Hume Researches Strathcona History at Museum

This week, the Campbell River Museum Archives has had a well known visitor.  Award winning author and journalist Stephen Hume, who has been a long time staff writer for the Vancouver Sun, is researching the Ellison expedition into Strathcona Provincial Park that is being replicated this July by mountaineer Philip Stone of Quadra Island.  Hume will be writing a piece for the Sun about the upcoming Strathcona Centennial Expedition, and was interested in using the resources at the Museum to find out more about the history of Strathcona Provincial Park.  In particular, he said he also came to seeing the current photo exhibit of the Ellison expedition that is on display in the Museum temporary gallery until the end of June.

Hume may be a participant in the new expedition, but isn’t certain yet.  For now, he can vicariously take the journey as he peruses the wonderful journal kept in the Archives that was written by Harry Johnson, a member of the original Ellison 1910 trek.


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Strathcona Centennial Expedition with Phil Stone

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Price Ellison expedition that led to the formation of BC’s first provincial park, Strathcona.  In July this year, photographer, author and mountaineer Philip Stone of Quadra Island will be leading a group into Strathcona Provincial Park to replicate Price’s expedition of 1910.  To introduce the history of the Park and provide insight into this summer’s expedition, Stone will present an illustrated talk at the Museum at Campbell River on Saturday, April 17 from 1 pm to 3 pm.

The Ellison expedition was undertaken at a time when 19th century attitudes were still prevalent in terms of looking at natural resources as something to exploit.  Although Strathcona Park was viewed as a nature preserve and ‘set apart as a public place and pleasure-ground for the benefit, advantage, and enjoyment of the people of British Columbia’. (Strathcona Park Act March 1, 1911), there were ambitious plans to build a railway into the Buttle Lake area and to construct a resort in the tradition of the Canadian Pacific hotels.

An early brochure about the park makes glowing references to its attractions:  ‘There are no venomous snakes, and no wild animals from which danger may be apprehended.  In most localities flies and mosquitoes are nearly absent, and will not interfere with the trout fishing.’

While this idealized version of the park might have eventually attracted the general public, Strathcona never did become the ‘Banff’ of Vancouver Island and despite a mine being built in the park in the 1960’s there has been relatively little development.  Stone hopes that the current expedition will raise awareness of the park and help preserve its natural state.

Philip Stone himself has explored Strathcona Park extensively over the past 20 years and has written several books on hiking on Vancouver Island.  He is currently the owner and editor of the Discovery Islander and WildIsle publications.

When asked how he initiated his current project, Stone explained that the first step in making the expedition a reality was to “write to the Premier”, and that “the SPPAC (Strathcona Provincial Park Advisory Committee) and BC Parks have been vital in getting the profile needed to have it recognized as an official reenactment’.”

The talk is in conjunction with the Museum’s exhibit ‘Into the Wild: The 1910 Ellison Expedition and the Birth of BC Parks’.  The cost for the talk is $6.00.  Please call 287-3103 to reserve a seat.  For more information on this summer’s expedition, check out Stone’s website:


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The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community.  For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit

‘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

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.