He named it the Mary Jewell Cedar, after his closest companion. I never did get to see it for myself, but Vancouver artist Ralf Kelman described it to me as quite a sight to behold. It was a venerable tree, roughly twelve feet in diameter, with an expansive hollow chamber, and perhaps seven centuries old. Were it still standing, it would be among the largest remaining cedars in the Seymour Valley, but sadly, it lives on only in folklore.
The story of the cedar’s demise dates back twenty years and begins with Ralf’s efforts to preserve the remaining giants of the Seymour Valley from logging. He walked the steep drainages below Lynn Ridge and The Needles, discovering and documenting these ancient remnants, in what was then known as the Seymour Demonstration Forest. At the time, the powers that be did not take kindly to being dictated to when it came to the lands of the watersheds, and that included logging. It was only bringing publicity to the area that would effect change. Each grove Ralf located was later featured on a map published by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee ( WCWC ) and that, combined with timely and persistent lobbying, finally brought about an end to harvesting timber in Greater Vancouver watersheds.
It was in the early 1990s that Ralf visited the cedar with Mary Jewell and friend Neva Hohn. They made several treks to the forest, and enjoyed them well. Time moved forward, and as the century turned, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, as it is now known, eventually made plans to build the Seymour Valley Trailway above the old Seymour Mainline. There were upgrades slated for the Seymour Dam, and a need to give recreational users a safer way to access the valley. Unfortunately, when they were building the new route, the contractors decided the tree was an impending hazard and that it had to be felled. Another version of events was that one of the crews had an accident and damaged the tree beyond repair, though I have never substantiated that story. In any event, the Mary Jewell Cedar finally met its maker.
Does my story end here? Well no, of course not! You see, roughly where the Seymour Valley Trailway road crosses the 4 km mark, the rest of the trees that were charted near the Mary Jewell Cedar still remain. If you look closely, after climbing a steep bank, you may find tattered remnants of 25 year old flagging tape that lead you to a stately grove of Douglas Firs. The WCWC map calls these trails the Mary Jewell and Neva Hohn Trails, but nowadays what’s left is more of a suggestion than a trail, and above the grove there are even more hidden mysteries. What follows here are my tales of further exploration in this time forgotten place!
My first foray dates back to 2007, when Chris and I rode our bikes up the Seymour Valley to try and track down this grove. While the ride was short and brisk, travel was slow and deliberate in the woods, which is pretty much the norm for off trail exploration in the Seymour Valley.
Not only did we find some of the valley’s tallest firs, but a number of massive boulders that had come to rest in the forest there. Were they erratics deposited by glaciers or the byproduct of a powerful landslide? Difficult to say, but nonetheless very impressive!
To round out our day we ended up bushwhacking our way northwest toward the upper reaches of McKenzie Creek. Steadily gaining altitude to about 550 meters in elevation, suddenly the forest began to get noticeably brighter. The reason was soon apparent, as we found ourselves at the base of a massive boulder field! I had the immediate notion there had been relatively recent activity there. The rocks were moss covered but almost every one of them moved when walked on, so we concluded the slide had not yet stabilized. We tread very carefully there for a while while we worked our way northwest. Were it not for the low cloud across the valley, our perch would also have afforded fine views of the Fannin Range.
In another half hour we began retreating to the bikes, taking a roundabout route to complete our circle of exploration. The hiking seemed somewhat precarious, with both of us staggering and lurching through the loose underbrush.
A fine comic interlude came when I stepped on a log while moving downhill, and the next thing you know it was rolling right at me in pursuit! The things I do to amuse my hiking partners! Not long after that, Chris nearly took an awkward fall of his own. It seems as though no trip is official until we each manage to end up on the ground somehow! After discovering several more promising old growth cedars, we figured it was time to quit while we were ahead, and forged our way back to the road.
Fast forward to the spring of 2018, when Doug and I took advantage of a sunny spring day to revisit these trees. After caching our rides carefully, we set off into the forest in the hope of making some new discoveries. Many a tree had fallen in storms since my last visit, but most of the same giants still survived. For good measure, we hiked up to the sunny, salal covered bluffs to the south of the trail, but soon doubled back to the grove, realizing that our time was short. It was one of those days just made for photography, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves!
What is particularly inspiring about the Douglas Firs of the Mary Jewell and Neva Hohn Trails is that they show such great promise for the future. Already reaching estimated heights in excess of 240 feet, in subsequent generations these trees may well become some of the finer specimens in all of southwest British Columbia. Less well known than their nearby brothers in the Temples of Time Grove, they remain equally important. The most surprising thing of all is that despite their proximity to such a popular and busy trail, only a handful of people know they exist!
These trees have gained protected status for the foreseeable future, but the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve is not particularly interested in promoting their existence, probably over concerns about public safety. That means, in a broader sense, that they’ll only be seen by the type of intrepid explorer who ventures off the road well traveled. In the end, maybe that is as it should be, for those who seek out life’s mysteries ought to be bestowed with the necessary passion and determination. For many folks, it’s enough just to know that forests like these are still out there!
It should be said that the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve has definitely lived up to the promise of protecting the forests of the Seymour Valley. That is something that should never be taken for granted, as victories should be celebrated! Meanwhile, time marches on, and conservation is as important as ever, if we expect future generations to be able to experience the beauty of our remaining old growth forests.
As well, personal thank you to Ralf Kelman, who took the time to share his knowledge of these forests with me. I remain ever grateful.