“It’s beautiful here. But every place in Canada is beautiful . . . in its own way.”
– Cathy, 57, Edmonton
I often hear from visitors how Canadians are friendly. I met Bob and Sue when I waved them away from a collision course with a black bear on Botany Bay (feature photo). I was perched atop a rocky outcropping, camera in hand, when I saw them come around the bend on the beach, oblivious to the bear wandering in their direction. They joined me on the rock and we chatted a bit as we watched the black’s progress up the beach, discovering we were both doing a similar cross-Canada road trip, just at different times. Within 5 minutes and without even knowing my last name, they had offered me a place to stay when I’m in Calgary. Canadians are friendly but their generosity towards a virtual stranger was more than I ever expected.
The visit to Botany Bay had been a fortuitous side-trip but I’d come to Port Renfrew for one other reason.
Avatar Grove is the most recent area of protected old growth trees in British Columbia, named for the towering firs and cedars that escaped the lumberjack’s axe and are reminiscent of the “home tree” in James Cameron’s movie of the same name. Among these giants is a bulbous, deformed cedar dubbed Canada’s Gnarliest Tree. A short hike up the mountain side, supported by stair cases and platforms, brings you to the grove’s star attraction. The popularity of the tree has led to the creation of a viewing platform and “selfie” station away from the trunk to protect the tree and help restore to fauna around it.
Impressed? Not really, though it is an interesting specimen. Far more impressive is Big Lonely Doug, a single Douglas fir standing 230 feet to its upper branches in a clear-cut a bit further up the road. Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug are worth a trip up the very rough logging road if you happen to already be in the area. If, however, you’re looking for a more accessible representation of an old growth forest, I’d recommend Cathedral Grove on Highway 4, a short drive from Parksville and Qualicum Beach.