A Journey Back to Nature

A History of Strathcona Provincial Park

ISBN 9781772033588
Softcover | Publication Date: May 18, 2021
Book Dimensions: 5.5 in. x 8.5 in.
256 Pages

About the Book

Finalist, 2021 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing

A fascinating account of the century-long effort to define, access, preserve, develop, and exploit the uniquely beautiful area of rugged wilderness now known as Strathcona Provincial Park on Central Vancouver Island.

Strathcona Provincial Park is situated in the middle of Vancouver Island, bordering Clayoquot Sound on the west, Port Alberni on the south, and a large property once known as the Esquimalt and Nanaimo (E&N) land grant on the east. Measuring 250,000 hectares, this breathtaking park, with its gorgeous mountains, lakes, and waterfalls, is a nature lover’s paradise. Yet behind this picture of serenity lies a volatile history.

A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona Provincial Park takes a comprehensive look at this rich, beautiful stretch of wilderness and the competing interests that struggled to protect it, define it, and/or control it—from Indigenous Peoples, who have lived on the land for millennia, to European explorers and industrialists, who could not see beyond the wealth of its natural resources, to early conservationists and enterprising settlers, who wished to preserve the area as a wilderness playground for BC’s booming population and nascent tourist industry. Over the course of a century, Strathcona Provincial Park was frequently at the centre of some of the most heated public debates in BC history, between economic and environmental interests. This detailed account—lavishly illustrated with archival and contemporary photographs and maps—uncovers the intriguing history, complex legacy, and majestic natural beauty of BC’s first provincial park.

About the Author(s)

Catherine Marie Gilbert is an author, historian, and lecturer, whose interest in BC coastal life, past and present, is evident in her work. In 2018, she completed her master's thesis on the environmental history of Strathcona Provincial Park and obtained her masters degree in Public History from the University of Victoria. She is the author of Yorke Island and the Uncertain War: Defending Canada's Western Coast, and her articles have appeared in Western Mariner, BC Historical Federation Journal, BC Studies, and Escape.


A BC Bestseller!
"Gilbert has meticulously consulted books, reports, government documents, and archives to document the evolution of this unique property. ... This is an important history of this huge, iconic Park."
British Columbia Magazine
"Gilbert’s presentation delivers a solid and necessary read for anyone interested in environmental conservation and how battles were won and lost against the industrial machine, backed directly and indirectly by power-hungry consumers."
Miramichi Reader
"This is a comprehensive, well developed history, that has added greatly to my knowledge of the area we live in, with many archival photos."
—Tom, bookseller at Mulberry Bush Bookstore in Qualicum Beach, BC
"Catherine Gilbert carefully traces the checkered story of British Columbia’s first park through exploration, expansion, and exploitation. Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Park has been mined, logged, dammed, and flooded. Can a 1993 Master Plan refocus this half-million acres—once pristine wilderness—on recreation? Those who love this land hope so."
—Nina Shoroplova, bestselling author of Legacy of Trees: Purposeful Wandering in Vancouver's Stanley Park
"In her new book, A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona Provincial Park, author Catherine Marie Gilbert looks at the past, present and speculates about the future of British Columbia’s first provincial park. This book is timely as 2021 marks the 110th anniversary since the provincial government designated the Strathcona Provincial Park. The book is a fascinating journey covering a rich history of the region from explorers like Joe Drinkwater, well-known in the Port Alberni region for his floating ark on Great Central Lake, to a look at the future of Strathcona Provincial Park. Photographs and maps add to the rich text in Catherine Gilbert's well-researched book. I look forward to having a copy in my personal library."
—Glen A. Mofford, historian and author
"The next time you are in Strathcona Provincial Park, or any other park for that matter, remember that public spaces like that do not just happen; they exist because of the dedication and determination of people with a shared vision. A Journey Back to Nature: A History of Strathcona Provincial Park is a tribute to some of those people."
—Dave Obee. Editor and Publisher, Times Colonist
"A valuable and welcome addition to the published literature on the beleaguered, mountainous triangle at the very heart of Vancouver Island. The author, Catherine Marie Gilbert, a local historian, tour guide, journalist, and environmentalist, compiles an account of the complex relationships associated with the park. For a century, voices have cried out to keep as much as possible of the area’s natural alpine beauty. They have competed with powerful lobbies eager to exploit its mineral, timber, and hydro power potential. Abrupt changes in government policy only added fuel to the flames."
—Michael Layland, author of The Land of Heart’s Delight
"A bold testament to a world nearly lost, here is an evocation of Nature's fragility in the face of industrial and commercial onslaught. A moving, passionate and authoritative panorama."
—Barry Gough, Past Hon. President, BC Historical Federation and author of Britannia's Navy on the West Coast of North America, 1812-1914
"Catherine Gilbert’s A Journey Back to Nature is a deeply relevant history for its discussion of the competing forces of resource development and natural preservation in the discursive identity in British Columbia."
The Ormsby Review