Archive for September, 2018

A Very Worthy Place

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018


It must have been in the spring of 1969 – a spring that followed a very tough winter – one of BC, s strongest ever. The old road still meandered up to the Lake and the Black Cat Café was the downtown hotspot. The Riverside beer parlor was full on Friday and Saturday nights and logger fights sometimes spilled out onto the street. Lake Cowichan was a forestry town then as it still is but it was going at a much stronger pace. The mills at Youbou and Honeymoon Bay were still fully engaged and logging was booming –literally. The lake was full of boomed logs and the shores were laced with debris. Cowichan Lake was not the super clean lake of water skiers and boaters that it is today.
I had been living in Victoria after myself and fellow biologist Ian Smith left Nanaimo. Ian stayed working for the Fish and Wildlife Branch while I signed up with the BC Lands Branch with a group of land use specialists working with Jon Secter. We provided advice on applications for Crown land Use and I served on several special committees such as Mines Reclamation, Pacific Estuaries and Linear Developments like roads and pipelines.
I stayed at Ian’s place at Esquimalt Lagoon for awhile then moved to a fine old house on Fern Street to be with my pals from Nelson. Ross and Rod McKay were there along with Jack Carpenter and Jim Thast. Also on hand were some of Victoria’s finest such as Ken Smithers. Dave Fisher, Carl Swantje, John Block and James Campbell Moore. Rob Falls came over from Burnaby and Terry Andrews from Trail put in a few shifts. We frequented downtown saloons like the Beaver and the Drake, had Cougars season tickets and biked and hiked around the South Island. It was a very good group but it couldn’t last because our houses kept being torn down. The first place was the beautiful heritage home on Fern Street built by former premier John Oliver in 1918. The owner was a developer who told us the house was likely to go. He gave us a good deal on the rent and rented us another house nearby but it came down too.
I stayed with a friend for a few weeks then high tailed it to Lake Cowichan. I found a little cedar house with a south aspect and a nice view of Big Mesachie Mountain. I worked on the Cowichan Estuary Task force trying to find ways to reduce log storage and other intrusive uses on the estuarine ecosystem. The government had permitted a large sawmill to establish where a smaller mill had operated and hoped that the extra needs could be somehow accommodated by more careful planning and operation. It was a difficult fit at best.
Not long after I arrived at the Lake, I was visited by a group from the Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society: Leo Nelson was the president and Earle Darling and Art Watson were directors.
Earle was the village mayor and very adept at drawing funding. Art was a teacher and expert on the Cowichan Watershed. The society had some outstanding projects just getting underway and it was evident that there were many more to be documented. At that point I vowed to take on a mission that had been dancing around me for decades – a holistic inventory of fish habitat and enhancement opportunities in an important watershed in BC. Many claimed the Cowichan was the best known river system in BC but, in truth, very little was known. I had just returned from a cross – Canada tour to assess the level of anticipatory planning by DFO and was often told “we don’t have much here but they are on top of the Cowichan in BC”. I had experienced something similar when I went down to Nanaimo to work with the BC Fish and Wildlife Branch. I was looking forward to working in an area where a lot of information was available on the lakes and streams especially maps showing where fish were present. There was nothing other than some dusty old rolled up cadastral maps with nothing on them except a few lot boundaries. Much of my time was spent working on fish distribution maps for the Van Isle Region. I could see that documenting fish habitat in the Cowichan basin was going to take some time as well. In fact it took me more than 20 years.

In the mean time the society had lots of more immediate and ongoing work to get on with.
Beaver Creek is a small, over mature stream that flows some 2.5 kilometers from small lake of the same name to Cowichan Lake. It passes through a lovely forest corridor and the backyards of Lake Cowichan and most of all; it was Leo Nelson’s neighborhood creek. He had noticed a few trout and salmon fry in his wanderings but also noted that they were gone in a few weeks because the stream, except for a few pools, dried up. The channel was also filled with muck and debris and beavers had been having they’re way with it- it would be a struggle for fish to get through the dams and masses of old logging junk.
So Leo, not one to fiddle, took a backhoe to the channel and pulled out tons of muck and debris. We were assisted by Trevor Morris our DFO community adviser who was also not a fiddler. We went on to construct a smolt release – flow control dam at the outlet of Beaver Lake and add habitat features such as pools and spawning gravel to the creek. We also added a trail and some bridges. In good years, the creek has coho returns of 600 or more and our group is still not finished. We constructed an inlet to Beaver Lake we call Jim’s Creek after Jim Humphries of Beaver Lake Resort. It also gets a very healthy return and cutthroats from Beaver Lake also use it. A headwater marsh we call Fairservice Lake is waiting to be impounded as it was in the early days of Lake Cowichan when it provided power for the village. Water storage at Fairservice Lake would deliver additional needed water to Beaver, Jim’s and Halfway Creek and more or less complete our efforts on Beaver.
Our society operates a fry salvage program for local streams that are good producers but dry extensively in summer. We are often able to rescue more than 100,000 fry and relocate them to safe habitat. This is an ongoing program started by DFO in the 1930’s but it had lapsed before we took it on with Cowichan Tribes who salvage the Lower Cowichan and tributaries such as Glenora Creek. Fry salvage was intended for students and many were introduced to fish biology and environmental stewardship by the program.
Education is another objective of the society and we think we do it pretty well. Teachers invite our input to their classes and we go as often as possible, we have been part of the popular DFO program Salmonids in the Classroom for nearly our whole existence and kids come out on fry salvage and adult counts from time to time. We also have a “Fisheries Trail” near a school and kids chip in with riparian planting. One of our members has a demonstration watershed where students can see the effects of different land surfaces on run off. We also have a small hatchery in a building we constructed with the Lions Club. We do a few thousand coho eggs each year along with some chum salmon.
Of course, habitat improvement and protection are our prime mandates. We and other public involvement groups in the Greater Cowichan Region have some 618 pages and 500 projects to work our way through in the plan I undertook when I became involved. That will take awhile.
After Beaver Creek and our hatchery were up and running, we started working on the Robertson River system which is a good producer but suffers from unstable winter flows and extensive summer drying. It has a groundwater fed side channel that was simply outstanding and drew bus loads of students from Nanaimo and Victoria to see swarms of coho navigate a creek one could almost jump across. The fish attracted plenty of eagles and bears as well. It was a real circus. However, its channel had filled to the point where the water table no longer reached the surface except for a few times in high winter runoff. The creek was shutting down. When we did our spawner surveys, all we found were pits where raccoons had dug up dead eggs in the dry channel. We removed some 45,000 cubic metres of sand-gravel overburden from the channel. Flow resumed and the fish came back. We even had more than 10,000 chum salmon one year and learned that way back in the old times that Cowichan Elders called Robertson Side channel Qualicum Creek because of the chums. They told us it was a favorite place for the elders to fish because the chums were somewhat soft and easier to eat than those further down. Our group also did a few years of chums in the hatchery with the goal of increasing them in Cowichan Lake tributaries thus improving lake productivity with the input of additional nutrients from the carcasses.

In conjunction with our friend Ted Harding who was working with Hancock Timber, we created several channels and rearing ponds on Meade and Sutton Creeks. These have all survived and are producing well. One needs to be very careful about any floodplain enhancement on the coast because floodplain means just that. A lot of money and effort has been put into channels that have completely washed away.
Another channel we created on the Robertson was designed for winter refuge. We put in lots of cover logs with root wads and planted willows and alder for overhang cover. It has produced well but is constantly being colonized by beavers that enjoy our riparian planting.
Our little group has taken on some thirty fish habitat improvement projects over the years and most have fared very well. When the Salmon Enhancement Program was first proposed in the 1970’s,DFO engineers had a strong grip on the wheel and things were headed toward more hatcheries and spawning channels with emphasis on big numbers and fast returns. But some had other ideas. I recall Dick Harvey (then manager of the Big Qualicum River project) and I attended a SEP information session in Victoria and spoke up for more natural enhancement and the involvement of conservation groups. We left with the feeling that our input was not considered to be very important. Looking back now, it is evident that public involvement is clearly one of the most important components of the Salmon Enhancement Program – indeed. I doubt that anything Dick or I said had anything to do with it. No one ever imagined that there would be so much fervor for the idea. It was a tide that could not be stemmed and has almost created a sub-culture of environmentalism. It has certainly provided a positive outlet for the energy of action oriented people like Leo Nelson. The resource has a whole new community of dedicated workers that stand up for the fish in every way they can
Looking back over the life of our group to date, the most satisfying thing for me is that we were able to change the language on the environment. When I first began living at The Lake, it felt like local governments had the attitude that any development was a very good thing and should be accommodated with gusto. People were not giving the valley the value it deserved, there was the notion that why would these big time developers be interested in our little backwater so we should not discourage them. They simply did not realize what they had and that someday developers would be crawling over each other to get a hold on Cowichan property especially along the lake or river. Our members attended lots of hearings and spoke to local government members and other community groups as often as we could to help turn the corner. I wrote a periodic newspaper column on fish and the environment. We were especially proactive about Cowichan Lake. It was becoming evident to us that people had changed dramatically in their aspirations for lake shore living. Where a decade or so back people were content with a small house or cottage, a wharf and maybe a rowboat or canoe and lived at ‘summer camp’ for a few months a year; the new people were not content with that. They wanted a large house, lots of pavement, a 500 channel TV and a roaring ski boat. Many also wanted to chop any brush and plant a lawn they could mow to the water’s edge. The Better Homes and Gardens crowd was coming and parts of the lake were looking more like California subdivisions rather than rural BC lakeshores. We mailed information packages to every lakeshore property owner and visited many and the province brought in The Riparian Areas Regulation but we still found it hard to convince people that a natural lakeshore was much more beautiful and beneficial than a manicured and artificial shore. To this day, we still struggle with this but the tide is gradually turning. The privatization of the South Island began some 160 years ago with the massive E&N Land Grant and this has made it more difficult to protect what should be public riparian shores but our efforts have gone a long way to convince people that lake and river shores are some of the most valuable lands in the province and development around them should only be done with the greatest care if at all. And if you are fortunate to live on a shore, cherish and protect it instead of trying to turn it into an urban landscape.
I still have my little cedar house in Lake Cowichan and hope to hang onto for a few more years so I can still enjoy the wonders of that oh so worthy place. The great mayfly hatches in the late spring and early summer, the sight of the lovely pastoral Cowichan River coursing through the town, swimming at the Duck Pond and Little Beach, tubing down the river and walking downtown on Friendship Trail.
Lake Cowichan, think of yourself as the best place to live on the BC Coast because you are most certainly are and make others believe that it is great privilege so they will keep it what it is as long as possible.

Lifetime Gift

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

It was probably around 1952 when my father took me to my first hockey game. It was at the old Civic Center Arena in beautiful Nelson, BC, the Queen City of the Kootenays. And it was something I’ll never forget.
We walked down the long flight of stairs into a rink pulsing with noise and color. It was pure excitement. The snow white ice and the green and white uniforms of the Nelson Maple Leafs clashing with the orange and black of their arch rival Trail Smoke Eaters. This was top flight senior hockey of The Western International Hockey League (WIHL) that also included teams from Kimberley and Spokane and sometimes Cranbrook, Rossland and Columbia Valley. In those days there were no junior leagues and only six NHL teams. There were minor pro leagues like the WHL and AHL but players were not paid much and WILH teams often offered solid jobs that were highly valued. Trail had the Cominco Smelter and Kimberley had the Sullivan Mine. Spokane was a real city with lots of work. Nelson didn’t have a lot of work but it was a great town and attracted some good players. Indeed.
Our seats were across the rink on the north side and we crossed behind the Trail net to get there. As we went by players slammed into the screen and ice chips flew into the air and grazed my face. Sweat was mixed in and you could hear the players grunting and cursing. The puck went out to the blue line and was slammed off the screen with great force. I was shocked at the speed and intensity of this game and still marvel about it.
I can recall some of the players from that night. John Sofiak was the Trail goal tender and Bruno Pasqualotto was one of his defenseman. I remember Glen Smith, Don Appleton and Ernie Gare from the Leafs. Bill Haldane, Johnny Harms and Lee Hyssop were also playing around that time and were great forwards. Red and Fritz Koehle were stand outs and Gordy Howe’s brother Vic was also a Leaf. Abe Howe, their father claimed that Vic was the better player. I guess he didn’t know hockey that well. But Lester and Frank Patrick did. They also played in Nelson in the earlier days as did their sister Dora. Joe Patrick, their Dad had a lumber mill at Crescent Valley out in the Slocan west of Nelson. He might have known my Great Uncle Harry Burns who had a mill then a Tree Farm License at Passmore just up the valley. Uncle Harry was a great fan of the Leafs and always gave me a quarter when I saw him at the games. My Mom and Dad went to a few games and were friends with some of the players like Ernie Gare and Johnny Harms. Bill Vickers who had played earlier lived nearby and he and his family were friends. Mary Vickers used to come creek fishing with us and Terry and Lorraine, their kids were pals with my brother Tom and sister Kathleen. Mary was also Betty Olsen’s sister. Betty was a close friend from Ainsworth and a second mother to the Burns Kids. My mother was a very excitable fan and tended to get a bit wild. One night Bobby Kromm, a hated Trail player who later coached the Smokies to a world championship and coached in the NHL, was felled by a crunching hit and lay bleeding on the ice. My Mother egged on by her friend Marie Stangherlin, jumped up and screamed “I hope you die Kromm’’. I tried to hide but there was no place. Kromm was definitely not liked but he coached the Leafs almost to an Allan Cup one year.
Emotions ran high in the WIHL and there were some players that you loved to hate. Gord Andre of Kimberley was a giant and as rough as they came. Who can forget Tom Hodges of Spokane and Terrible Ted Lebioda? Nelson had Vic Lofvendahl who could but you right through the boards and Con Madigan played for the Leafs in 1958 and was rookie of the year in the NHL one year believe it or not. He never garnered a vote for the Lady Byng.
There was hockey in Nelson way back in the 1890’s. Old time players like Archie Bishop, Joe Thompson, Si Griffiths and the O’Genski brothers were stars. Harold Chapman played in the early years. In the 1960’s I slung beer at the Queens Hotel in Nelson. Harold lived upstairs and would come down for a shaky morning beer to get the day going. The West Kootenay Region is the cradle of BC Hockey and Nelson, Kaslo and Rossland got it started.
There was a senior league in the Okanagan in the 1950’s that rivaled the WIHL. Penticton, Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops had some very good teams and there were some outstanding games between the two leagues. The playoffs of 1954 featured the Nelson Maple Leafs and Penticton Vees led by the Warwick brothers: Grant, Bill and Dick. Grant had played for the New York Rangers and coached the Vees. Clare Palmer and I camped out overnight for tickets and witnessed the most exciting hockey anyone has ever seen. Nelson had the Vees on the ropes and needed only a tie to cinch the series. In game seven the Leafs were trailing by one goal with about ten minutes to go. They had the puck in the Vees end for nearly the whole time. We were seated at the Vees blue line and watched Nelson’s Mickey Maglio hammer shot after shot off every part of Vees stick man goalie Ivan McClelland’s battered body. McClelland won the game for them and the Vees went on to win the world championship in Germany.
The Okanagan Senior League kind of petered out after that and was replaced by the BC Junior Hockey League but the WIHL soldiered on and entered a new era featuring younger players but just as exciting hockey.
Ernie Gare, a Leaf stalwart of the fifties started a scholarship program at Notre Dame University, a Catholic college in Nelson. Skiers and hockey players signed up and some outstanding results developed. Rossland’s Nancy Green won a World Cup and the Leafs became a powerhouse. Players like Murray Owen, Bill Steinke and Buck Crawford came down from Kamloops and other players filtered in from the prairies and joined some great local players like Don Holmes, Mike Laughton, Hugh Hooker and Howie Hornby. The Leafs won a couple of Savage Cups and came close to the Allen Cup but lost it in Sherbrooke, Quebec to a powerhouse team.
Like many Kootenay kids, I tried my hand at hockey and played at the bantam level. Tom Ramsay and Gary Kilpatrick were my close friends and played on the same team. Tom and I were third line slugs but Gary was a star. His Dad was a Leaf hero and won a gold medal while playing for Britain in the 1936 Olympics. He was the youngest player on that team. Mack Macadam was our coach and I was glad to get some playing time. I have a disease that prevented me from metabolizing glucose for energy so I really could not get up to speed and became so tired that one time I had to crawl back to the bench. My highlight was scoring a goal in Trail when I fell in the corner and everyone started back down the ice. The puck was whacked back to my corner as I got up and was not off side. I grabbed the puck, skated in front of the Trail net and snuck in a backhander much to the chagrin of some Trail fans who had been heckling me for the entire game. I think it was the only goal I ever scored. Gary Kilpatrick went on to play pro and finished his career in Nelson coaching and playing for the Leafs.
In 1987 the WIHL folded its tent for the last time. Junior Hockey in the form of the Kootenay International Junior League came in and has been OK. Trail joined the BCHL while Cranbrook and Spokane are in the new WHL, which is now a major junior league. Kimberley is in the KIJHL with a number of smaller Kootenay and Interior towns.
A lot of us dearly miss the old WIHL where the players got 20 bucks a game, often drove their own cars on road trips and drank more than a few beer parlors dry but oh did they play. Seeing those games was the gift of a lifetime.