Flash Back Fridays

Written March, 2009. As recalled by: Clive L. Justice, PhD, LmBCSLA, FCSLA Landscape Architect and Amenity Forester (ret) Garden, Ornamental Plant and Rhododendron Historian.

Some memories of our involvement in Strathcona Park Lodge


In the early 1960s, on the recommendation of Wallace Baikie, father of Myrna, and with husband Jim Boulding, our firm Muirhead Justice Landscape Architects were given the task of producing a site and landscape plan for a property on the logging scarred and denuded shoreline of a man made lake. The lake had been created by damming the Campbell River and the dam’s large backup waters formed in what was the Elk River Valley. The flooded lake extended south from the dam all the way to the boundary of Strathcona Provincial Park . The Lodge site viewed the mountain across the lake at about two o’clock, as they say in artillery terms.The Lodge site lay just outside the Park boundary.

Below the gravel roadside at the top of the site was a two storey log fishing lodge that had been floated up as the water rose from the valley below and positioned with heavy logging equipment near the road side. It was set on a new concrete basement below the main Lodge with access onto the site on the lakeside. This beautiful relocated log lodge had been featured in a book let published by ‘Sunset Magazine’ titled ‘Cabins and Beach Houses’ when the building was at its riverside valley bottom location, in the 1930s. The rest of the steeply sloping site down to the lake edge was occupied with scattered wooden cabins: the remains of a floating logging camp that had been used during the clearing of the new foreshore by Baikie Brothers Timber Company. Bunk houses from the floating camp had been bulldozed up and located off a double S curved road- way that wound back and forth down the site. Much of the site vegetation was trashed into slash, as the D-8 Cat did the site development work, creating the road and dragging the buildings from the rising waters into position. It took a great deal of faith and foresight to visualize an environmental oriented tourist facility there amongst the gravel, large rock s and exposed hardpan. The Bouldings, Myrna and Jim, were teachers; Jim was a great big outdoor sportsman and salt water fishing guide; Myrna had her mother’s good look s and the smarts of her dad. They both shared the vision of founding an environmental ‘Outward Bound’ type school centered at the Lodge.

The logo

However, there was a lot to do before that could be realized. Our first job was to survey the site to find out where everything was located. At this time, the Bouldings lived at the Lodge with at least two of their kids (and a very large Siamese cat) so they could give us meals and accommodation as we were 30 miles from Campbell River. Harry Webb and I set to work . It rained continuously while we measured and took floor elevations of every cabin and site feature referenced to the relocated lodge. We would work out in the rain for an hour or so then come in to the Lodge basement laundry room soaking wet to throw our wet clothes into the dryer drum powered by a diesel generator, change into borrowed dry clothes and go out into the rain for another hour of measuring, then in for another change into dry clothes. The rain never let up the whole week end and we ran the dryer continuously. I was used to heavy continuous rain as I came from the island but Harry, who was from Ontario and was urban oriented, was ill equipped for outdoor survey work and he hated it. At the time there was only the two of us and a secretary in the firm. He never returned to the mid-island ‘wilderness’ again. He did, however, design the logo for the Lodge signage and stationery; a modified salmon in aboriginal carving style. Harry much preferred working at the drawing board than being relegated to rod or chainman. Later on, our new firm member, building architect John Vincent, who also qualified as a landscape architect, prepared detailed plans for extensive additions to the Lodge: bar, gift shop, kitchen, etc. and interior and exterior renovations and up- grading of the logging camp cabins as rentable accommodations along with site re- vegetation and landscaping. Sadly, the beautiful old log main Lodge burned in 1973 and was replaced with a more suit- able structure, but the ambience, quality of craftsmanship and heritage of the original  Road from the Lodge in the 1960s was lost and could not be recreated.

Original Lodge layout as suggested by Muirhead & Justice

One morning, much later on one of my site visits, I was driving back to Campbell River via the twinned gravel logging and copper ore haul roads, traveling on the upper road, when I swerved and slid over and down the bank between the upper and lower roads. As I was about to turn over; I opened my driver side car door and pivoted on the point of the bottom of the door and landed upright onto the lower road. I liked to think my quick thinking and presence of mind had prevented the car from rolling over so I could proceed on my way undamaged. I was also lucky as here was no traffic due to a temporary halt to the mine concentrate haulage. The copper ore was being extracted and concentrated from a deposit located within Strathcona Park beyond the Lodge site near Myra Creek in the Park. The concentrate was hauled out by truck and shipped from Myra Creek which flowed into

Road from the Lodge in the 1960s

Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park, to a dock in Campbell River, a 120 mile round trip. The irony was that Myra Creek was named after Myrna’s grandmother, Myra Cliffe. A surveyor, Jimmy King, was staying at the Lorne Hotel in Comox when he sat Myra, a little six-year-old girl, on his knee and told her that he had named a creek and a mountain after her. Myrna’s mother, Myra Baikie was a smasher, one of the most beautiful women I have set eyes on. Many of us fell madly in love with her but no one dared challenge her husband as he almost always won his event in the annual logging sports days: log rolling was his specialty.

Myrna’s mother and grandmother, Myra Baikie (nee Thomson) and Myra Thomson (nee Cliffe) - on the bank of the Campbell River, 1908

However there was nothing romantic about mining in a public park . It became a cause celebre for the environmental awakening on the Upper Island and influenced the Clayoquot Sound confrontation and the Haida Gwaii Lylle Island logging ban. Truck s of concentrate passing the Lodge 24 hours a day turned the tide and the Lodge became a symbol of environ- mental concern, restoration and recovery.

I couldn’t believe my eyes some 35 years later in May of 2005 when I returned. I was co- leading with Parksville/ Qualicum Milner Gardens manager Jim Cadwalader a tour of American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arbo- reta (AABGA) delegates to Nootka, and we stayed overnight at the Lodge on our way to Gold River and Nootka Sound. When we stepped off the bus nothing was recognizable to me. Our accommodation was hidden among a jungle of garden trees and shrubs; the large dining room perched high up overlooking thick masses of garden shrubs and trees. You couldn’t see a building or the lake for foliage; bank s and rocks had been converted to rockeries with alpine plants and berried ground cover of viburnums, cotoneasters and native kinnik innik , with trails and garden walks between. The large high up dining room was oriented so windows looked out into a garden of foliage and flowers, and the outdoor deck at the end faced the distant natural forested landscape of Elk Mountain in Strathcona Park, viewed across the wide stretch of water.

Rose Baikie, Myra Thomson and Wallace Baikie on hike to Buttle Lake

Reginald Farrer author of the two volume ‘The English Rock Garden’ would have described the rockeries in glowing terms as would have critic John Rusk in. William Robinson author of the ‘English Flower Garden’ and the ‘Wild Garden’ would have approved. It’s too bad I didn’t know about it or I would certainly have included the Strathcona Park Lodge garden in my Post Retirement Doctoral Dissertation, ‘The English Garden Legacy in western Canadian Ornamental Gardens 1888 to 1999’. I would have described the transformed site with high praise