What's in a Name?
Lake Helen McKenzie, Paradise Meadows, Kwai Lake, Mount Becher... you’ve been there, done that – but how much do you know about these places you’ve seen?
Curious about their beginnings, ‘The Marmot’ set out to find the history of 24 mountains, lakes and meadows in Strathcona Prov. Park.
The Comox District Mountaineering Club (www.comoxhiking.com) has an extensive list of features on Vancouver Island and the origins of their names on their website. This club has been responsible over the past 90 years for naming many of the geographical features of Strathcona Provincial Park.
Lindsay Elms, who some would argue is a modern-day pioneer, has written a book called Beyond Nootka, which thoroughly investigates the history and origins of many of the major geographical features on Vancouver Island. His accompanying website was a valuable resource. So too was the B.C. Geographical Names database.
Elms writes of three other men who played a vital part in naming park features: W.R. Kent, Einar Anderson and W.W. Urquhart, who led a survey party in the park in 1913-14.
Ruth Masters, a member of the mountaineering club since the 1930s, has made a hobby out of naming features in the park. But it’s no frivolity; she says it’s advantageous for people hiking in the backcountry who might get lost “It’s very important that features get properly named and identified,” she says. Masters has compiled a book on Forbidden Plateau, now ensconced in the Courtenay Museum, that details the history of many features in the region. She has named at least ten features in the park after the Comox Valley’s war dead, as well as after early pioneers, and says although she’s getting on in years, she’s not done yet.
A woman contacted Masters earlier this year asking for help in naming a lake after her brother, who died in a war, and Masters has agreed to help her. “I will be doing one more,” she says.
Here then are two dozen of the Marmot’s favourite park features, in no particular order:
The mountain and Resort were named after Rear-Admiral John Washington, a Royal Navy officer who made a name for himself as a naval hydrographer, surveying and mapping seas, lakes and rivers for navigation. Captain Richards, part of a crew dispatched to survey Vancouver Island for the Royal Navy, named the mountain in Washington’s honour in 1864.
Mount Albert Edward
Considered the most ascended of the 2,000-metre peaks on Vancouver Island, Mount Albert Edward was named for Prince Albert Edward in 1862 and formally adopted on March 31, 1914. The prince later became England’s King Edward VII.
Mount Becher is named for Admiral Alexander Bridgeport Becher, a well-known and respected surveyor with the Royal Navy. His name appeared on the feature on a British Admiralty Chart published in 1862. The mountain was known in the 1920s as Quartz Creek Mountain and early explorers accessed it from the Strathcona Trail near Bevan Village, just outside of Courtenay. The trail connecting Paradise Meadows and Mount Becher is still popular with hikers.
Lake Helen McKenzie
Helen Maud Hutton McKenzie was the niece of British Columbia Lieutenant Governor Robert Randolph Bruce. She served as chatelaine at Government House – Bruce’s residence – from March 1926 to February 1930. McKenzie accompanied Bruce to the official opening of the Dove Creek Trail, accessing Forbidden Plateau, in 1929.
In 1865, as part of the Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition, British Royal Engineers Commander John James Taylor Buttle ascended a mountain 6,000 feet above sea level. He looked down and saw a large body of water he estimated to be about 20 miles long. His sighting was recorded in the Daily British Colonist of Victoria. It would be 27 years before any European would set eyes on the lake named Buttle.
Kwai Lake is named for the Clinton Wood family. Wood was one of the Comox Valley mountaineering pioneers who discovered Dove Creek Trail, an easier access into Forbidden Plateau. Wood also built the original Strathcona Park Lodge. Kwai is a native word for “wood.”
When Clinton Wood took his son hiking with him in Paradise Meadows one day, his son said the profile of trees on the three small islands in the lake resembled battleships at anchor. The Comox District Mountaineering Club applied in 1935 to formalize the name.
Founded in 1911, Strathcona is the oldest Provincial Park in B.C. The Park was named for Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona, who was a wealthy philanthropist as well as a pioneer of railroads.
When Clinton Wood was searching for an easier way to get to Forbidden Plateau in 1928 (those efforts resulted in the Dove Creek Trail), he spotted these meadows. The name was adopted on Dec. 12, 1939 and re-approved on Oct. 7, 1948. A 2.2-kilometre loop trail has been created from the trailhead adjacent to Raven Lodge and through the subalpine Paradise Meadows. It is the jumping off point for many other hikes in Strathcona Park.
“Forbidden” is a loose translation of the name given to the area by Coast Salish natives after many of their hunters were killed by Nootka Indians. The Comox District Mountaineering Club asserts that newspaper editor Ben Hughes named the Plateau in an article in the Comox Argus in 1927. The name was adopted on Dec. 12, 1939. “Plateau” is a misnomer, as the 100-mile-square area is made up of ridges, sloping wet meadows and open park land at elevations ranging from 3,500-4,000 feet.
Eugene Croteau operated Croteau Guest Camp in the 1930s. Ruth Masters suggested the lake be named after Croteau and it was adopted in 1939. Croteau Beach in Comox is also named after the same man.
Lake Beautiful is one of three lakes so named in B.C., but it has the distinction of being the first to be registered in the B.C. Geographical Names Information System. Clinton Wood and Bill Douglas supposedly named the lake in 1927; however, it wasn’t formally adopted until Dec. 12, 1939.
The Golden Hinde was first dubbed The Rooster’s Comb during a 1914 survey of Vancouver Island, although author Lindsay Elms writes that no one knows who gave the “barnyard” name to the peak. In 1937, surveyor Norman Stewart felt the highest peak on the Island (2,200 metres or 7,218 feet) should have a more regal name, and named it after Sir Francis Drake’s flagship, Golden Hinde.
Located at the head of the Oyster River, Alexandra became Princess of Wales when she married Prince Albert Edward, then Queen when her husband became King Edward VII.
George Cruikshank was Hon. Secretary of the 1864 Vancouver Island Exploration Committee.
McKenzie Lake is named for John McKenzie, who was mayor of Courtenay in 1929 – the year that water rights were obtained to dam the lake. The lake was originally named Seean, a native word meaning “chief”, to honour all mayors of Courtenay, but too many people complained about it so it was changed.
Douglas Lake is named for William (Bill) Douglas, a Courtenay city alderman, who was the first to introduce trout fry to this lake and also to McKenzie Lake.
Prospector John Brown claimed to have been treed by a family of panthers at this lake in the 1920s. Ruth Masters in 1936 suggested calling it Trysting Lake because of another popular use, but was overruled by the Comox-Courtenay Board of Trade. Panther Lake was adopted in 1948 as a long-established local name.
Prospector John Brown named this lake in the 1920s. Late Comox naturalist Allan Brooks surmised that because the lake is located within a cirque (a deep, bowl-shaped hollow located at the head of a valley), it might have been a corruption of the term.
Moat Lake The late Sid Williams, a pioneer in the Comox Valley, named Moat Lake because it sits below Castle Crag. The name was formally adopted on Dec. 12, 1939.
John Brown Lake
Named for prospector John Brown, considered one of the great explorers of Forbidden Plateau. The lake is located near the stake where Brown prospected.
Murray Meadows Jack Murray used to pasture his horses in a peaceful meadow southwest of Croteau Lake, in between trips packing for Eugene Croteau. The meadows were so named sometime in the 1930s.
Ruth Masters Lake
For decades, a small turquoise-blue lake deep in the wilderness of Strathcona Park has been known colloquially as Ruth Masters Lake. On Dec. 11, 2008, the name became official – immortalizing the woman who has given name to so many park features.