Many of Vancouver Island’s tourists and nature-lovers flock to MacMillan Provincial Park, commonly known as “Cathedral Grove,” to see its impressive array of stunning old-growth trees, but Qualicum Beach houses its own old-growth forest right in the middle of town. This woodland, known as the “Heritage Forest,” is home to wildlife such as barred and great horned owls, pileated woodpeckers, and deer. The forest also houses magnificent old-growth Douglas fir trees, most of which are about 400 years old. Like Cathedral Grove, the oldest tree in the forest took root about 800 years ago.
The Heritage Forest originally formed part of a larger parcel of land owned by the Merchants Trust and Trading Company that comprised the Qualicum Beach Golf Course, the old Qualicum Beach Hotel, and six large lots along Crescent Road. Noel Money purchased the land in 1913, during a fishing trip from England, and upon his death in 1941 the six lots were sold to Major James Lowery, owner of the Calgary-based Home Oil. When Home Oil passed to Bobby Brown in 1952, the forest also came into the possession of the Brown family, who used it as a vacation home. The family hosted numerous noteworthy guests over the years at their mansion (still standing), including Bing Crosby, Errol Flynn, Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth, and the King of Siam (now Thailand).
In 1995 the Brown Family Trust announced that they were interested in selling the Brown mansion and its grounds: five acres surrounding the house and fifty acres of woodland. The following year, Anne Klees, a nearby resident, noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground while she was walking on St. Andrews Drive, thereby discovering development plans that were to see the forest subdivided into 110 building lots. Wanting to protect the land’s ancient woodland, Anne and her husband gathered together a group of local residents and formed the Brown Property Preservation Society (BPPS), which sought both to preserve the land and to give public access to the forest in perpetuity. It took eight years and hundreds of volunteers to accomplish this task. Between 1996 and 2004, BPPS volunteers held fundraisers to raise $1,250,000 towards purchasing the 50 acre block––68% of the price of the land. Finally, with the help of additional funds contributed by the Town of Qualicum Beach, the BPPS was able to purchase the woodland, and what had previously been called the “Brown Property” became known as the “Heritage Forest.” A Forest Commission was formed, and on July 15, 2008 a covenant was signed to ensure the lasting protection of the forest, both to safeguard its old-growth trees from development and to provide public access to its pristine natural beauty.
The preservation of the Heritage Forest has been of monumental importance to the survival of Canada’s old-growth forests. While walking the Heritage Forest’s trails requires no more than twenty minutes, this land now constitutes a significant portion of all protected Douglas fir ecosystems of coastal British Columbia.