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The Sad Tale of Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park

Teaser image: 
A magnificent stand of old growth Douglas fir found at Lupin Falls near the shore of Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park on Vancouver

Last week I traveled up island to gather images for the next video in the BC Parks history series. I spent a morning going through historical photographs pertaining to Strathcona Park. I was especially interested in finding pictures of Buttle Lake prior to the building of the Ladore Dam which resulted in the flooding of Upper Campbell Lake and Buttle Lake.

After selecting some 28 images, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and drove out to the park to photograph some key features mentioned by a few of the people we have interviewed for the video.

The first stop was the Ladore Dam which was completed in 1958. I found it ironic to say the least that it is now called the Strathcona Dam. Not something I think BC Hydro should be proudly proclaiming.

Next, I pulled in to the Lupin Falls picnic site on the shore of Buttle Lake. Here I walked across the road and stepped into a breath-taking stand of old growth Douglas fir. Earlier, while in the museum, I had come across a photograph taken during the Exploratory Survey of 1910 showing tents pitched among impossibly massive trunks of trees. Many probably surpassed 5 - 6 metres across. The trees I was now contemplating were nowhere as large, but still very big and magnificent.

The stand survived the decades of logging primarily because it as owned by a wealthy American who had a cottage just back from the beach during the 1920s and 30s. He would arrive each summer by floatplane. He refused to allow anyone to cut trees on his property.

Traveling down the road a litte further, I stopped at the Ralph River campground to admire and photograph the mighty veterns that still stood on this delta. After two young women were killed several years ago by a tree that fell on their tent, BC Parks went through the forest and took out many of the largest trees that were determined to be unsafe. Still, here and there, incredibly massive trees can be seen.

Through a clearing at the back of a campsite, I could see Buttle Lake and a field of stumps lining its shore. With a heavy-heart, I stepped through the clearing and approached these grim reminders of the grandeur that once rimmed the lake. One massive stump after another spread out before me as I neared the lake.

Another bitter irony...back in 1910 when the government of the day set aside the reserve that became Strathcona Provincial Park, all of the timber leases around Buttle Lake were bought up to ensure the trees were protected. Barely 40 years later, a different government decided that the lake's value would be higher if used as a reservoir for hydro-electric power to supply the sawmills of Campbell River and the development of mines in the park. Renowned conservationist, Roderick Haig-Brown, a resident of Campbell River, led a citizen's protest to stop the flooding of Buttle Lake, but they failed, although not without winning a small concession. Typically when an reservoir is created, the flood-killed trees are left in place, causing a dreadful eye-sore and safety hazard. Haig-Brown convinced the government that the affected trees should be cut down. Hence the graveyard of stumps exposed when the reservoir is at low levels.

Strathcona is BC's first park. Initially, the vision was to create something like Banff National Park, complete with lodges, trails, picnic sites, etc. But all too soon, the rich timber, mineral and hydro-electric potential of the area seduced the government into opening up the park to exploitation. As former BC Parks staffer said, it is the park that shows what not to do with a park. Like many victims of long-inflicted abuse, the wounds of Strathcona are numerous and evident. One can only hope that, given enough time and proper care, nature will heal Strathcona's wounds.

Other image: 
Another image of the old growth Douglas fir stand found at Lupin Creek in Strathcona Park
These stumps easily measured more than a metre across. Perhaps closer to two metres in diameter.
Like a graveyard, a field of stumps lines the shore of Buttle Lake, grim reminders of the magnificent forest that once stood her


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