A lament for Strathcona Park

A lament for Strathcona Park

Time to hold mines and loggers accountable

By Susanne Lawson

Strathcona Park is a good example of what can go wrong when resources and money are the primary consideration.  

Almost a century ago, people saw the beauty of the area as an equivalent to Banff.  Elk Valley was bounded by Buttle Lake and Campbell Lake with Myra Falls at the end of it. The valley was full of giant forest, elk, wildlife and the lakes teemed with trout.

The trout fishing was the reason Strathcona Park Lodge (est. 1911) exists today. Jim Boulding and his wife Myrna established a beautiful lodge on the lake and lived a good life, just outside the park boundaries. They raised a big family and fought for the preservation of the beauty and intrinsic values of the park.

It is unfortunate that the B.C. government didn’t see that value.  

When I visited recently, Myrna explained to me that the original lodge used to be 140 feet below where we now stood. It is hard to comprehend the vast degradation the park underwent in those past years and the heart-breaking processes that the Bouldings watched take place.  

Aerial view of the John Hart Dam

In 1948, the B.C. Power Commission decided to dam the north end of Upper Campbell Lake to generate power for a growing Campbell River region. This caused the Elk Valley to flood. Upper Campbell Lake and the Elk Valley became one huge dammed Buttle Lake, where water levels rose 18 feet. That left a shoreline of dead trees and stumps, and 10 to 20 feet of gravel in the dead zone between high and low waters.

A pulp mill was built near Campbell River in 1952 to take advantage of the new, inexpensive source of power.

The power station at the John Hart dam is being upgraded for seismic purposes.

The flushing of the water to adjust the power flows also flushed out spawning salmon from the Campbell River. No fish ladders were Installed, so trout ceased going out and salmon ceased coming in.

The logging of the valley was part of the damming process, and so, then why not just take what old growth was valuable in the process? Along with that, fires from the ever present slash burning got out of control and the area burned.  

Well, as if that wasn’t enough, the government decided in 1965 to issue mining permits within the park, not just small ones but mile-deep monstrosities with huge factories to break up the ore with noisy rolling balls and chemicals like cyanide to break it down. The tailings were dumped into ponds that were always overflowing into the lakes until the trout became poisonous, at least their livers were officially announced dangerous to consume.

Hikers into the park could hear the giant fans deep within the earth going 24/7 to ensure those miners down there survived, despite the ore dust they inhaled. Then, more mines were given the go ahead and places like Cream Lake on top of the mountains there and other areas were being drilled for ore.  

That is when the protests started in the 1980s. Swans that inhabited the upper end of the now dammed Buttle Lake were found dead with oil on their feathers, something that perhaps helped, along with public outcry, to stop the incursion of more mines.  

Two status of parks ensued, Class A and Class B. Heaven help you if you want to enjoy a class B park. Watch out for mine shafts and ore trucks.  

Logging continues all around the park and you would be hard pressed to find any old growth forest left within eyesight, although there is lots of fresh logging.

Many years ago, the B.C. government awarded CP Rail the E&N Rail Grant for the northeast side of Strathcona Park, and at one time, the border between the park and the grant  ran through the northeast corner of Buttle Lake. This was a time when it looked as if the rail line would continue up island and possibly into Strathcona Park, which was envisioned as another Banff.

Eventually a select number of logging companies in the early 1950s we4re allowed to purchase parts of the grant and these companies logged around the borders of the park and on the shores of Buttle Lake with in the grat area. Today, this entire region is owned by Timberwest who purchased the land from the smaller companies.

The people of BC. gave up park land in order to have a perpetual railroad in operation on Vancouver Island only the logging companies conveniently forgot about that part of the bargain.

How come the people get nothing out of these deals?  

Westmin Mines, commonly known as the Myra Falls Mine, has changed hands numerous times wince Westmin first developed it in 1965. It was recently sold to Nyrstar, and then closed for several years. Nystar is now getting the mine up and running.

The giant pulp mill will never operate again due to the lack of demand for newsprint and other paper products. There was an attempt to turn the old mill into an LNG facility, but with a glut of liquid natural gas all over the world, that idea went the way of the dodo.  

Isn’t it about time to hold these corporations accountable? And time for a new paradigm … for the sake of our children and the future?

Susanne Lawson has lived in Clayoquot Sound for 50 years. She is a resident of Tofino, B.C. 

University of Victoria graduate student Catherine Gilbert contributed factual information for this commentary.


Wild salmon on brink of disaster

Wild salmon on brink of disaster

Bears starving, sea lice out of control

PHOTO: One of the fish boats leaving the occupation site with the Kayactivists following. Susanne Lawson photo


By Susanne Lawson

NOV. 16 — I am sitting in a boat near a Marine Harvest fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago. I walk outside and the air stinks of acrid, penned Atlantic salmon and feed pellets that are continuously sprayed into the pens. The sound of the sprayers never ceases. It is depressing to see these fish leaping in the air trapped in these stinking pens. Salmon should never be in pens.

This farm has been occupied by local First Nations for almost three months now. There are multiple First Nations involved, very dedicated people.

There is a camp in the woods of kayakers standing by to help. They call themselves Kyactivists. There is another camp of people at a land-based house nearby that was built by Marine Harvest, which First Nations occupied. Marine Harvest has several land-based houses for workers, leased quite permanently (it seems) for comfort and ease of access.

These are public lands, public waters.

At the farm, five pens are empty as the protest has so far prevented more Atlantic salmon from being restocked and four are full of approximately eight-month-old fish. Marine Harvest does not have permits to restock at this time, yet are determined to go ahead.

There are about 4 to 5 boats belonging to supporters of the protest with people aboard them, providing support, transportation and warmth. The weather has been stormy, cold and wet.

First Nations people — Chiefs and their families — have maintained a presence here since August. Two young women, Molina Dawson and Karissa Glendale, in their early 20s, of the Musgmagw and Namgis First Nations, are living on the floats.

Chief Ernest Alfred and other hereditary First Nations of Alert Bay occupied Swanson Island fish farm and Wicklow fish farms this fall. Marine Harvest came in and stocked the pens in front of the Chiefs who were occupying the farm in full traditional regalia.

Seven people have set up a camp in the woods nearby, treating the area with great respect and understanding; one of them doing his doctorate in law and jurisdiction. It is a sweet space with big trees and a creek bubbling nearby.

Marine Harvest has gone to court seeking an injunction to have everyone removed. The judge has given both parties until Dec. 14th to present their case and in the meantime the First Nations agreed to remove their occupation and buildings. Marine Harvest wants to go ahead and restock the empty pens with Atlantic salmon smolts, despite First Nations objections.

The Namgis First Nations in Alert Bay

Things are at a standstill right now. Sad that nothing is preventing more Atlantic salmon and diseases to continue to prevail in B.C. waters, especially after such a concerted effort to bring about positive change to such a destructive process as fish farming. So much and so many are losing … commercial fishermen, sports fishing, families dependent on the wild salmon resource, bears, eagles, trout, marine life like seals, sea lions, and so much more.

It is impossible to weigh the values of what wild salmon have provided for the coast. Wild salmon are on the brink of disaster. Wild stocks are crashing. Alaska has closed all Chinook fishing. Bears and more have been starving on the coast. Sea lice are out of control all over the world where these farms exist and have been found on emaciated trout, ling cod, herring and more.

An application for 18 hectares of pesticide use has been made for Clayoquot Sound waters by another fish farm company, Cermaq, owned by Mitsubishi and operated out of Norway. We are all losing while others are profiting from our loss.

How far does this go? Until our amazing wild salmon are extinct? I hope for sanity to prevail. If this doesn’t turn around now, the irreplaceable loss of our wild salmon migration and all it nourishes will be one of the greatest regrets of this century.

Susanne Lawson and her late First Nations husband, Steve, have lived in Clayoquot Sound for more than 50 years. They have actively protected salmon, bears and natural habitat from mining and old growth logging. She’s an artist and writer.