VMC LogoFrom Camp to Community: Cowichan Forest Life

The Communities : GEOGRAPHY

Postcard, Cowichan River

Postcard, Cowichan River
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In the midst of the glacier-carved landscape of Vancouver Island, the Cowichan Valley cuts a path from the headwaters of Lake Cowichan to the bays along the Strait of Georgia along the island's eastern coast. The Cowichan River winds this path down to the ocean, emptying into the narrows between Saltspring Island and Vancouver Island at Cowichan Bay. The Chemainus River to the north and the Koksilah River to the south also carry fresh water through the valley, bringing moisture to a thirsty ecosystem.

These rivers are the veins of the forests of the Cowichan Valley. They form the basis of the local First Nations mythology. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they have served industry; running logs on their rapid waters from the logging sites to the bays. The force of the water was diverted to serve pulp mills, such as the one built in Crofton.

The many roles of the Cowichan River earned it special designations. Due in large part to the community care and support of the river, it was nominated in September of 1995 to become part of British Columbia's provincial Heritage Rivers System. In April of 2004, it was officially included in the Canadian Heritage River network, which recognizes the natural, cultural and historic value of Canadian rivers.

The Cowichan Tribes are leading the stewardship of the river. Cowichan Tribes Chief Harvey Alphonse has stated, "Our home is here beside the river and on the ocean. We live near the spawning beds; we see the fish from birth and welcome them home when they return. We have the presence, understanding and historical memory to provide continuity in monitoring, rehabilitation and restoration."

The Cowichan Valley is enveloped by the Insular Mountains, sometimes called the Island Mountains. Part of the Western Cordillera, this is the largest range on Vancouver Island. The average height in the chain is between 900 and 1200 metres, although several peaks, such as Heather Mountain at 1345 metres, rise even higher. The slopes are covered with thick forest, but the steep conditions make for challenging logging. Its not what fallers would call a candy side!

The Cowichan region is graced by several lakes. Cowichan Lake is the second largest lake on Vancouver Island, at 42 kilometres in length. The logging camps and mill towns of the lake dot the bays along its shoreline. Just south of Cowichan Lake is Mesachie Lake, a smaller body of water but with an important role in forestry history in the area. Many also consider Shawnigan Lake, south of the Koksilah River, to be part of Cowichan through historic ties.