B.C.’s oldest provincial park marks 110th anniversary with book about its history, controversies

The story of how the oldest provincial park in B.C. came to be is featured in a new book to mark the 110th anniversary of Strathcona Provincial Park, along with never-before-seen photos.

Author Catherine Gilbert said she was inspired to write A Journey Back to Nature after living and working near the park, which is located almost right in the centre of Vancouver Island.

She said previous books about the decade-old park looked at the non-Indigenous history but through research, she found information about settlements within the park that archeologists discovered in 2019, as well as other knowledge from surrounding First Nations communities.

“It was known for many years that there was a trail, or many trails, within the park that were used by Indigenous people,” Gilbert said on the CBC’s On the Island, “and it’s only been within the last couple of years that these were identified by the Mowachaht-Muchalaht of Gold River.”

She said the book also talks about the tension between environmentalists and industrialists as the park was first identified as a place that was abundant with minerals and trees.

The landscape after logging at the edge of Buttle Lake in the late 1930s. (Will J. Reid Family Collection/Submitted)

“At the time the park was formed, timber licenses and mineral claims were already within the park,” she explained, “and because the provincial government at the time was unable to buy it all up, when people wanted to use the park recreationally, the industry was in the way.”

That conflict lasted through the 1930s, ’40s and all the way into the ’80s, Gilbert said, but eventually a master plan was written in 1993 by B.C. Parks that specified that the park would be set aside as a natural space for recreation.

“People were reacting in some ways to the industrial revolution and they were looking for natural spaces away from pollution and busyness,” she said.

The Titus Family’s Camp Alicia in 1934. (Will J. Reid Family Collection/Submitted)

Gilbert also connected with a family in the United States who had a mineral claim on the west side of Buttle Lake in the 1930s and bought a property nearby with cabins on it. She said photos from the Will J. Reid family show a rare glimpse into what life was like and the activities going on in that region.

“For many years, nobody had ever taken any pictures within Strathcona Park,” she said. “As it turns out, Reed’s daughter was an amateur photographer and she took tremendous photos and developed them herself.”

Will Reid fly fishing in the 1930s. (Will J. Reid Family Collection/Submitted)

She said the creation of Strathcona Provincial Park was an important precedent that led to the development of more wilderness parks in B.C.

LISTEN | Catherine Gilbert talks about A Journey Back to Nature on CBC’s On the Island.

On The Island7:07A place of beauty and controversy. We’ll hear about a new book about the history of Strathcona Provincial Park

Gregor Craigie spoke with Catherine Gilbert, the author of A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona Provincial Park. 7:07

Read more at CBC.ca