Local Mountaineer Philip Stone – making history happen in Strathcona Park

In July this year, photographer, author and mountaineer Philip Stone of Quadra Island will be leading a group, which will include such notables as Ron Quilter, from the Ministry of the Environment and Andy Smith of BC Parks, into Strathcona Provincial Park to replicate the expedition lead by the Honourable Price Ellison in 1910 and celebrate its centenary (The Strathcona Centennial Expedition). It was due to Ellison’s recommendations that Strathcona was designated a provincial park, the first in British Columbia.

Philip Stone himself has explored Strathcona Park extensively over the past 20 years and has written several books on hiking on Vancouver Island.  (He is currently the owner and editor of the Discovery Islander and WildIsle publications.)

Stone has always been drawn to mountains.  Growing up in Newfoundland, he has wonderful memories of hiking excursions with his father, who introduced him to the outdoors.  When the family moved to England, Stone pursued rock climbing and ice climbing, and took the Outward Bound instructor’s course.  While there, he heard about Strathcona Park Lodge and Outdoor Education Centre on Vancouver Island, and wanting to return to Canada, he went to work there in 1988.

He started out assisting on the rock bluffs and eventually became a full outdoor instructor.  As a natural extension of his work, he spent considerable time in Strathcona Park (approx 10km from the Lodge), honing his mountaineering skills and exploring the many trails the park has to offer.

“I remember clearly my first view into Strathcona Park, from the south col of Mt. Colonel Foster. It was June 1988 and looking south into the park; everything was still cloaked in a blanket of snow.  What struck me right then was what a seemingly endless sea of peaks there were.” (Philip Stone, Island Alpine xii)

Elkhorn Mountain and Strathcona peaks beyond - courtesy Philip Stone

It was at this time that the concept for the Strathcona Centennial Expedition started taking shape.  Stone read the recently published book by local author Wallace Baikie ‘Strathcona – a history of British Columbia’s first provincial park’, and he was immediately intrigued by the park’s history.  Initially he had considered marking the 100th anniversary of the William Bolton expedition of 1894 with his own expedition but didn’t have the resources.  He was aware, however, that the Price Ellison 1910 expedition centenary was in the not too distant future, and the idea of replicating Ellison’s journey was put on the backburner.

A few years later, Stone moved to Quadra Island where he knew other people affiliated with the Lodge like Rob and Laurie Wood of Read Island and Lindsay Elms who wrote about Strathcona Park in ‘Beyond Nootka’.  He says that he “made a conscious decision” to pursue photography, and this eventually lead him to get into the publishing business and buying the local newspaper. In the meantime, he wrote a guidebook to the Crest Crags climbing routes of Strathcona Park.  Beginning in 1998, he also produced a magazine ‘Wild Isle’ that was geared to the growing audience of outdoor enthusiasts and whose contributors were “people from the outdoor community”.  Then by 2003, he completed and had published ‘Island Alpine – A guide to the mountains of Strathcona Park and Vancouver Island’, a book that had taken him 15 years to write.

When asked how he initiated his current project, Stone explained that the first step in making the expedition a reality was to “write to the Premier”, and that “the SPPAC (Strathcona Provincial Park Advisory Committee) and BC Parks have been vital in getting the profile needed to have it recognized as an official reenactment’.”

Now that the wheels have been set in motion, the Expedition is looking for sponsors.  Stone has always had an active interest in preserving the park and through raising awareness of the park with this expedition, hopes to establish a legacy fund.  As he says, “Ecologically speaking, it is incredibly rich and diverse…scenery wise, it is comparable to Banff”.

It was this comparison to Banff that first excited interest in the park, with hopes of making it a popular holiday destination. The Ellison expedition was undertaken at a time when the 19th century attitudes were still prevalent in terms of looking at natural resources as something to exploit.  Although Strathcona Park was viewed as a nature preserve and ‘set apart as a public place and pleasure-ground for the benefit, advantage, and enjoyment of the people of British Columbia’. (Strathcona Park Act March 1, 1911), there were ambitious plans to build a railway into the Buttle Lake area and to construct a resort in the tradition of the Canadian Pacific hotels, like the one at Banff.

An early brochure about the park makes glowing references to its attractions:  ‘There are no venomous snakes, and no wild animals from which danger may be apprehended.  In most localities flies and mosquitoes are nearly absent, and will not interfere with the trout fishing.’

While this idealized version of the park might have eventually attracted the general public, Strathcona never did become the ‘Banff’ of Vancouver Island and despite a mine being built in the park in the 1960’s there has been relatively little development.  Stone hopes that the current expedition will raise awareness of the park and help preserve its natural state.  He will be presenting a talk about the upcoming reenactment at the Campbell River Museum on April 17, and you can find out more on his website: http://www.wildisle.ca/strathcona-park/expedition/

With Stone in the lead, the Strathcona Centennial Expedition is an event that will be making its own history.

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