Sooke mountain park(harbourview)history
All old timers in Sooke have stories of SOOKE MOUNTAIN PARK—many have photographic support for the tales they spin. Some can remember the area (now called a provincial park), when it was just a playground outside the protection of the government. Actually, protection is not the right word, as it has not really been protected—more like mismanaged—by the civil servants charged with the responsibilities of land control.
Map of Sooke Mountain Park Sooke Mountain Park came into existence June 6, 1928. It is suspected that at that time the Province thought it was getting three lakes and the watershed for those lakes. If one looks at the present map and repositions it just slightly up as a surveyor might do, one can see that the enclosed area is notched and angled to cover all those three lakes. However, the sad truth is that today, by using modern GPS equipment, we can see that none of the lakes are in the park.
How this came to be is speculation at best as no one who was there for the official survey is still alive to defend their actions, and the present civil minions quickly shy away from any discussion on the subject. One interesting explanation I've heard is that when the logs were taken off the area, some of the land got out of the provincial holdings, leaking, one supposes, into private hands just as air leaks from an ignored spare tire. Out of sight, out of mind. There is some evidence that Sooke Mountain Park was somehow connected to some shady dealings around the province getting title to what is now called Portland Island, which was confiscated from Canadians of Japanese descent who were then shipped to the prairies for “safe keeping”.
Suffice to say, today Sooke Mountain Park is a shadow of what everyone using it thinks they are using. Most people do not know where the borders are, and some think that when they travel up Harbourview road a ways onto the rough gravelly part, they are in the Park. Truth is, they have to travel through lots of the private holdings before they enter the Park and they leave it soon afterwards.
The history of the park includes a time when it was considered by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company as a destination wilderness holiday area. It was frequented by eastern city dwellers, who were sold a travel package including rail to Vancouver, ferry to Victoria, wagon to the lodge at the end of Shields Lake, where they spent a few days or weeks relishing the “wilderness”. This story was told to me by a lady who also connected the Four Mile, Six Mile and 17-Mile pub to the adventure. She said that these and others like them were used as stopping places after a stay in the Empress Hotel ... 17 Mile being the jumping off place for the Park.
The lodge went through a succession of owners both private and public, ending its days as a Boys and Girls club destination, when it burned in the '60s. The big cement blocks you find scattered around there today are all that remain of the lodge at Shields Lake ... unless you find someone with family photos of the place.
Some say the Park is Old Growth Forest, but anyone visiting today will not find this to be true. While they may find a very few Old trees, most of the Park is covered by 2nd or 3rd growth trees with little or no evidence of reforestation. Still, there are old spectacular trees on the summits of the four mountains from which the Park takes it name. Empress, for Queen Victoria (some say the name derives from the Empress hotel), Manuel Quimper, named for the engineer on the first white Spanish ship to arrive in Sooke Basin, Mount Shepherd and Ragged Mountain complete the circle. The names for these last two are even more obscure as to origin. There is a story that Shepherd moniker came from a fiasco between two sheep herders over a woman. The body of one of the shepherds was apparently found on this mountain.
Whatever the folklore, the Park has all the usual problems associated with any recreational area. The roads leading into the Park all traverse private property, giving the province the excuse that the area is landlocked therefore unusable for recreation. They are unable or unwilling to secure the trails and gazette any roads to the Park. Even with the long history of hiking, hunting, fishing, and extensive off-road use by both rubberized vehicles and equestrians, the Park remains a poor cousin to the many other provincial parks in the system.
Sometime in the 1950s an enterprising logger devised a plan to get the trees off the Park, in exchange for paving the road now known as Harbourview all the way to the base of Empress Mountain. Included in the plan were trees from the adjacent properties. The deal included labour provided by the residents of Wilkinson Road Crowbar Hotel, and materials from the Gagliardi Hardware Store nicknamed Flyin' Phil's Place ... or so the story goes.
There are really four lakes associated with Sooke Mountain Park. Shields is the largest and the deepest...it used to have the lodge mentioned earlier. Crabapple Lake used to have a cabin on the side next to the dock, which burned in the early '70s. This was a private cabin open to whoever could take pride and care in its use. Grass Lake (called Grassey) completes the three at the top side, while Peden Lake, named for Victorian Olympian Torchy Peden, is much closer to the Pot Holes Provincial Park. It is sometimes considered to be in Sooke Mountain Park, partly because there is no vehicle access from Pot Holes to Peden Lake.
All these lakes have been stocked at various times and harbour good eating rainbow trout among other fishes. Although a licence is needed to fish here, little else is required, but if you go it helps to carry a personal flotation device and lotsa flys.
The features of interest on the mountains include a long burned ranger lookout on Empress, which also has geodesic survey marks where they measure the 1 1/8 inches of movement per year of the Island Plate towards the city of Vancouver. The dishes are for forest company communications. Shepherd also has a ranger fire watch tower, unused for many years, except, for hikers shelter and message center (graffiti) ... but has spectacular views. Manuel Quimper is my personal favorite as it takes much longer to climb and features wildlife instead of evidence of the wild life (parties).
Ragged Mountain could soon support a dish farm ... but at present has some spectacular views of Sooke, Victoria, and the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, USA.
In recent times there have been gates and threats of closure hanging over the trails leading into Sooke Mountain Park. There is presently a closure at Leechtown making a round trip through the park unavailable since the River Road exit off Harrison trail (also known as Highway 117) has also been gated, bermed and ditched.
Over the years, the Park has been made inaccessible to 4X4s on several occasions, with the battle to keep it open being taken up by users of all descriptions, leading to the clearing of the obstruction eventually, but with many hours spent at meetings and in negotiations to have the area designated as a 4X4 and off-road destination. To date, May 1999 this effort seems to have fallen on the desks of non-understanding civil servants.
Some successes have been recorded, with gates being removed and promises given by politicians and civil servants that Sooke Mountain Park will remain. One needs a healthy sense of humour and an understanding that nothing is permanent in any land use issue to survive the struggle to keep this 101 year old park available for its traditional use.
Off-roaders must enter this struggle with vigour.
Harbourview Road/Sooke Hills Park: The good news, and the bad...
Cross posted from our friends down at VIMB.com
This has been in the works for literally years now, and most of you on the lower half of Vancouver Island already know, or have at least heard about it. Having said that, many of you probably don't know what is going on in the Sooke Hills, so here are some of the details.
A few years ago, the Capital Regional District (CDR) in conjunction with The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC) worked out a deal with TimberWest to purchase 9,700 hectares of land in the Leech River watershed area of the Sooke Hills (CRD Map). This deal is a huge step for the CRD, for all of us really. According to the CRD website...
"This is one of the largest, most important land acquisitions in recent BC history. The addition of the Leech River watershed, which can be connected to the CRD's water supply reservoirs, is a prudent strategic acquisition that secures and protects our future water source,” said Nils Jensen, Chair of the CRD Regional Water Supply Commission. “While the Sooke Reservoir is expected to meet regional water needs for at least the next 15 years, we have taken action that provides a legacy for the future."
From the CRD website, see here for their full story...
In addition to this deal securing our access to clean fresh water for the future, it will also allow for the creation of a Multi-Use park, a park that is supposed to allow legal access to Mountain Bikers. As mentioned above, there is good news and bad news.