Richard Boyce is a freelance documentary filmmaker living just outside of Parksville on Vancouver Island. After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in film production, he has begun to use film as a tool to create social, political, and environmental change. He has worked on numerous projects dedicated to protecting the last pristine rainforests on the Island through his production company Island Bound Media Works. Over the last six years Richard has been involved with the protection of Cathedral Grove, an old growth area on Vancouver Island just east of Port Alberni.
Helena Mahoney: How did you get involved with the fight to save Cathedral Grove from the slated parking lot?
Richard Boyce: Well, I’ve lived in the area of Cathedral Grove most of my life and it’s always been one of those places I’ve taken friends and family to see the big trees. It’s right on the highway, so it is easy to access. The Douglas Fir trees there are just magnificent. They’re anywhere up to 600 and 800 years old. The area is still basically in the same state it was in thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, the forest has been logged all around it, so its protection has been depleted.
The rainforest works as a whole, not as individual trees or areas. Since the Cameron valley was cut it allows wind through, blowing down the trees that are still standing. When the government threatened to put a parking lot in, they placed it in the most sensitive part of the park. They placed that proposal where there had been a huge wind throw in 1997. Thousands of trees fell down. Subsequently, Weyerhaeuser came in and took those trees away, so there is a huge funnel that is pointed right at the standing trees which we know as Cathedral Grove. … That grove is basically so old and so gnarled and flooded out that it’s very susceptible to wind and now that this funnel is pointed at it, a lot of the trees have fallen down.
HM: You were a founding member of the Friends of Cathedral Grove. How did you help stop the development of the parking lot?
RB: The Friends of Cathedral Grove started in 2001, to try to prevent the parking lot from being put in, and to try to get a public hearing or a public assessment so the government would reconsider placing it in the most sensitive area of the flood plain of the Cameron river. We called on government to move the proposed lot somewhere else, or to at least investigate other alternatives. And so the Friends of Cathedral Grove have been lobbying that government for the past four or five years. Of course, the government just went in and tried to put in the parking lot anyway. As a result, there has been a two-year protest camp equipped with platforms in the trees, in the canopy, 150 to 200 feet up. We’ve successfully prevented the parking lot so far.
HM: How were the activities in Cathedral Grove different from regular industrial logging activities?
RB: Well, it’s kind of different because it is not just crown land that is being leased to a logging company to be logged. This is very different because there is a park there and the government is actually destroying part of the park to make way for more parking. This issue isn’t really about the environment, nor is it really about the forests. It’s more about transportation and tourism.
So what’s really ironic is that the Ministry of Transportation has made no comments, has not really been involved in this whole process, and so there has been no public debate about what the crux of the issue is, which is transportation. It’s also about the remaining rainforest on the Island and the rest of British Columbia, because Cathedral Grove is one of the only low, bottom-valley Douglas Fir forests that is still standing and is easily accessible. It can draw a million visitors a year, whereas the other rainforests that still have Douglas Fir on a bottom valley are so remote and so isolated that even the logging companies can’t get to them yet. Otherwise they’d be logged … I think that it basically comes down to the government putting the environment at the very bottom of the rung.
HM: How is Cathedral Grove significant for First Nations?
RB: Cathedral Grove was very significant for First Nations. They’ve been going there for hundreds of years, and they’ve left a lot of culturally modified trees in the area. They’ve also spoken to the fact that this is a sacred place. So, because it’s in a park, it’s a perfect opportunity to combine the provincial park with First Nations education and giving people an opportunity to observe some of the things that went on here before white people showed up.
HM: What other alternatives exist for Cathedral Grove to exist in relationship to human society?
RB: When Europeans did show up, they built a railway. That railway is still there and it’s inactive right now. Local people, particularly in Port Alberni, would like to see the Grove become a tourist destination. You could use the old steam train in Port Alberni to take an excursion to Cathedral Grove, and people could go for a walk there. Those types of things are alternatives: utilizing different areas of the park and expanding the park so that it saves the entire valley, including the lake and both sides of the lake, so that tourism can flourish in the area. Somehow government has to deal with the issue of parking, but more than just parking, actually driving. There are other potential places to put the road and other opportunities that exist that the government isn’t even willing to look at.
This interview was held in February of 2006. Since then, the boundaries of protection for Cathedral Grove have yet to be written into legislation. This year’s fall session of the legislature has been cancelled, and the government continues to put off any confirmation concerning the park’s protected future. To find out more, visit: www.islandlens.blogspot.com.
Richard’s next project is to make a film about East Creek, one of the last six pristine watersheds remaining from the original 91 on Vancouver Island. For more information, or to view other projects of his, check out: www.islandbound.ca.