‘Into the Wild’ – New temporary exhibit of Strathcona Provincial Park in 1910

‘Into the Wild – The 1910 Ellison Expedition and BC’s First Park’ is a new temporary exhibit at the Museum celebrating the 100th anniversary of the journey that culminated one year later in the creation of British Columbia’s first Provincial Park – the 429,000 acre Strathcona Park.   The exhibit draws on archival photographs and passages from a journal kept by one of the Ellison expedition members, Harry Johnson and chronicles their journey along a watershed now much altered.

The expedition, a 36 day trek that was essentially a reconnaissance mission, was undertaken by a group of twenty two men and one woman, who  travelled by canoe and on foot along the Campbell River watershed to Buttle Lake. After a nine day detour to climb Crown Mountain, the party headed overland, making the traverse through a rugged mountain pass to Great Central Lake, then finishing their journey in Port Alberni.

They left Victoria on July 5, 1910, boarding the steamship the “Queen City”, and sailed to Vancouver for supplies.  Among those participating were some notables, like Reverend William Washington Bolton, Headmaster of Victoria’s University School for Boys, who had made an exploratory journey of Vancouver Island in 1894,  (Beyond Nootka – Lindsay Elms), and the Honourable Price Ellison, Minister of Lands and leader of the expedition.  They arrived in Campbell River on July 7, 1910 and stayed at the Willow’s Hotel, with which they were very impressed, not expecting to find such fine accommodation in such an isolated community.  Some of the rooms actually had running water!

 “Campbell River was a very small and quiet place in those days, but very lively on week-ends as there was a large logging camp located near the mouth of the river, and the Willows Hotel with a big barroom open for business six days a week”…This is the best place on the Pacific Coast for Tyee salmon fishing”.

Getting to the Buttle Lake area at that time was very different from how it is today.  A wagon was able to take the group along the newly formed road to McIvor Lake for a distance of six miles (9.6 km).  There they camped before continuing on their journey up the Campbell River.  The inimitable Lord Bacon, an eccentric character who lived alone at Buttle Lake with his dog ‘Man’,  had  joined them in Campbell River as their guide, and entertained them that evening.

“While waiting for supper we have our first talk with one of the leading figures of the expedition, Lord Hugh Nathan Bacon, one time of ___ Scotland, now Lord of Vancouver Island; and make the acquaintance of his sole partner, “Man”, a little fox-terrier. We find very soon that the Lord is no ordinary person. He spends his time in the princely fastnesses of his forest-home back in the Buttle Lake region, and comes down to the settlements only when the silence of the forests palls on him and he feels it his duty to come down and straighten out the rabble of the ordinary workaday world. He takes a fore-place in the hotel bar and tells the loggers they are a pack of drunkards and under the persuasive influence of good old Scotch recites Kipling to them to tell them what they may expect in the next world”.

They paddled up the Campbell River and through the small Lower Campbell and Upper Campbell Lakes, fording rapids and portaging, combating mosquitoes and camping on islands in the middle of the river that are under water today.  They did take time to enjoy the scenery however, as this description of a sunset at Lower Campbell Lake illustrates.

“The sky is clear except for a few clusters of clouds in the west, and there is one of the most gorgeous possible sunsets.  The clouds change from gold to red and wine.  The peaks are blue, then pink, then lavender, and the forests all about and up the mountain sides are every delicate shade.  The water about us too takes on all sorts of shades of light and dark blue, green, yellow and pink.  The changing colours last until 9:45 and we continue our fishing until then just to watch them.”

Upon reaching the Elk River, they took a detour west towards Crown Mountain, as ascending this mountain was a pertinent objective on their itinerary, being a landmark to mariner’s on the West Coast.  Nine members of the group (including the author, Price Ellison and his daughter Myra) were elected to make the ascent.

Once this was accomplished, they continued on their journey through the Buttle Lake area and on to the traverse across to Great Central Lake.  While their journey was roughing it in many ways, they didn’t suffer when it came to the food.

“Pete (the cook) rewards us for our noontime fast by offering us vermicelli soup, lobster pates, mutton (canned) a la Spanish etc, and plum pudding with proper sauce – not bad for the woods!”

They arrived in ‘Alberni’ August 11th, and were officially out of the woods. Telegrams were sent to the Premier McBride and to the expedition member’s families to inform them of their safe arrival. From there went by road to Nanaimo, and the trip was almost at an end.

“Lunch at the hotel, (August 13) a walk about the streets of Nanaimo, more rain.  Then we board the afternoon train of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway, and are in Victoria at the Empress in time for dinner.”

This expedition will be replicated this year in July by local mountaineer Philip Stone and several participants (see http://www.wildisle.ca/strathcona-park/expedition/)

All the above excerpts in quotations are taken from the ‘Journal of BC Exploratory Survey Trip into the Buttle’s Lake region by Harry McC. Johnston.’  The journal can be found in the Museum archives and is a rare treasure – full of wonderful descriptions and humour.  It is strictly a reference item, and is not available for reproduction.  Many archival photos of the Park are also available in the Archives, open Tuesday – Sunday 1-4pm or by appointment – 250-287-3013.

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.