There was a time that the east coast of Vancouver Island was home to countless stands of ancient Douglas fir trees that numbered among the finest British Columbia had to offer. While it’s well documented that most of them fell to the crosscut saws of the colonial era, there are, if you take the time to search, some remaining gems to be seen. One such tree is the one I call the Kitty Coleman Fir. Reputed to be the largest remaining tree in the Comox Valley by some accounts, it rests in a quiet clearing in its namesake park, just as it has for centuries.
Kitty Coleman Provincial Park is located northeast of Courtenay and south of Merville, in the old Island Highway 19 corridor. The site itself has a compelling history. As the tale is told, Kitty Coleman was a member of the We Wai Kai First Nation, and she left her tribe at Cape Mudge to marry a white man. He was later jailed, and after that it is said that she lived alone on the beach, selling fish and berries. She passed away in the year 1918 at the age of seventy, and that beach became known locally as Kitty Coleman’s Beach, hence the park name.
By the year 1919, at the conclusion of World War One, nearly all of the surrounding area had already been logged. It was at this time that British war veterans who had fought together in France arrived on the scene. Along with the locals, they established a new community, borrowing the French name Merville, which combines the words “mer”, meaning sea, and “ville”, meaning town. The land, previously owned by the Dominion of Canada, had been divided among them, and thanks to the war veterans, a small parcel along the ocean that included Kitty Coleman’s Beach was set aside as a community park. Later, in 1944, when funding became scarce, the management of the park fell to the provincial government and it became designated as a provincial park. Today, it’s what’s classified as a Class C provincial park and receives no government funding. Operating costs are currently covered by revenues raised by the campground and boating fees, as well as some donations.
Thanks to those concerted efforts, the Kitty Coleman Fir is now well into its fifth century of life, and thriving well. Despite growing in a relatively exposed location in an area well known for high winds, it has maintained vigorous health! According to British Columbia’s Big Tree Registry, it ranks nineteenth in size among Douglas Firs in the province. The diameter at breast height is a shade under nine feet, with a height of just under two hundred feet, despite the top having suffered a break or two over the years. There are also a number of other old growth firs in the park which are well over three hundred years old.
If you happen to find yourself in the area, a visit to this park is very worthwhile. There’s a very pleasant covered day use area to enjoy picnicking , and of course, a wonderful beach to explore that features spectacular views of the Coast Mountains. The sound of the Salish Sea’s breaking surf, and the chatter of nesting eagles will welcome you there!
This sunset and a raise of the glass to all of the park operators who’ve made our stays at Kitty Coleman Beach memorable. They always seem to make you feel at home!