On Friday, May 13, 2022, a group of paddlers from many backgrounds made their way, in two interconnected voyageur canoes, across the east end of Comox Lake. The sky to the west was filled with threatening rain clouds, but the wind was minimal and the water calm. Quiet conversations could be heard between the splashes of the paddles while a fiddler played a happy tune. About two thirds of the way across, one of the skippers called a halt and we quietly drifted, the wind gently pushing us along, as we listened to a recording of Andy Everson telling the K’ómoks legend of Queneesh, the Comox Glacier. I thought it appropriate to drop some tobacco onto the surface of the lake as a silent offering.
I realized it had been many years since I had been on the water of Comox Lake. As I looked at the pilings of the old booming grounds, I saw more than the logs standing their silent vigil in the lapping waves. Memories of the roar of the dozer boat—the Patricia, I think—with “Wild Bill” at the helm, gunning the throttle, warning of a pending collision with the log I was standing on. And of the “boom shack,” where we would eat our lunches or change into dry clothes after going for an unscheduled swim.
As I looked toward the Courtenay Fish & Game Club, I remembered the trestle where we used to bobber fish. We would ride our bicycles from Courtenay just for the chance of a small trout. I’ve never forgotten the thrill of seeing my bobber disappear under the surface, which meant I’d hooked a fish.
Listening to the brief introductions of my fellow paddlers, I realized I was seeing Comox Lake differently from everyone else. Because I was one of the more senior paddlers, and raised in the Comox Valley, my memories of this place go back decades.
As we landed opposite the boat launch on the far shore, I looked sadly towards Whyte’s Bay, struck by the thought that my predecessors and industry had not always been kind or gentle with Comox Lake and the surrounding mountains. Entire uprooted stumps dotted the shoreline—I wondered how they’d gotten there. It was obvious the trees had been cut away from the stumps, but what had caused the stumps to come away from the earth? I suppose a hundred years of stormy water, coupled with rising and falling lake levels, must have eroded the shoreline enough to float the stumps at high water.
After walking a short distance inland over long hills of black earth removed from the No. 4 Mine, we came to the old fan house. The bright graffiti was a welcome sight in contrast to the gloomy weather and the forest’s many shades of green. The old structure is in fair condition, considering its age. The large anchor bolts protruding from the concrete bases haven’t rusted and look to be as strong as the day they were embedded. Parts of the roof look precarious, though—I wasn’t willing to enter the main chamber.
ATVs and dirt bikes have carved mud and ruts into the land nearby, leaving great pools of water. Not far from the fan house, I was told, are remnants of other structures from the mining days, and old batteries oozing contaminants are said to be scattered in the undergrowth and western sword ferns. The area is perfect for exploring nature and history, if we walk gently and carefully consider the health of the lands and the lake.
Comox Lake is a huge reservoir that supplies drinking water for a large portion of the Comox Valley. Going forward, we, as elders and stewards, must begin to protect and restore what we can for future generations. We have a duty to leave the legacy of our beautiful drinking water for our children’s children. We are, and will be, connected by water.
In a hundred years’ time, I would like my descendants to be able to visit the lake, to look up at the mountains and say, “Thank you for the gift of water. It is the gift of life.”
To learn more and take action, visit:
Connected by Water and the Comox Lake Watershed
Lower Perseverance Creek Corridor Protection
Forest Protection on the Upper Puntledge / Bevan Trails
Programs and Initiatives at Lake Park
History of the Comox Lake watershed