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Lost Lake, lost cause

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Tears and trails in Powell River

Capt. George Vancouver didn't care for the waters north of Powell River. At the end of a bad week on his voyage of discovery more than 200 years ago, he added Desolation Sound to the navigators' lexicon.

Sitting in Powell River's McDonald's drive-thru, watching rivulets of rainwater streak down the car windows, I knew how the old curmudgeon felt. The guy rounding up shopping trolleys for Safeway looked like he felt the same way. His T-shirt read: "Rehab is for quitters."

Yet the day had started with such promise. We'd woken at Desolation Resort after the first night of our two-night holiday in a two-storey cabin on stilts. We'd walked the waterfront overlooking Okeover Arm, marvelled at the designs of the cabins – some three storeys – and impressed upon our children that this was nearly wilderness. And they'd better enjoy it.

The incessant rain hadn't bothered us because we'd come prepared with waterproofs, and with that in mind, we'd jumped in the car and driven toward Powell River in search of the Lost Lake Trail.

Inspired by Rick Hansen's Man in Motion Tour, the trail was completed in 1989 after six years of work that involved coating the route in crushed limestone. The 13-kilometre loop around Lost Lake (also known locally as Loon Lake) is accessible to wheelchair and strollers. At camp sites en route, small log cabins are provided exclusively for the disabled. Firewood, outhouses and fishing piers are also laid on and maintained, like the trail, by the Sunshine Coast Forest District.

The 10-km logging road to the trail head isn't quite so pampered and left our Ford Aerostar with a slow puncture and two queasy children. "We've come this far," we'd thought. "The fresh air will do the children good."

Who could have predicted my son Ryan's phobia of wheelchair-accessible crushed limestone pathways? Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was his sister Emma being still small enough (and smug with it) to ride in a backpack; whatever it was, our angry young man refused to get out of his stroller and aired his opinions so loudly, a forestry maintenance crew appeared from the bush and offered us a ride back to the vehicle.

Needless to say, we didn't complete the loop, but my wife and I walked far enough to feel entitled to some peace and quiet, which is how the four of us ended up eating McHappy Meals in a mall car park back in Powell River.

Our spirits restored, we strolled around Powell River's old town, a federally designated National Historic District, and discovered more to amuse ourselves than we'd expected. Maybe it was the absence of crushed gravel limestone pathways but Ryan found the old fairground carousel behind the Patricia Theatre an endless source of fun, despite the fact it wasn't working.

The Patricia Theatre is one of Powell River's claims to fame, as the oldest operating movie theatre in B.C. The other B.C. "firsts" include the town being the first to have dial phones (1921) and the first to receive a radiotelephone circuit (1930).

Residents can thank the old Powell River Company, original operators of the town's pulp mill, for the wide leafy streets and communal gardens designed by townsite manager John McIntyre. The company looked after its employees, building a top quality gymnasium (good athletes got first dibs on mill jobs and an athlete director was on the payroll), and attracted more business and numerous federal offices to the town.

Residents can also thank the mill for the stench of pulp. But like neighbours of pulp mills from Port Mellon to Prince George, Powell River residents will tell you the same thing about the odour: "It's the smell of money."

If you go:

Powell River is about 120 kilometres north of Vancouver and accessible on Highway 101, via B.C. Ferries (1-888-724-5223 or www.bcferries.bc.ca). The town is a gateway to a multitude of outdoor pursuits, particularly canoeing and hiking. For more information, contact Vancouver Coast and Mountains Tourism at 1-800-667-3306 or visit www.coastandmountains.bc.ca. For information on the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail, visit sunshinecoast-trail.com

Desolation Resort (604-483-3592) comprises self-contained luxury chalets handcrafted in local wood built on high platforms and overlooking Okeover Arm. One night's accommodation in a two-bedroom cabin (maximum four people) costs $200 till Sept. 30 (then $160).

For more details about Desolation Resort and other B.C. getaways, call 1-800-HELLO BC, or on the Internet, visit www.HelloBC.com

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