Campbell River lost a champion of the local environment on Nov. 20.
Don McIver, 93, championed a number of causes but will certainly be remembered for his role in preventing the Beaver Lodge Lands from being developed into housing subdivisions. Just as importantly as his work for his causes was the way he worked on them. He was a quiet man, civil in his dealings with everybody but steadfast and unmoveable when it came to the cause.
I came to know Don in the early 1990s through covering the re-instatement of the Beaver Lodge Lands experimental forest and the later structure developed to govern it going forward.
In the ensuing years, Don kept in touch with me by dropping by the Campbell River Mirror office to discuss issues or promote programs he supported, most notably Operation Eyesight. With his distinct, soft, high-pitched voice, Don was always cheerful explaining the value of things.
Our encounters often occurred outside the office, he would literally stop me on the street to chat about seemingly everything under the sun. Besides talking about issues, he’d occasionally reminisce about his years in the logging industry taking note of early reforestation programs he was involved in.
And he was a thoughtful man. When he read about my son earning his gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, he called me up and said he was making a donation to Operation Eyesight in my son’s name. It was a touching gesture reflecting his interest in youth, concern for developing countries and charitable nature.
Operation Eyesight is an international development oganization working to eliminate avoidable blindness through donations from individuals, corporations and organizations. It brings sight-restoration and blindness-prevention treatment to millions.
Don was a member of a group of individuals who halted the City of Campbell River’s extensive plans to develop the Beaver Lodge Lands into much-needed housing and major road network. He was active in Campbell River Fish and Wildlife Assocation and the Campbell River Environmental Council (CREC), an umbrella group of local conservation organizations.
When the City of Campbell River unveiled extensive plans to open up a popular forested area for housing subdivision, it was members of CREC that pointed out to the city that the area known as the Beaver Lodge Lands was deeded to the province as as an experimental forest back in the 1930s by forest industry magnate H.R. MacMillan. MacMillan recognized even back then that the province’s rate of harvesting trees would leave the cupboard bare and that replanting was needed. So, he donated about 1,000 hectares of forest west of what would become the City of Campbell River for that purpose.
The area was clear cut and then re-seeded with all manner of species with the intention to see how well they regrew. They regrew well, for the most part, and over the decades the community at the mouth of the Campbell River grew and grew as well. The forest west of the community had become a popular outdoor recreation resource and the deed to the province was filed and mostly forgotten. When the city recognized that its historical pattern of growth – spreading south along the foreshore – would put too much pressure on services, the decision was made to push development westward. An extensive plan of streets and cul de sacs was drawn up.
Don and others in CREC said, “Wait a minute, isn’t it a provincial forest?”
They set about finding proof of that in the form of the actual deed written up by McMillan and the province. Which they did. It brought all the city’s plans to develop all that forest land to a screeching halt. In the ensuing years, portions of the original deeded land had been carved off for the airport and for the college.
To reinstate the original deed, trade-offs had to be negotiated and the city pointed out the need for a secondary north-south road for safety reasons as much as traffic movement (if the Old Island Highway was blocked, how would evacuations or emergency vehicle movement happen). That became the Dogwood Street extension which currently slices through the Beaver Lodge Forest Lands. To protect this forest from further encroachment, a specific piece of legislation had to be drafted and passed by the provincial legislature. That was facilitated by then-North Island MLA and Attorney General, Colin Gabelmann.
It was a massive story and took a huge effort on the part of a lot of people to see that the forest was protected and that an administrative structure got set up to oversee it. Former forestry manager and later Beaver Lodge volunteer Ron Burrell said Don was a driving force in the development of the Beaverlodge Trust Committee. He collaborated on the many issues in the formation of the “Beaverlodge Resource Use plan 1994” which has been updated and remains the guiding principle for activities in the Beaverlodge, Burrell said.
“(Then-Forest) Minister (Andrew) Pettter called Don ‘The Protector of the Beaverlodge,’” Burrell said. “Don remained a strong voice for the protection and conservation of the Beaverlodge for the last 25 years.
“His integrity, honesty and commitment to the environment set a very high standard and our community owes him our thanks.”
Coun. Charlie Cornfield agrees that Don was an integral part of the effort to reinstate the Beaver Lodge Lands as well as the trust committee formed afterwards.
“Don was on there right from Day one and stuck with it for us all,” Cornfield said.
It was not an easy structure to set up, Cornfield said. Most people considered the Beaver Lodge a park (and still do). But it’s not a park and the committee was set up to ensure the spirit of the original deed was maintained.
“Don was instrumental in making sure that that happened and the government stayed true to the (original) trust,” Cornfield said.
Cornfield says Don was a “good fighter” but was always respectful no matter that you had a different point of view. But he didn’t back down.
“If he believed in something, he stood up for something he believed in,” Cornfield said.
A trail in the Beaver Lodge Lands is named after Don. Cornfield says that’s a fitting tribute.
“Don lived a good life and contributed lots,” Cornfield said.