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A day trip down the Cowichan river

Cowichan Lake

Last year, I saw a trip that Harry Watson organized down the Cowichan river from Cowichan Lake to Cowichan Bay. It looked like a pretty cool way to spend a day. I was interested in repeating the journey, however I wanted to make sure we had good flow, Harry had spent 6 hours at 130cms. Cowichan, from the Coast Salish word “Khowutzun” meaning “land warmed by the sun,” is an area rich in First Nations, European and resource history.

The Cowichan Valley has been home to the Cowichan Tribes from the earliest times. Cowichan is a collective name for a number of villages on eastern Vancouver Island, including Comiaken, Somenos, Koksilah and Quamichan. Today the Cowichan tribes make up the largest band in British Columbia and members of the band own and reside on much of the land surrounding Duncan and the Cowichan River. This is taken from this site http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/cowichan_rv/nat_cul.html#History

Last year was not conductive to good flows. We had a very dry February and march. The Cowichan lake levels dropped very low, so low they were pumping water into the river over the weir to maintain fish flows. Then the fall was dry and not much rain till December. In late December and early January we had a series of 3 atmospheric rivers come in which brought the Cowichan Levels up to 180cms. The timing was now right… I put out a call on the Vancouver Island Whitewater Paddling Society Facebook group. A bit of interest was piqued however it ended up being Jaime Sharp and myself, we also had the help of Stephen Hunt running shuttle. This saved a lot of time at the end of the day.

One of the sections we paddled through was Cowichan River’s Marie Canyon which takes its name from a couple of different sources depending on who you talk to. Jack Fleetwood states the ‘whitewater’ days when French Canadian lumberjacks were imported to drive the logs down-river from Cowichan Lake to Cowichan and Genoa Bays. This two-kilometre-long gorge often caused massive logjams that had to be released by brawn (not to mention courage) and explosives. No wonder then, as Jack told it, the lumberjacks, most of whom were devout Catholics, crossed themselves and whispered, “Ave Maria,” before setting to work with peavy and dynamite, at least one was killed in the process. Alas, not so according to Provincial Toponymist Janet Mason of the B.C. Geographical Names Office in Victoria. At least, not the lumberjack naming part. According to her, Marie Canyon honours Marie Adelaide, Viscountess Willingdon, C.I., G.B.E. who visited the area in 1930. Now, I’m sure that Marie Freeman-Thomas, Marchioness of Willingdon, GBE, DStj CI (1875-1960) was a lovely lady. The daughter of the first Earl of Brassey, she married Freeman Freeman-Thomas (sic), the first Marquess of Willingdon who served for a time as Canada’s Governor General. See the link below for full article. https://archive.ph/20130820235515/http://www.canada.com/Chronicles+name+name+long+spelled+right/8785463/story.html#selection-905.155-917.267

Marie canyon is also part of Cowichan River Provincial Park. Crown Land in this area was recommended for protection in the Vancouver Island Land Use Plan; the park was established in July, 1995. This park contains the first campground built on Vancouver Island since the early 1980s, created in partnership with Forest Renewal BC (FRBC), the Cowichan Lake Community Forest Co-operative (CLCFC) and IWA. FRBC funded the project and CLCFC provided labour by hiring displaced forest workers from IWA local 1-80.

We put in at 1030am and managed a good pace down the river finishing in a time of 4 hours and 35 mins. We only caught 4 eddy’s… one of which to scout Skutz falls and the others for snacks and lunch breaks. It was interesting to explore the whole river system and transition from the lake to the ocean passing through different zones on our way down. I would do the trip down again but would like to have even more water.

Enjoy the pics below.

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