The Survivor Fir

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1There are many stories of tree hangups, but one of the most colourful comes from Cortes Island. According to local tradition, the Survivor Fir would not be standing if it were not for a steam donkey’s explosion in 1923.

The Survivor Fir

A now rotten cedar, which has been hung up in the Survivor Fir for decades - Roy L Hales
A now rotten cedar, which has probably been hung up in the Survivor Fir for decades – Roy L Hales

The tree is hundreds of years older, but there are evidences that support this identification. Olsen & Mundigal logged this area back in the era when loggers chopped a notch into the trees they chose to cut. A wooden springboard was inserted into the notch, to stand on. They used a crosscut saw to fall the tree. Look closely in the photo above and you will see both the notch and, above it, where they started to saw. They may have stopped after the explosion, because it was no longer possible to haul trees to the lake.

Bottom of the cedar, showing how it was cut from that stump - Roy L Hales.
Bottom of the rotten cedar, which was originally growing out of the stump behind it – Roy L Hales.

A second, possibly separate, component to this puzzle is a dead cedar hung up in the Survivor Fir’s branches. This tree has stood there long enough for the bark to become spongy rather than firm.

Has this tree been hung up since 1923?

How Logging Came To An End

Looking out along the Channel connecting Gunflint and Hague Lakes - Roy L Hales photos
Looking out along the Channel connecting Gunflint and Hague Lakes – Roy L Hales photos

steam donkey used to haul the logs out of the bush to the edge of Gunflint Lake.

They were dragged through the narrow channel into Hague Lake, then  floated across to the creek that drains this watershed. Another steam donkey dragged them to a ‘Fore & Aft’ chute that emptied into Manson’s Lagoon. At that point they were in the ocean.

Remains of the Steam Donkey which blew up on Gunflint Lake in 1923 - Roy L Hales photo
Remains of the Steam Donkey which blew up on Gunflint Lake in 1923 – Roy L Hales photo

A few days before the accident, which brought this operation to an end,  the donkey’s engineer visited a machine shop at  Squirrel Cove. He wanted a caulking gun and some advice on how to fix a leak in the boiler.

The explosion took place between 10 am and 11 am. Parts of the boiler were blown out into the middle of Gunflint Lake. The engineer, Harry Hazel, was so badly scalded that he died that night. One of the especially sad parts of this story is that, in a week,  he was supposed to leave for Vancouver, where he was to be married.

The Survivor Fir and remains of the steam donkey are in Cortes Island’s Kw’as Park.

  • The Kitamavik Trail - Roy L Hales photo

Entrances To Kw’as Park

There are three trails leading into Kw’as Park. The southern route goes past a beaver pond. The shapes of the  rock outcroppings along the northern route inspired someone to name them “Inca Ruins.”  The Katimavik trail, which comes down from the parking lot at entrance to Easter Bluff, passes along the eastern shore of Gunflint Lake.

Top Photo Credit: My wife Angela standing between the Survivor Fir and a plaque telling its’ story in Cortes Island’s Kw’as Park  – Roy L Hales photo

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