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BC Parks 100th Anniversary

Written by Eric Lucas

Tourism Vancouver Island Staff enjoying a day at Strathcona Provincial Park

Ancient forests, towering peaks, rushing rivers, oceanfront beaches—Vancouver Island’s provincial parks seem eternal. In fact, they are barely a century old.

Though urban parks date far back in human history, the notion of having governments preserve largely undeveloped parcels of natural landscape is fairly new—until the mid-19th century, “parks” were game preserves managed for the benefit of the nobility and closed to the public. Canada and our US neighbours pioneered the modern approach to parks. America’s Yellowstone was the world’s first national park in 1872; Canada followed 16 years later with Banff. Canada was first in the world to create an agency specifically devoted to fostering and managing a system of parks.

That was 1911. And the same year Parks Canada was formed, British Columbia designated its first provincial park, Strathcona, in March 1911.

We are proud to claim Strathcona as the centrepiece of our Island parks system, which has now grown to include two major national parks; more than 40 BC Provincial Parks; and dozens of regional parks and preserves. All of them help protect the beautiful and diverse landscape we share with visitors and residents to our Island. And just as the Island is itself a special place within a very special place, so are our parks unique facets of our area.

Strathcona, the first, remains notable a century after its formation. It’s still the Island’s largest park, at 607,000 acres, and when we say it’s the centrepiece we mean it—the park straddles the island’s central mountain range. Here are the Island’s highest peak, 2,198-metre Golden Hinde; what is generally considered Canada’s highest waterfall, 440-metre Della Falls; 23-kilometre-long Buttle Lake, a boating paradise; and a large portion of the remarkable Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Strathcona is further distinguished by the way it encompasses the Island’s diversity, from perpetually snowclad alpine peaks to sea-level west-facing rainforest to lowland east side Douglas-fir habitat. Endangered Vancouver Island marmots inhabit the highlands; Nordic skiers glide along the trails near Mount Washington; swimmers plunge into Buttle Lake’s refreshing waters at Strathcona Park Lodge, a world-famed outdoor adventure center.

But Strathcona is simply the oldest and biggest. Here are more of our favorites:

  • Newcastle Island Provincial Park: encompassing a lovely 830-acre islet in Nanaimo Harbour (and reached only by boat), this former vacation resort holds beautiful and rare Garry oak meadows, languid saltwater coves on the Salish Sea, and quiet trails through old growth fir forest. It was bought for public use by the citizens of Nanaimo, who later donated it to the province. A large colony of purple martins greet summertime visitors arriving at the island’s dock.
  • Juan De Fuca Provincial Park: one of the Island’s newest parks preserves the rugged shore of our southwest coast between Sooke and Port Renfrew. Aside from wave-tossed beaches and old-growth Sitka spruce fringe forest, the park holds the Juan de Fuca wilderness backpacking trail, a gentler alternative to the rugged West Coast Trail farther north. Several lovely beaches beckon day-trippers, as does Botanical Beach, a spectacular section of colourful tidepools near Port Renfrew.
  • Cape Scott Provincial Park: embracing the far northwest corner of the island, this remote, 55,000-acre bastion is a favorite destination of wilderness trekkers who consider a five-day foray here an accomplishment equal to the more-famous West Coast Trail. Day users can enjoy an easy 45-minute stroll down to San Josef Bay, a breathtaking mile-long strand of ivory sand backed by spruce fringe that is a perfect spot for a picnic.
  • Englishman River Falls Provincial Park: One of three popular parks featuring impressive waterfalls in the Parksville-Campbell River region, the pools here warm nicely for swimming in July and August. Little Qualicum Falls and Elk River Falls are sister parks with similar delights.
  • Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park: One of the most popular vacation destinations on the Island draws hundreds of families every summer day who come to camp, beachcomb, and build sand castles on the famous quarter-kilometre golden sand flats that are exposed at low tide. Many thousands of Canadian adults fondly remember building sand castles at Rathtrevor when they were kids—and many more kids will create similar memories this summer.
  • MacMillan Provincial Park: One of Canada’s best-known and most easily visited old-growth forests lies along Highway 4 here between Nanaimo and Port Alberni. Popularly known as Cathedral Grove, the woods here hold massive Douglas-firs, Western hemlocks and Western red-cedars that are many centuries old.
  • Helliwell and Tribune Bay Provincial Parks: these two utterly different parks lie within ten minutes of each other on Hornby Island, near Fanny Bay. Helliwell is a scenic headland that holds rare dryland Douglas-fir old-growth forest; the trees here, while also centuries old, are a third the height of those at Cathedral Grove. Tribune Bay’s half-kilometer of glistening ivory sand faces south into the summer sun, warming the beach and shallow waters to the point it is humorously nicknamed “Little Hawaii.”
  • Goldstream Provincial Park: Just outside Victoria, this foothills preserve is an excellent place to witness the marvel of spawning salmon that return to Goldstream River every autumn, the fish’s vivid reds and golds matching the turning leaves on the park’s bigleaf maples and black cottonwoods

Visitors to Goldstream are well advised to contemplate the irony that, while the park was named for a brief gold rush here in the 19th century, the natural wealth in its rivers has been found here for millennia—and will  remain here for many more, if we continue to cherish and support the caretaking function our Provincial Parks system performs for our natural treasures.

Province-wide, BC Parks preserve more than 32 million acres of land—the second largest parks system in Canada, after the national parks, and one of the largest park systems in the world. Almost 15 percent of the province has been dedicated to parks and preserves, an impressive percentage compared to most jurisdictions. To learn more visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks.

BC’s parks are “dedicated to the protection of natural environments for the inspiration, use and enjoyment of the public,” the park’s mission statement explains. While all three purposes are worthy goals, we especially like the first one. Every time we step outside and raise our eyes to the Island landscape, we are inspired by the wonders our provincial parks hold.


Written by Eric Lucas

Biking the Galloping Goose Trail in Sooke Photo: Boomer Jerritt

Few locales enjoy as fine a setting as Sooke, the delightful, quiet village 40 minutes west of Victoria. The town perches above a lovely protected harbour guarded by a sand spit perfect for strolling. In the near distance the Strait of Juan de Fuca glistens, framed by the spectacular snowy backdrop of the Olympic Mountains in Washington state. On the north side the foothills of the Vancouver Island Range hold deep forests and fend off the worst winter storms. To the west, the sandy shores, ancient spruce forests and scenic headlands of the island’s southwest coast beckon beachcombers. Facing south into the sun, the area is blessed by warmth and light. Eagles ply the sky above and sailboats cruise the strait. Tidy cottages are surrounded by rhododendrons and flower beds.


And with all that, Sooke may be best known for, say, octopus aspic salad and lavender sorbet.

That’s the sort of adventurous cuisine found at Sooke Harbour House, a world-famed luxury inn at the outskirts of Sooke whose dining room is a gourmet shrine dedicated to locally produced foods. One of the pioneers of the slow food movement, Sooke Harbour House has made its namesake village known far and wide; gourmets from around the world make pilgrimages here to experience the cuisine, which includes everything from locally-grown produce to seaweed gathered on nearby beaches.

There’s much to see and do in the area aside from dining. Sooke Potholes Provincial Park holds delightful rock swimming holes perfect for an afternoon dip in July and August. East Sooke Regional Park is an exceptional parcel of fir-arbutus woodland, with scenic headlands poised above the saltwater and lovely, moderate hiking paths threading the woods. Juan de Fuca Provincial Park, west of Sooke, holds ancient spruce forest and wave-washed wilderness beaches perfect for contemplative strolling.

Though all is peaceful now, Sooke’s history includes a lengthy period of timber production that began in the 1850s and lasted more than a century. That colorful past is detailed at the Sooke Region Museum, the visitor information complex in the centre of town where, in the summer months, a role player takes the character of “Aunt Tilly” Gordon, a pioneer matron who demonstrates turn-of-the-century household tasks such as cooking. Probably not octopus aspic, though—you’ll need to visit a certain famous local inn for that.



Written by Eric Lucas

Photo: Sue Bosdet

Now that they are among the most avidly sought wildlife-watching objectives, it’s ironic to recall that not so long ago bears were widely considered nuisances. Today bears amaze and delight thousands of visitors to Vancouver Island each year.

They may be simply travelers along Island highways who are lucky enough to spot a bear foraging spring greens by the road. They might be wilderness trekkers at Cape Scott, Strathcona Park, or on the West Coast Trail. Or they might be among the growing legions of visitors who rely on professional guides to take them to prime bear-viewing locales. In each case, a bear sighting is considered a gift of the wild for fortunate visitors.

That’s partly because bears are impressive, beautiful animals that evince the power of our wildlands. Sleek ebony fur glistening in the sun; strong paws raking over stumps or seizing salmon in rushing waters; bulky bodies trundling along hillsides in a distinctive rolling gait—our black bears are portraits of the wilderness.

It’s also because all those qualities once considered nuisances--lumbering food-filchers; dangerous wild beasts; hulking hazards to hikers--heighten the appeal of these wild creatures. Bears are opportunistic, omnivorous foragers and will certainly take advantage of any unguarded food source they find; they are very capable predators that represent the wild’s unbridled power as they hunt. That’s why bear safety is important for all campers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts on our Island, though encounters almost always end with bears avoiding people. Don’t feed them, don’t approach them, don’t trouble them in any way.

Just appreciate. That’s the best philosophy for bear watching, and the Island is one of the very best locales for doing so. Our black bears are impressively ample and numerous. Typically 2 metres tall and weighing up to 250 kilograms, our bears comprise a distinct race of Ursus Americanus, the North American black bear, and range from saltwater shoreline to alpine timberline. They consume everything from dandelion greens in early spring to orchard apples (a favorite) and spawning salmon (bear pizza) in the fall, when they congregate along salmon-run rivers to fatten up for winter. Grizzlies, even bigger and more impressive, have never made it across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island, but several North Island outfitters offer day trips over to the mainland to watch grizzlies fish salmon runs there.

 Right now—spring—is a good time to see bears as they resume warm-season activity after a winter of low activity or hibernation; often they are spotted by the roadside before mowing operations level the new green growth. As summer and autumn roll along and bear habits shift, visitors who seek the best chance at bear-sightings can take advantage of the Island’s numerous wildlife guides. These professionals know where bears can be found, and how to bring people close while safeguarding tourists and the wilderness from the dangers each presents the other. For a list of guides and outfitters, please visit www.vancouverisland.travel.


Top Ten...

Favorite Camping Spots in the Vancouver Island Region.

For this edition of islandMOMENTS, we asked our Facebook Fans what their FAVORITE Camping Spots are in the Vancouver Island Region.

Here are their Top Ten...

  1. Living Forest Oceanside RV & Campground - Nanaimo
  2. Brannen Lake RV Park and Campsite - Nanaimo
  3. Buttle Lake Campground - Strathcona Provincial Park
  4. Ralph River Campground - Strathcona Provincial Park
  5. Four All Seasons Resort - Yellowpoint
  6. Bella Pacifica Campground - Pacific Rim National Park
  7. Miracle Beach Provincial Park - Comox Valley
  8. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park - Parksville
  9. Elk Falls Provincial Park - Campbell River
  10. Goldstream Provincial Park - Victoria

Photo: Living Forest Oceanside RV & Campground


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For several years, we have meandered from Alberta to Vancouver Island to dilute the wear and tear of winter. Once we added a 22 ft. kayak to the mix, we realized that 11 months of dust from our garage was neither healthy for this little vessel or our winter weary spirits. This past August, after a wonderful paddle around The Broken Islands, we finally committed to buying our dream B&B in Lantzville.  Lovin' it!

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