News » Whistler


Portaging between industry and tourism



Story and photos by Alison Lapshinoff

Pressing down on my shoulders were three litres of water, two litres of wine, a tent, sleeping bag and stove, a bag of food, my clothes and a small bottle of whiskey. Just ahead, my partner shouldered a similar weight, plus that of a 70 pound canoe balanced somewhat precariously over his head. Without the bulk of a large canoe restricting my view, the wide trail was easy to follow. It meandered along for nearly two kilometres beside a clear stream and through a lush, inviting forest of evergreens and deciduous trees, sprightly ferns and plush beds of thick moss.

Presently, we approached one of the many roughly constructed canoe rests built at intervals along the path that connected Lois and Horseshoe Lakes, and my partner stiffly eased the canoe off his broad shoulders, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. The campsite couldn’t be far now…

Located at the top of the Sunshine Coast, 130 kilometres north and two ferry rides away from Vancouver, the Powell Forest Canoe Route is one of Powell River’s main tourist attractions. Eight lakes ranging in length from one kilometre to 29 are connected by a series of short portages covering a total distance of nearly 60 kilometres. Over 20 basic forest service campsites constructed en route are free of charge and make the whole trip a comfortable five-day adventure.

Just ahead, the small, three-unit campsite came into view. Nestled in the forest beside a glassy Horseshoe Lake, picnic tables and an outhouse were provided. With evident relief, my partner eased himself of his burden and promptly began digging in my overstuffed pack for the bottle of whiskey. Only a few small chores remained. Drinking water had to be boiled, the tent set up and our food strung up in a tree, away from hungry wildlife.

A short exploration of the area soon revealed that tourism was definitely not the region’s mainstay, for just beyond a thin buffer of trees glared a massive clearcut.

Rooted in industry, Powell River’s major economic engine is the large, unsightly pulp mill that dominates a significant stretch of the waterfront and continually belches plumes of unsavory smoke into the atmosphere. Built in 1909, the Powell River Paper Company’s founders planned and built the town, ensuring employee housing was of sound construction, homes had ample room for gardens and the town itself had plenty of green space. Employing about 700 people, the pulp mill, now owned by Catalyst, was once the world’s largest producer of newsprint and today continues to keep Powell River’s pulp industry alive and well.