Rugged wilderness, ancient forests, and sweeping mountaintop panoramas characterize British Columbia’s oldest provincial park. Designated in 1911, Strathcona Provincial Park stretches across 248,669 hectares of land in the centre of Vancouver Island. The park’s varied terrain includes old growth forests, rivers, lakes, alpine tarns, streams, and snow-capped mountains towering over the landscape, many of which retain their snow year-round. The remote Della Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Canada, comprises three waterfalls that together extend across 440 metres. Bursting with natural beauty, the the land on which the park sits is also rich in history, both of the land itself and of the people who have tread upon it.
The name of the park commemorates Scottish-born Canadian businessman and philanthropist Donald Alexander Smith, First Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal. Buttle Lake, one of the park’s notable landmarks and the park’s largest body of water, takes its name from Commander John Buttle, who explored a part of the region during the 1860s. Of course, the history of the land goes back much further.
The park’s geological history stretches back 380 million years and includes the eruption of suboceanic volcanoes and mountain ranges that were carved by ice sheets during the last ice age. The park’s forests were already ancient when Captain James Cooke arrived in 1778. In 1946 the park’s Forbidden Plateau, which is accessible from multiple trailheads near Courtenay, was the epicentre of the largest earthquake ever to be recorded in Canadian history, at 7.3 on the Richter Scale.
The area is similarly rich with Indigenous history. For a time, slavery was commonly practiced by some coastal peoples in raids against enemy tribes. According to local folklore, the Forbidden Plateau was traditionally used as a refuge by the K’ómoks (Comox) First Nation to protect their women and children from enslavement during enemy raids. After one such raid by the Cowichan First Nation, the K’ómoks men returned to the plateau to find that all those they had sent there had vanished. Believing their loved-ones to have been consumed by evil spirits there, the K’ómoks peoples shunned the plateau as a forbidden place. In the 1930s, Europeans built the first lodge on the plateau, and it has since served as a recreation site and hiking destination.