I had wanted to see it for years, and finally did so in autumn of 2012. Located in a quiet corner of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island, the Cheewhat Lake Cedar was, for many years, the second largest of its kind. In 2016, that was to change, when Olympic National Park’s Quinault Cedar, in Washington, was damaged irreparably in a devastating windstorm. The Cheewhat tree, at that time, then became the world champion Western Red Cedar.
The tree was rediscovered in 1988 by the late Maywell Wickheim, a resident of nearby Sooke, British Columbia and one of Canada’s most dedicated big tree hunters. I say rediscovered, because local First Nations people almost certainly made its acquaintance before, as not that far from its massive trunk lie the remnants of a dugout canoe that was never quite finished. Wickheim, for his part, was said to have hinted of an even larger specimen in the general area, though if that is so, he never did disclose its location. To those of us who scour the forests for big cedars, that mere possibility evokes the same kind of zeal that drives men to find lost gold mines, albeit without the prospect of great financial reward!
It takes more than a little preparation and plenty of driving on logging roads to reach the roadside cairn on Rosander Main, where a winding trail will lead you into a stately grove of ancient Western Red Cedars near Cheewhat Lake. Directions to the tree are relatively well known, and access has improved somewhat over the years, but a vehicle in good condition with four decent tires and a sturdy spare at the ready are still strongly recommended. The trail itself, while not especially well marked, does have a well worn footbed that is reasonably simple to follow for experienced hikers.
As you draw closer to this giant, you’ll be truly inspired by the surrounding forest. The understory supports a great deal of biodiversity, and in ideal conditions the natural light through the canopy is nothing less than enchanting. When you finally reach the Cheewhat Lake Cedar, it makes a momentous impression, to put it mildly. Its diameter at breast height is a staggering 5.96 metres, which is over 19.5 feet in width. The tree is thought to be as old as 2000 years by some, though there are disagreements regarding its age. It has endured for many centuries, without a doubt, and is at the very least a national treasure. Should you be fortunate enough to visit, be sure to treat it with the utmost respect, as trees like these are both precious and irreplaceable.
As we all know, British Columbia’s ancient forests have almost entirely disappeared from the land. It’s time now to protect what remains and transition to harvesting second growth timber sources. The sobering reality is that the future of our wilderness depends entirely on our will to preserve it. The Cheewhat Lake Cedar gives us both hope, and a chance to appreciate what nature can accomplish!