A Brief History of Cathedral Grove




(adapted from a BC Forest History Newsletter article by Kerry Joy BC Parks Forester and former resident of Alberni Valley)

In 1886 a wagon road was punched from Nanaimo to Port Alberni. It was located on the north side of Cameron Lake. By 1911 the road was moved to the south shore and the railroad was located on the north side. These routes enabled the transfer of people and commerce and allowed people to experience the magnificence of a rich part of the Island Forest. At this time, commercial logging was just beginning to get underway on the coast.

HR MacMillan, BC’s first Chief Forester was highly aware of the value of old growth forest. As an entrapanuial opportunist, he staked claims on some of the best timber on the coast by obtaining rights to entire river valleys including the Cameron.

When the road improved, the forest industry in the Alberni Valley began to flourish and the population swelled with the increasing number of jobs in the woods and the mills. Travel over the Hump also picked up and it became traditional to stop at The Grove for a picnic or short stroll though the giants. It was said the Cathedral Grove was given its name by Governor General Viscount Willington during a 1928 visit.

For the next fifteen years, pressure was applied to HR MacMIllan by different groups including the Vancouver Island Tourist Association to donate Cathedral Grove as a park. HR stood fast citing the high timber value and its importance to his company’s growth.

Finally at a meeting with the Vancouver Island Tourist Association in 1944, HR relented and stormed out of the hall yelling “alright you can have the G.D. Grove”! The public victory resulted in park protection for 136 ha of old growth in the Lower Cameron Valley. Although The Grove trees are not the tallest or largest in the province there are heights over 50-69 m and girths up to 4.5 m. Most importantly over 300, 00 people visit each year and The Grove is the only highway accessible stand of old growth Douglas fir in BC.

Although H.R.(Harvey Reginald) gave up the grove to the delight of many, his company slammed his decision for many years after ranting that the decadent old trees were past their prime and would blow down. They should be logged before that happened they asserted. They did their best to hasten windfall by logging the rest of the upstream valley right up to The Grove. Sure enough, serious blow down has occurred and will likely continue as the forest thins out.

In 1990, a punchy pineapple express storm roared through The Grove blowing down 6 ha of forest and causing some major channel shifts and bank erosion on the Cameron River. Another 1996 storm slammed into the Grove with considerable damage.

Hopefully, The Grove will persist for much longer and people will continue to marvel. What I find ironic is that Cathedral Grove is by far the most outstanding legacy of HR MacMIllan and his company: MacMillan Bloedel.


Clear cutting the Cameron Valley up to The Grove aided blow down.


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