The Days of the Deep Freeze and Local Winter Sports

Having the Olympics here in BC this winter has everyone thinking about winter sports.  While winter sports enthusiasts can visit Mt. Washington or Mt. Cain to partake in snow related activities, there was a time when there was plenty of snow right here at ground level in the Campbell River area.

Granite Bay Winter Scene

Granite Bay Winter Scene

With the milder winters we have been experiencing recently, it is hard to believe that it was once cold enough for local lakes, and even salt water to freeze.  Susan McEwen recalls the days when Echo Lake (15km west of Campbell River) would freeze over.  “I remember about 14 years ago taking my young children to Echo Lake to go ice skating,” she said, “it is such a treat to be able to do things like that outside.”

Pictured here is a photo of skaters at Granite Bay on Quadra Island taken when the salt water actually froze over.  A long time ago, it could get very cold in this area.  Cecil ‘Cougar’ Smith spent his childhood in the Black Creek area in the early 1900s, and recalled a winter when the temperature remained at 12 degrees F below zero.  All the cattle died from the cold and lack of food, and they were unable even to go ice fishing in the frozen lake nearby as they couldn’t hack through the ice that was at least three feet thick.

Before Mt. Washington ski resort opened in 1979, Forbidden Plateau was the john-painterbeverly-mckay-fp-optimizedplace to go downhill skiing (see photo left of John Painter and Beverly McKay 1950).  Forbidden Plateau Lodge was built in 1934 by Clinton S. Wood, at the top of the Comox Logging Company abandoned railway grade.  Shortly afterwards, Coach Line excursions started taking people there to ski. By 1972, there were two tow lifts and a new chair lift (the only one on Vancouver Island at the time), a rental shop and recreation house. In the late 1970s, Jim Boulding of Strathcona Park Lodge had visions of creating a ski hill on the other side of Strathcona Provincial Park near Buttle Lake, and used to fly friends in by helicopter to enjoy the perfect conditions.  However, just when it looked like the project would go through, suddenly there wasn’t enough consistent snowfall to support it, which happened to be the same difficulty faced at Forbidden Plateau.

During winters when snow was plentiful, cross country skiing was a popular family sport.  Jessica Madsen remembers going up past General Hill to find skiing spots in the mid 1980s.  They would ski near John Hart Dam, or sometimes night ski at the Sequoia Springs golf course on Petersen Road.

Tobogganing was another activity that could be enjoyed at night. Young people had great fun with their wooden toboggans and sleds on the sloping hills of Campbell River in the 1960s before the town was fully developed.  “We used to bring Coleman lamps and hang them from the trees at night,” Linda Hogarth told me.  “We tobogganed over by where Alder Clinic is today.”

Now it is necessary to go to higher elevations to find snow, and skating is done indoors at local arenas.  While the mild weather makes for better driving conditions, there are still those who fondly remember the days when winter sports were right at their doorstep.

The Museum at Campbell River Archives contains a wealth of old photos of true winter weather, and there are several articles about Forbidden Plateau and its history and development in the vertical files.  If you can’t find what you are looking for, just ask for help!  The archives are open Tuesday to Friday, 1-4pm or by appointment, 250-287-3103.

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