In Search of The Seymour Cedars

Ever so slowly, our bikes rolled to a stop, as Doug gestured quietly, pointing toward the forest. There, happily grazing, was a robust young deer enjoying her morning solitude beside the Seymour Valley Trailway. While pulling out my camera to document the moment, I began to get the feeling this was going to be an illustrious day!

Well hello there!

The year was 2010, an auspicious one in the history of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. Vancouver and Whistler had just hosted a highly successful Olympic Winter Games, and the spirit of optimism was still fresh. All that aside, the mission that day was more about the past than the present or future. We had decided to hunt down the Seymour Cedars.

WCWC map, circa 1998. The Seymour Cedars are marked by the tree icons in the Paton Creek drainage

Some years before, British Columbia tree hunting legend Ralf Kelman had regaled me about the forest of the Paton Creek drainage. He, along with others from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) had documented the old growth of the Seymour Valley in the 1990s. The area was then known as the Seymour Demonstration Forest, and logging was still permitted in the watersheds of Greater Vancouver. The WCWC managed to produce a map that charted many of those remaining stands of ancient trees. To hear Ralf tell the tale, the powers that be were less than enthused about his activities, and there was at least one occasion where he and his compatriots had taken cover in the woods under threat of reprimand from said authorities! The Seymour Cedars, marked only by a couple of tree icons on the map, had concluded our discussion that day. “These aren’t the biggest trees in the valley, but I’m convinced I only scratched the surface of what might be lurking there,” Ralf had said. At long last, the time had finally arrived to find out if his speculations were correct!

In 2010, however, road access to Paton Creek was temporarily off limits because of the ongoing expansion and renovation of the Seymour Dam. That meant we needed to devise an alternate plan to get there. What we resolved was to cycle to the Old Growth Loop near the hatchery, then cache our rides so that we could walk cross the road at roughly the 10 km marker. From there, we ascended through second growth timber to begin our pursuit of the elusive cedars.

Ancient Sitka Spruce on the Spruce Loop Trail. Its age is estimated at five hundred years!

A salmon rearing pond on the Old Growth Loop

Since most of the ancient groves on the WCWC map were generally located below the 500 metre contour, the idea was to bushwhack to that elevation and then begin traversing north into the Paton Creek drainage. The going was typically slow, with numerous fallen trees in our path and tall vegetation hampering our visibility, but soon enough we were among the giants!

Once we entered the old growth timber, the understory was easier to walk

We knew that similar sized Western Red Cedars grew nearby on the Paton Trail to Coliseum Mountain, but these were exhilarating to finally see!

We also found a number of forest giants that had fallen to earth, providing vital wildlife habitat in the process. Deadfall serves an important purpose in ancient forests

Most of the Western Red Cedars we found were between seven and nine feet in diameter at breast height, which likely dates them in excess of four centuries in age. Several were even more venerable, measuring closer to ten feet wide! There was a time in which trees like these seemed unlimited in supply, but those halcyon days have now faded. Defending the ancient forests that still remain is a more vital task than ever before.

Doug gets a closer look at one of the giants of the grove. We were surprised at how healthy this forest was and thankful it had survived!

There is nothing quite like exploring ancient forests. They are worth so much more to this planet still standing, and a transition to second growth logging would go a long way to preserving them for future generations

Western Red Cedar, otherwise known as Thuja Plicata

Soon the terrain dictated a choice. We could either cross a tributary of Paton Creek and battle up some steep terrain, or endure even uglier ground below our stance. The decision seemed obvious enough, but required very deliberate steps as we gained elevation. Crossing a tilted slab carpeted with moss was the first obstacle, but already it could seen that rewards awaited us. The two largest trees we’d find that day were just steps away, and we spent considerable time admiring them!

There is a lot of camera shake in this photo, but nevertheless it captured my mood at the time, so I decided to include it anyway!

This spectacular cedar was the next find of the day, exceeding ten feet in diameter!

Nearby, this giant also resides, most likely five centuries old!
This is a tributary of Paton Creek that rarely sees more than seepage except during periods of the highest rainfall. the flow of water in many Seymour Valley creeks is largely subterranean

Having scrapped our way the not so lofty elevation of 450 metres, we could see that soon we’d need to descend, as another stately grove of cedars could be seen across yet another gully. It seemed the ideal time to stop for lunch, so we settled in on one of few surprisingly stable pieces of ground. Much of our banter was about the recent Olympic Games I mentioned earlier, where Canada set a record for the number of gold medals won. If you’re a Canadian, like me, you probably can’t get enough of that stuff , so you can watch the film below yet again if you like. If not, well, just fast forward to the remainder of this tale!

2010 Canadian Gold!

Kicking our way down another steep grade now brought us to that next cluster of ancient trees. Clearly, Paton Creek had lived up to its reputation, yet ironically, we haven’t returned there since. I’m still convinced that the unexplored upper reaches hold even more secrets.

The sounds of a woodpecker working in the upper canopy could be heard loudly for a minute, but you’ll have to imagine that!

Giants!

Trio

One thing I’ve never doubted about Doug is his strong sense of commitment. He’ll always do what it takes to get the job done, like selling out here to get the perfect shot!

Why not a closer look at the the treetop? Western Red Cedars are very enduring trees, and will often have multiple reiterations, some broken, and some very much alive

The future of this forest is very bright indeed!
A true forest giant!

Half an hour later, we arrived back at the road and soon retrieved our bikes. Nearby, there were curious remnants dating back to the earlier days of water delivery from the dam. Recalling this day, the old expression “Time flies when you’re having fun” seems appropriate as ever!

Pipeline to the past!

A tranquil scene to end another fine day of exploration!

*******AUTHOR’S NOTE*******

We owe an enduring debt to Mr Kelman and the WCWC for their integral work in getting these forests protected. Their actions eventually led to the prohibition of logging in Vancouver area watersheds. Today, the former Seymour Demonstration Forest is now known as the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve.

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