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Victoria British Columbia Canada Travel Guide

Vancouver Island |Cowichan
Mt. Washington| Cathedral Grove

Forest Eco-Systems | Plants | News

History of Cathedral Grove
by Kate Shepherd & Jamie Woodford

This area was given to the province of British Columbia by the H.R. MacMillan Export Company in 1944 as a way to preserve an incredible stand of trees. It is now one of British Columbia’s MacMillan Provincial Parks.

A few hundred years ago a fire destroyed all but a few giant trees in this forest. Protected from the heat by their thick, corky bark, the surviving veterans provided seeds that have grown into the present forest.

Cathedral Grove is home to a wide variety of plant species and wildlife. It stretches over 136 hectares of forest land. This land provides a home to a wide variety of trees and other plant life. Some of the trees found in this area are Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, Broadleaf Maple, and Balsam Fir. The Douglas Fir is the dominating species in this region. Some of these giant trees are estimated to be around 800 years old, with the majority ranging form 300-400 years old.

1997 wind storm at Cathedral Grove Vancouver Island

Cathedral Grove is considered an old-growth forest. An old-growth forest contains live and dead trees of various sizes, species, composition, and age class structure. Old-growth forests contain large trees of the species typical to the area, a wide variation of trees and spacing, an accumulation of large dead standing and fallen trees, multiple canopy layers, canopy laps and understory patchiness, as well as elements of decay such as broken or deformed tops or trunks and root decay. The tops of the trees form a cathedral-like ceiling high above, while the thick tree trunks rise from the floor of delicate fern.

On New Years day, 1997, a powerful wind funnelled through the narrow bend in Cameron Valley making its way to Cathedral Grove. The high winds and wet soil conditions were too much for the forest to handle. This resulted in a “wind throw”, which left trees uprooted while the stems were shattered and thrown in the air. By blowing over trees the wind has created small openings in this forest. Through these openings the sun is able to reach the various plant life on the forest floor. This windstorm has created many changes in Cathedral Grove’s ecosystem.

Natural regeneration is slowly restoring Cathedral Grove’s natural beauty. What you will see in Cathedral Grove today is a different face than the Cathedral Grove of the past. Today there are tree logs lying on the ground and various bushes, ferns, and mosses growing on and around the logs. These fallen logs are commonly referred to as nurse logs. The decaying wood of nurse logs absorbs rainwater, provides moisture, supplies nutrients, and provides an elevated platform above the shade of forest floor plants that contributes to the natural regeneration of the forest.

Today new paths have been built and fences have been put up. This has been done so people do not walk along or between the fallen logs. Walking through these sensitive areas disturbs the lifecycles of plants, mosses, lichens, and fungi, which are attempting to grow. Careless human exploration can destroy these sensitive growing areas.

Cathedral Grove large tree lies across path Vancouver Island BC

In the picture above you can see a fallen tree that has been cut in order to clear the path. Behind the fallen tree you are able to see part of a fence that has been built to help protect Cathedral Grove’s sensitive areas from human disturbance.

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Directions to Cathedral Grove

From Nanaimo, head north on the Inland Island Hwy.

Turn left on Hwy. 4 (the Port Alberni highway).

The park is just past the west end of Cameron Lake.

The 50-kilometer drive takes about half an hour.

The road is narrow and twisting.




Your complete vacation, accommodation, business and community information guide to Victoria, British Columbia in series of Travel Guides including, Sooke, East Sooke, and on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

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