Timber Baron Wanted To Cut Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park is an old growth wonder near Port Alberni, BC
It is a west coast old growth wonder that attracts a million visitors a year, and is known to bring experienced foresters to tears with the sheer grandeur of the setting. And yet, if British Columbia's first Chief Forester had his way, Cathedral Grove would have been cut for lumber and profit long ago.

History of Cathedral Grove

Just like George Hearst ruthlessly mined mountains for gold in the U.S., Canada's H.R. MacMillan was an opportunist that mined early Vancouver Island's primeval forests for giant Douglas firs, Western red cedar, and Hemlock.

Cathedral Grove in 1941
Despite a popular local conservationist sentiment in the early 1900s, MacMillan refused to set aside the big trees of Cathedral Grove through 15 years of constant pressure from the public.

The big tree entrepreneur acquired the logging rights to the generously forested area east of Port Alberni where the Cameron River empties into Cameron Lake. Possession was obtained through a Timber Berth, an early form of temporary forestry tenure. The seller of big trees held fast against public opinion, saying that the cutting of the grove was necessary for his company's stability.

Finally in 1944 at a meeting in Port Alberni, after a public browbeating by the gathered crowd, MacMillan relented and turned the ownership of the trees back to the province for the establishment of the park.

While many accounts attest to the 'fact' that the 136 hectares was generously donated by the timber baron, at least one account has him storming out of the public meeting in a huff while shouting, "All right, you can have the god-damn grove!"

By 1947 a park was in place, preserving these irreplaceable trees for future generations, if that is, they can endure the predations of the present.

800 year old Douglas-fir in Cathedral Grove
The Park Today

The old growth forest surrounding Cameron Lake has been a tourist attraction since the 1920s for a good reason - it is some of the most magnificent forest to be found anywhere on Earth. Here, in the Coastal Douglas-fir ecozone, ancient trees up to 9 meters in circumference and 76 meters tall grace the park. The oldest of the trees in this area are pushing 1000 years, and the forest is dripping with antiquity.

Today Cathedral Grove lies within 301 hectare Macmillan Provincial Park. The park is bisected by Hiway 4, and what remains of the old growth is deeply affected by the ongoing logging in the area.

Fallen trees are left in place in the MacMillan Park old growth forest
People Power

When we think of the majesty of Cathedral Grove we should give credit where credit is due. I give no thanks to rapacious timber barons for tossing us a few crumbs of our own forest while continuing to decimate dwindling old growth ecosystems behind the scenes. Profit pumping suits step aside.

The real heroes in this story are the forward-thinking conservationists that could see where BC's forests were headed over 100 years ago. Regular people recognizing the madness of destroying 1500 year old trees for what it is, and taking action to push for change and preservation.

There is more to be saved
Resistance is not futile! Thanks to people power, Cathedral Grove and many, many places like it over the years, have been spared from clear cutting.

Successful fights have been, and continue to be fought over unsustainable practices that benefit a few greedy folks at the expense of plant, animal, and human communities.

But even at MacMillan Park more could be done, ensuring that the fight for the remaining .1% of the old growth Douglas-fir ecozone will continue.

There are hundreds of hectares in the area, including Cathedral Canyon, that still contain ancient and mature forests, but are slated for clearcutting.

Thanks to the power of the people in the past, areas of old growth, including Cathedral Grove, can continue to inspire, and perhaps even move to tears, tree lovers from around the world. However, more work needs to be done by todays forward-thinking defenders of ancient ecosystems.

Getting There

You don't really need directions to Vancouver Island's Cathedral Grove. All you need to do is get on Hwy. #4 west of Qualicum Beach and drive until you are surrounded by giant trees and swarming tourists. You can't miss either.

MacMillan Provincial Park is on Hiway 4 next to Cameron Lake

From Port Alberni take Highway 4 East.

From Victoria or Nanaimo take Highway 19, then exit west on Highway 4 towards Port Alberni.

From Nanaimo it is about a half hour drive.

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