Not Your Average ‘Small World’ Story

Louise de Montigny

In August 2019, alumna Louise de Montigny (BSF 83, PhD 92) experienced a full-circle moment so full of coincidence and chance it felt more like a movie than reality. If there hadn’t been witnesses, you might even think she had made it up.

This moment took her back to the very beginning of her career in forestry – to the exact time and place when she decided that it was something she wanted to study. The year was 1979, and the place was Helsinki, Finland.

Louise had been attending Western Washington University in Bellingham. “I grew up in Chilliwack,and I liked the idea of a smaller campus and the opportunity to explore a range of subjects,” she says.“I wanted to find out what I was really interested in.” She discovered an affinity for biology, but “I couldn’t see myself working in a lab or a hospital,” she says.

Two years in, Louise took advantage of the opportunity to study French for a semester in Avignon, France. “After that, armed with a copy of the book Europe on $10 a Dayand a Eurail Pass, I set off to travel around Europe with a quest to discover my true calling.” she says.

On a ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, Louise met an American student on his way to meet a new friend for a brief holiday. The new friend, named Jyri, kindly invited Louise along. The next day they all met in the library of the university, Jyri attended as a forestry student, where some English-language journals caught Louise’s eye.

”The journals were about forest ecology and management, and suddenly this new window of possibility opened up,” Louise says. “In that moment I decided a career in Forestry was for me, and applied to UBC as soon as I returned home.”

Louise graduated with a BSF in 1983, in the midst of a recession in which forestry jobs were scarce. At the urging of Professor (now Emeritus) Gordon Weetman, she applied to a masters program at Yale University. Following completion of her MSF, Louise returned to UBC for doctoral studies, and received her PhD in 1992.

Louise had a long and interesting career as a silviculture researcher with the BC government. After she retired in early 2019, she was asked to lead a tour of one of her experiments – the most ambitious experiment of her career – near Campbell River on Vancouver Island, for a group of Finnish foresters in August 2019.

“The Silviculture Systems for Ecosystem Management in the Sayward, is a long-term silvicultural systems experiment I had established that will continue for decades more,” she says. “I was pleased to tour the experiment again.”

“I knew that many, many years had gone by, and the odds were slim, but I had written down Jyri’s name on a slip of paper (I had come across it in an old address book) and I showed it to the Finnish tour leader in the hopes of discovering something about Jyri’s career,” she says. “His jaw dropped and he said, ‘He’s here!’”

Reunited with the person who had set her on her career path, Louise was thrilled but Jyri was confused.“At first he didn’t remember me at all,” Louise said. “So I told him the story, and it came back to him. It was such an uneventful chance meeting for him, but such a life-changing moment for me.”

The Finnish group was delighted by this connection between Canada and Finland. The full-circle moment was completed with Louise ending her career by meeting the man who had unknowingly helped her start it.

Louise reflects on the coincidence of meeting Jyri again. “The Finnish foresters could have chosen a different country or province to visit, or Jyri could have changed careers or retired and not come to Canada at all. I had already retired, so I might not have been available on this particular day or someone else could have been asked to lead this tour. So many factors had to line up for this meeting to happen. It was just an amazing experience.”

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