From the Sentinel: How the small village of Cumberland returned a forest to the people

From the Sentinel: How the small village of Cumberland returned a forest to the people

Perseverance Creek  /  George Le Masurier photo

By Guest Writer

The 150-year legacy of the E&N Railway Land Grant still echoes across southeastern Vancouver Island. This transfer of over 2 million acres of unceded Indigenous land to coal baron Robert Dunsmuir is the origin of many land use conflicts on Vancouver Island. But it is also the back story for one community’s journey to restore the commons.

The Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) has been purchasing and protecting privately owned forests scheduled for logging near the Village of Cumberland since 2000. Guided by the belief that this forest is now worth more to the community as an intact forested watershed than as timber, the CCFS is supported by individuals, families, and businesses from across the Comox Valley and beyond. Purchased lands are protected in perpetuity for the conservation of biological diversity and watershed protection by a Section 219 conservation covenant (Land Act).

It was a project that no one thought would succeed back in 2000. How could plant sales and trivia nights buy back forest from a massive multinational timber company? How could a village of 2600 people meet a price tag set by a Goliath company and return a forest to the people? But the project caught the imagination of the community. It offered a tangible, doable solution to a very difficult problem: community control of the land base around us. Innovative community fundraising and generous local donors who took a risk on a wild idea made the impossible possible. With successful purchases in 2005 and 2016 totalling over 110 hectares (270 acres) for over $2,000,000, the society is closing in on another major purchase in the next year of 91.3 hectares (226 acres) in the Perseverance Creek watershed.

Perseverance Creek

The Perseverance Creek watershed flows into Comox Lake, which supplies drinking water to 45,000 people in Comox and Courtenay via the Comox Lake Drinking Water System. The upcoming purchase effort is part of a plan that will ultimately protect the entire riparian corridor of Perseverance Creek from Allen Lake to Comox Lake. The initiative is called Project Perseverance.

Because of the watershed-scale protection this project offers, Project Perseverance is drawing the attention of the wider Comox Valley. It has the potential to make a meaningful impact on the significant management challenges that exist in the Comox Lake Watershed. The CCFS, Village of Cumberland, and community partners are stitching together a fragmented landscape into one of connected and protected lands set aside for drinking water protection, habitat connectivity, climate resilience, and quality of life.

Drinking water protection IS climate resilience. Project Perseverance will help protect and restore local watershed systems to mitigate impacts to drinking water from increasing winter weather events, retain water and slow water release during drought conditions, and provide ecosystem services for the region through supporting the quality and sustainability of drinking water resources.

The project also benefits at-risk ecosystems. The Perseverance Watershed is an important link in an extensive habitat corridor that connects mountains and lakes to the Salish Sea. The area is part of an interconnected system of forests, salmon-bearing creeks, wetlands, and riparian areas and is home to at risk species including little brown myotis and Townsend’s big-eared bats, Roosevelt elk, Western screech-owl, and Red-legged frogs.

The adjacency of Project Perseverance to existing protected areas also makes it a valuable conservation priority. Concurrent regional efforts to protect lands around Comox Lake, Maple Lake, in the Morrison Headwaters, and down the Puntledge River to the Courtenay Estuary make this project a significant contribution to a landscape-scale conservation vision in the region.

Massive fund-raising

The Cumberland Community Forest Society takes a creative approach to land protection. They weave their conservation efforts into local and regional art, heritage, science, and sport initiatives. They partner with major trail races, run citizen research projects and community science pubs, facilitate children’s theatre programs, and engage with regional conservation collaborations. They approach land conservation as a challenge and a celebration and attract supporters through making the seemingly impossible, possible. The idea of restoring the commons resonates. The theme of collective responsibility offers meaning and connection for residents and visitors alike.

Over the years, the forests around Cumberland have given a great deal to our community. The Village of Cumberland was built on logging and mining and the Cumberland Forest was a base for both. Today the community is rapidly evolving and changing, like so many Salish Sea communities. These growing pains are assuaged by an incredible spirit of community that revolves around the forest landscape. It holds long-time residents to this place and welcomes new folks to join a community that cares about the natural world around them.

The Project Perseverance fundraising campaign recently hit the 50% mark on a $2.6 million purchase. With full matching funds in place the CCFS is working hard to close on this deal and reaching out to donors and funders across BC and Canada. Their robust monthly donor program provides a foundation of other fundraising efforts, with donors from across BC. To find out how you can be part of this conservation community, visit

Project Perseverance is in the traditional territory of the K’ómoks Nation. The CCFS gives thanks and appreciation to be guests on this land. Gilakas’la / čɛčɛ haθɛč.

Meaghan Cursons is executive director of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. She wrote this article for the Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation.










Unfortunately, by 2012 nearly all mature second growth forests in the eastern Comox Valley had been logged. Conservation Biologists argue that there is an urgent need to protect younger second-growth forests (60-80 years old) as “old-growth recruitment areas” in our rain-shadow zone. This is exactly what the Cumberland Community Forest Society is doing.

— Cumberland Forest Society website



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5 days left to influence BC’s key forest practices legislation

5 days left to influence BC’s key forest practices legislation

Photo from the Ancient Forest Alliance

By Guest Writer

The BC Government is seeking public input on proposed changes to the Forest and Range Practices Act, the main piece of legislation governing forest practices in BC. These amendments will focus on issues like climate change, biodiversity, government oversight, and public trust in forestry management decisions.

This is a rare and critical opportunity for British Columbians speak up for science-based protection of BC’s endangered old-growth forests!

Introduced in 2004, the Forest and Range Practices Act (FRPA) reduced government accountability and oversight and put the fox (timber industry) in charge of the henhouse (BC’s public lands, including rare and endangered old-growth forests). It also prioritizes timber supply over all other forest management objectives and includes loopholes around old-growth protection big enough to drive a logging truck through! The results have been a disaster and BC’s ancient forest ecosystems, biodiversity, climate, and communities are paying the price.

Now is our chance to demand bold and sweeping changes to this outdated law.

Read more of this story from the Ancient Forest Alliance newsletter where you’ll find a link to provide online feedback on this issue.



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Harley-riding Hamilton Mack Laing fills the hall after 104 years

Harley-riding Hamilton Mack Laing fills the hall after 104 years

Archive photos courtesy of the Mack Laing Heritage Society

By Guest Writer

Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries may be a second best to local legend, Hamilton Mack Laing’s account of his motorcycle ride from New York to the San Francisco World Exhibition of 1915.

One hundred and two years after he wrote The Transcontinentalist, this local legendary naturalist’s account of his journey on an early 14 horsepower Harley Davidson continues to fascinate Canadians, some of whom` easily filled the Courtenay Museum’s auditorium this week to hear readings from the new edition of his memoir by author Trevor Marc Hughes.

Hughes presented an animated and illustrated presentation of Hamilton Mack Laing’s previously unpublished memoir, under its new title, Riding the Continent, published by Ronsdale Press, and which is to be released July 15.

Author Trevor Mark Hughes reading excerpts at the Courtenay Museum this week

The lecture presented some of the rich silverpoint photos taken by Laing. The photos reveal a young Laing fresh out of the Pratt Institute Art programme as an early Ansel Adams, pushing the limits of wilderness landscape photography as an art form.

Laing, who built two famous houses of certified national heritage interest in Comox — Baybrook and Shakesides — lived here for many decades (1922-1982).

He was an illustrious early British Columbia writer and naturalist in his own right and is increasingly recognized for his many contributions to Canada’s scientific history. Notably as the mentor of Dr. MacTaggart-Cowan, who was himself the mentor of David Suzuki, and as an early influence on no less than the late Farley Mowat.

Although Laing was a giant in natural history, he is less known as a Harley-Davidson rider. Laing described himself in his mid-30s as a “motorcycle-naturalist.”

For several years beginning in 1914, Laing used the motorcycle to access the natural world, believing it gave him a distinct advantage over other forms of transportation. During this period in his life, he would take on a transcontinental journey, riding across the United States from Brooklyn to Oakland in 1915.

In his presentation of excerpts from Riding the Continent, Hughes presented the story of a pioneering motorcyclist and independently thinking naturalist, as well as an unusual road trip As a well-published motorcycle enthusiast and historian, Hughes ranks Laing’s account as “perhaps the best piece of motorcycle-writing” known to him.

As Laing put it, “the lure of the unending road is a call that will not be denied.”

Hughes pointed out that Laing’s tale presents his experience of a pre- First World War America unspoiled by real roads or automobiles. He meticulously presents the beauty of North America’s bird life, describes the sights, scenery and people he encountered, and takes us along for the ride on a 1915 Harley-Davidson he named Barking Betsy.

As North-America is becoming increasingly conscious of its natural heritage, this is undoubtedly the first of many books by and about Laing that will be coming forth this decade. Hughes’ excellent presentation made a great case that this book is a must for the bookshelves of Comox Valley residents wishing to understand Canada’s history.

Laing’s legacy lives on in his gifting of his house and property to the Town of Comox as a nature preserve. Laing left this gift to the Town of Comox in trust, and it is to be hoped that the Town of Comox will one day find the wisdom of respecting this important national treasure.

Riding the Continent will be available for purchase after July 15 ($19.95, Ronsdale Press).




Hamilton Mack Laing was an important Canadian naturalist, photographer and writer. He moved to Comox in 1922, cleared his land and built his home from a “Stanhope” Aladdin Ready-Cut kit. In 1927, he married Ethel Hart of Portland and they established a successful and commercial orchard which included walnut, pecan, filbert, hazelnut, apple and plum trees. They also grew mushrooms and vegetables. After his wife, Ethel, died in 1944, he sold his original home, Baybrook, and built a new home, Shakesides, on the adjoining lot. He bequeathed the waterfront property to the Town of Comox and it became Mack Laing Nature Park — excerpted from content on the Mack Laing Heritage Society‘s website.


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More Arts & Culture | Mack Laing

Comox failed to consult with KFN over Mack Laing Park

Now that Chief Nicole Rempel has made it clear the Town of Comox failed to properly consult the K’omoks First Nations about plans to demolish Mack Laing’s heritage home, a serious question arises: With whom did town staff and council members consult?

Council vote sends Mack Laing Trust issue back to court

Comox Town Council voted 5-2 this week to continue designing a viewing platform to replace naturalist Mack Laing’s heritage home, rejecting any other proposals for the property, as it prepares to head back to the BC Supreme Court.

MLHS issues letter of thanks to Comox Council

Mack Laing Heritage Society archive photo By George Le Masurier he Mack Laing Heritage Society this morning issued an open letter to the Town of Comox mayor and council. Here is their letter: We, the Mack Laing...

Tell us your story! New health care advocacy group asks public for help

Tell us your story! New health care advocacy group asks public for help

BC Government illustration

By Guest Writer

If you have personal experience with health care, including home care, residential care, if you are waiting for residential care, or need respite care, Seniors Voices Comox Valley would like to hear your story.

The group is fairly new but has been working privately for a few years. It formed out of a frustration with the shortage of available residential care in the Valley and then an interest in the numbers behind the hospital running at over-capacity.

Seniors Voices Comox Valley became increasingly concerned about the state of seniors’ health services for the Valley and for the province of British Columbia. The group says on their website, “we have decided to lend our not-yet-retired talents and experience to creating a voice for seniors. A voice especially intended for those of us who are least able to advocate for themselves.”

Delores Broten, one of the group’s founders has been trying for year to determine what the real need for residential is in the Valley.

“My husband was very ill, paranoid, and delusional and I just couldn’t take care of him anymore, but there was no relief in sight.,” she said. “I tried all kinds of avenues to get information, and heard so many different stories from the system. There was a list. There was no list. There were 70 people waiting for beds on the list that didn’t exist; there were 29 people waiting for beds. It would take months. We would have to go to Nanaimo. Meanwhile the front line workers said, ‘Hundreds, and in dangerous situations.’”

Eventually the group developed an analysis and statistically based projections that, with our growing and aging population, the Valley will need at least as many new long-term care beds again in 2021 when the newest facility, Golden Life, opens. Our new hospital will also remain sadly over-crowded.

But that’s a number crunching exercise, according to retired management consultant Peggy Stirrett, another founder of the group.

“To understand and convey the true story, we need to know the real impact on people for all seniors health care services. Only the people of the Valley can tell us that based on their own experience,” she said.

The group has recently launched a website so they can connect with the community. It displays useful resources for seniors and about seniors’ healthcare advocacy. It is a source of information and research for the group’s current advocacy support including the Comox Valley Seniors Village families project.

There is also an analysis on our care bed shortage and its impact on our hospital operating at over-capacity.

“We also need all kinds of other help,” Broten said. The group is looking for volunteers to look after the website, to maintain a database, to help with economic analysis, to make a Facebook page, to answer correspondence, to write letters, and eventually to help with public events.

But most of all, right now, they want to hear your story. Readers can start participating by filling out a confidential questionnaire.

For more information, people can contact the group at



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More Health Care | News

Day of Action planned to protect Island’s remaining old growth timber

By Guest Writer

Comox Valley citizens will stand others across the province this week to demand that the NDP stop provincial government-sponsored clear-cutting of the little remaining old growth forest left on the Island and South Coast.

The Day of Action will take place at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, June 6, on the Courtenay Courthouse lawn.

“We need to send a strong, clear message about catastrophic clear-cutting sanctioned by our Premier, John Horgan, our Minister of Forests, Doug Donaldson; and our local MLA, Ronna-Rae Leonard. They and the NDP government in Victoria are using BC Timber Sales, an
agency that supposedly represents the people of BC, to auction off significant tracts of old growth to the highest forest industry bidder,” said a spokesperson for the event.

The group wants the provincial government needs to stop telling British Columbians that BC has enough old growth left to sustainably harvest “when the truth is that less than 10 percent of productive, valley-bottom Island old growth remains.”

“The Day of Action will call out our government and its representatives who are relentlessly abandoning old growth forests to the interests of the logging industry,” she said.



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