vulnerable youth from abuse.

While some mysteries remain unsolved, McKendrick’s exploration of Bjornstrom’s story is an unexpectedly moving and unforgettable account of a man who decided to pursue a quest with boundless commitment.

Reminiscent of John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, this fascinating portrait of a far-from-ordinary fugitive makes for a page-turning read.

About the author

Paul McKendrick lives in Canmore, AB, where he enjoys spending time in the mountains with his family. He holds degrees from UBC and Dalhousie. Most of his career has been spent in renewable energy, and more recently he has become the owner and operator of a running and Nordic ski store with his wife, Kylie.

Paul McKendrick's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“McKendrick’s writing is lucid and workmanlike, and the narrative pulls you along nicely.”

Douglas J. Johnston, <i>Winnipeg Free Press</i>

“A footloose misfit? A psychic in training for the US military? A private investigator for one of the principals in the Bre-X gold mining scandal? A fugitive fleeing an alleged death contract? A crusader for justice? A deluded thief and burglar? Who was the real John Bjornstrom? Paul McKendrick wanted answers, and his quest to unravel the mysteries of Bjornstrom’s life artfully wends together an improbable historical backstory, recollections of friends and family, and police records to tell the tale of the enigmatic and curious ‘Bushman of the Shuswap.’”

Stephen R. Bown, author of <i>The Company: The Rise and Fall of the Hudson's Bay Empire</i>

“If Netflix is looking for a thriller with suspicious deaths, greed, gold, government corruption, a secret underground cave, and an eccentric lead character, it would do well to consider first-time author Paul McKendrick’s brisk and bracing tale.”

Stephen Knight, <i>Quill and Quire</i>

“A must read. You won’t be disappointed.”

Sage Birchwater, <i>The Ormsby Review</i>

The Bushman's Lair is a riveting, fast-paced, and suspenseful account of one of BC's most notorious and fascinating fugitives. Just as the Bushman carved out his own cave somewhere in the thick of woods along Shuswap Lake, author Paul McKendrick skillfully carves out the Bushman's engrossing story onto the page. The deeper McKendrick digs, the stranger the truth becomes.”

Grant Lawrence, CBC personality and author of <i>Adventures in Solitude</i>

“In this stranger-than-fiction, intrigue-packed story, Paul McKendrick sets out to unwrap and understand the complicated and colourful tale of this enigmatic figure...”

Dana Gee, <i>Vancouver Sun</i>

“At a time when modern communications and GPS technology have made it unlikely you will find a blank spot on the map, reading Paul McKendrick’s fascinating book is a rare treat. To say stranger-than-fiction is not enough; this story is stranger than most any reality we might imagine. Crack open this book, sit down in a comfortable chair, or somewhere with a view of the water lapping on the shore of a lake, and be prepared to settle in for a disquieting and mysterious read.”

Stephen Legault, author of the Cole Blackwater and Durrant Wallace mystery series

“A fine telling of an irresistible wilderness tale. McKendrick is just as dogged in unearthing the Bushman’s hidden trail and motives as the Bushman was in evading his pursuers.”

Alex Hutchinson, columnist for <i>The Globe and Mail</i> and <i>Outside Magazine</i>, author of <i>Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Performance</i>

“Paul McKendrick’s The Bushman’s Lair is the thrilling true crime account of John Bjornstrom, a reclusive thief who lived in a beach cave off British Columbia’s Shuswap Lake. It also functions as a speculative biography of the legendary fugitive.”

Claire Foster, <i>Foreword Reviews</i>

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