by Lindsay Elms
On July 6, 1926, Clinton Stuart Wood, in the company of Cecil (Cougar) Smith and two saddle horses, set out on their first trip to Mount Albert Edward via the trail from Bevan, up to Mount Becher and on to the plateau. On the second day they reached a small log cabin built by John (Nigger) Brown near Circle (Circlet) Lake but chose to sleep outside due to a "belligerent family of wasps" who had taken over the cabin. Here they tethered the horses on a long rope while the next day they climbed to the summit. There they found a rock cairn and assumed it had been erected by the surveyors who had worked on the eastern boundary of Strathcona Park. After descending back to the cabin they then headed down to Divers Lake and then returned up the draw between Strata Mountain and Limestone Ridge (Mount Allan Brooks) to Goose (Mackenzie) Lake. East of the lake they climbed another mountain (Mount Drabble) to get a view of the surrounding terrain. Wood was so impressed with the sub-alpine scenery of the plateau that the next year he returned with Claude Harrison, president of the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada, and again climbed Mount Albert Edward. However, this time the weather wasn't quite as amenable as the fog came in while they were on the summit but Wood's knowledge of the terrain and good sense of direction won through and they got back safely to their camp. The result of this successful trip was a joint Alpine Club and Courtenay-Comox Mountaineering Club (CDMC) camp held in the summer of 1928 on the Forbidden Plateau. This time Claude Harrison had the views he had missed out on during his first visit. He was so impressed with the beauty and scope of mountains on the Forbidden Plateau that he presented slides shows in Victoria in which a great deal of favourable publicity resulted.
It was the difficulties of the trail via Bevan and Mount Becher and the time that it usually took most parties to get to the plateau that led Clinton Wood in the search to locate an easier route to the plateau. Dove Creek just to the south of Mount Washington looked the most promising access so with Geoffrey Capes, a Courtenay mountaineer, they decided to investigate it. This route appeared the most logical to Wood.
In The Islander from Sunday, January 21, 1968, a supplement of the Victoria Daily Colonist newspaper, Clinton Wood wrote:
By 8 P.M. that night they had still not reached there objective but with a small candle lit by a hand that was shaking with cold from the rain that had set in that afternoon they eventually managed to get a good fire burning. The next morning the sun came out and an hour later they found the old trail.
As a result of this trip Wood realized that a route via Dove Creek was feasible. A number of other scouting trips were necessary to locate and properly blaze a trail but with the backing of the local mountaineering club (CDMC) and the Courtenay and Comox Board of Trade Wood was able to secure provincial funding to work on the trail.
On July 18, 1929 the Dove Creek Trail was officially opened by the Honorable Randolph Bruce, the Lieutenant-Governor to the province and a number of local dignitaries attended including Courtenay's Mayor Theed Pearse and his wife Elma, MLA Doctor George McNaughton a medical doctor from Cumberland, Clinton Wood the President of the Comox District Mountaineering Club, and Miss Helen McKenzie a niece of Randolph Bruce.
On July 25, 1929 the headlines of the Comox Argus newspaper read "Forbidden Plateau now Bidden Plateau" with the subtitle "Lieutenant-Governor Opens new Dove Creek Trail " On the day of opening Clinton Wood remarked:
Doctor George McNaughton also spoke on the future of the trail: "It was the beginning of an advertising campaign for the Comox District which, they trust, would bring in many tourists to enjoy the many beauties of this part of the island." Finally, upon opening the trail the Honorable Randolph Bruce added his thoughts that bolstered what Wood and McNaughton had said:
In June, 1930 Bruce Towler was placed in-charge of a crew that included Jack Hames and William (Bill) Bell who worked on the Dove Creek Trail pushing it as far as Lake Helen Mackenzie. Hames became well known for his newspaper writings and book Field Notes: An Environmental History while Bell, an avid hiker/mountaineer, packed for Norman Stewart who was in-charge of the topographical survey of Strathcona Provincial Park in the mid 1930's and then worked in the logging industry. Later he became a Courtenay Alderman. Clinton Wood believed that this trail would be an important contribution toward the development of establishing a major tourist attraction for Vancouver Island.
In 1934 Clinton Wood built the Forbidden Plateau Lodge as a guest lodge that he and his wife Mary operated for eleven years before retiring. The lodge consisted of four cabins, two outhouses, the main building and a barn that unfortunately burnt down just after completion. They also erected a tent at McKenzie Lake as an intermediate camp. After establishing the Plateau Lodge, Clinton and his son Stuart operated a packhorse team for mountaineers and tourists via the Mount Becher Trail. Cabins were built at Mackenzie Lake and Mariwood Lake (named after Clinton's wife Mary) and for many years' guides who lived at the camps for the summer led tourists up the surrounding mountains and to the various stocked lakes fishing. Over the years Wood's used locals as guides that included Jack Mitchell, Bob Gibson, George Maclean and Len Rossiter. Rossiter spent many years exploring the plateau and surrounding mountains and has a lake named in his honour.
Clinton Wood's reward for the time and energy he put into the Forbidden Plateau was to see it finally acquired and designated a Class A provincial park in 1962. Len Rossiter was delighted in 2000 when the NDP Government announced Rossiter and Diver's Lake were to also be added to the park although it wasn't until 2003 that it got official status. Both fitting tributes to the dedication of the two men whose lives are forever linked to Forbidden Plateau.