Campbell River, British Columbia
Museum at Campbell River

We welcome Thelma Silkens as one of our columnists, she will be writing about Campbell River's past and present,
as she works for the local museum and will be entertaining us with stories of days gone by and current offerings by the museum.

Going to “The Falls”

Ever popular for Sunday drives and showing visitors the sights, Elk Falls on the Campbell River has been the highlight of many an excursion over the years. Early residents packed their lunch and spent a leisure day hiking to “The Falls” with friends. As soon as cars and roads increased, every motorist’s itinerary included this scenic spot. Photographers never tired of recording its turbulence and grandeur.

click on this photo for a closer look...One autumn day in 1913, a group of young people picnicked at the falls. Among the party were Anna and Elin Thulin, daughters of Charles and Mary Thulin, whose business enterprises laid the foundation for the town of Campbell River. Also in the party was Ethel Barwise, the teacher of 25 pupils in the community’s little schoolhouse on the hill. Fortunately for us, photos of the excursion have clear identification written on the back in Miss Barwise’s neat, legible script.


CRM 20221-11
Ethel Barwise Collection

Here we are having a picnic at “The Falls” October 26, 1913. Notice where we should have landed had we slipped - one can scarcely hear one’s own voice for the roaring water. Written on the back of the above photo by young Campbell River schoolteacher Ethel (Hetty) Barwise.

 The following year, a similar expedition was enthusiastically described by another young woman, Ellen Holm, in her journal. …met at Thulins’ house. Took a picture, and then the party started out..when at the top of the bluff I took picture of the falls, then journeyed on…(we) turn off to bluff overlooking immediate falls here we take pictures…we have a great time while lunching…all went home with a thorough satisfaction of the day’s journey (diary of Ellen Holm, July 1914)

 Those who hiked to the falls traditionally made a stop at the water gauge recorder’s cabin. The Mr. Mason shown in Hetty Barwise’s photo was employed to maintain a daily record of the water flow for the company holding a hyrdo power licence.

click on this photo for a closer look...

CRM 20221-9
Ethel Barwise Collection

Picture taken along the Campbell River on our return from “The Falls” October 26, 1913. This is by Mr. Mason’s log cabin. He saw a couple of bears across the river the same Sunday. Mr. Mason is on the right with his axe on shoulder. The photographer is in this picture, the only man with his hat on. Written on the back of the photo.

When we came to the Gages (sic) house, we all stopped for a drink of water…the bunch scattered. All met again at the Gages cabin. (Ellen Holm, July 1914)

 Earlier, in 1910, Harry Johnson was part of a large party which set out to cross the Vancouver Island wilderness from Campbell River to Alberni. They began by going to see “The Falls”, and while some took the recently completed wagon road Johnson cut through the woods:

…through a seemingly impenetrable mass of huge tree trunks, thickets of alder, crab and dogwood, tangle of devils club, and salmon- and blackberry, through oozy marshes with giant skunk cabbages, across the Quinsam river on a log, through bracken over our heads, to the mouth of the Campbell canyon.
(Journal of Harry McClure Johnson, July 1910)

 His guide used a dug-out canoe to take Johnson to a rock on the opposite side of the river, so that he could take a picture directly up the mouth of the canyon. Then they climbed to the top of the canyon wall and followed the water gauger’s trail to the falls.

 Johnson, like others, was inspired to poetic superlatives by the falls. He devoted some 600 glowing words to the impressive sight and sound, before continuing on to describe the water gauger’s task. At that time it was Horace Smith who covered a four mile stretch of the river daily to take note of the river height on gauges placed at intervals.

His lone tent stands in the shade of the ever present forest on sloping ground at a bend in the river…In this delightful spot we opened our package of lunch that those in the buckboard had been thoughtful enough to bring along for us.

  From the first decades of the 20th century, local citizens were anxious to see the area around the falls preserved as a park. At a meeting of the Courtenay-Comox Board of Trade in 1922, it was reported that “since the road was improved a hundred people had passed over the trail to the Falls in three days, as recorded in a book kept there.” The Resolutions Committee was charged with drafting a resolution urging preservation of the falls and a strip of timber along the highway. Campbell River’s Board of Trade, incorporated in 1931, took up the cause of asking the government to provide better facilities for visitors to the falls.

 In 1933 Anne Masters, the wife of local farmer Frank Masters, opened a tea house at Elk Falls. For the next five years, Mrs. Masters’ little cedar cabin above the falls welcomed a steady stream of customers. Hundreds of people visited Elk Falls every year and enjoyed meals cooked with fresh produce and chickens from the Masters’ farm.

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