John Buttle And The Creation Of Strathcona Park

Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC
Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

John Buttle was born in England, in1838. He came to Vancouver Island by Steamer in1858 with a group of Royal Engineers headed by Colonel John Summerfield-Hawkins. Corporal Buttle was assigned by the Kew Gardens in England as an Assistant botanical collector. He worked here under the guidance of the Oregon Boundary Commission from the spring of 1858 to the spring of 1862. In 1863 he worked on the proposed route from Bute Inlet, up the Homathco River and into the Cariboo gold-fields for Alfred Waddington, and then in 1864, John Buttle became a member of the first Vancouver Island Exploring Expedition that explored the west coast and southern regions of the island.

Dr. Robert Brown was commander for this exploratory expedition and was the first to explore the area but upon his leaving the expedition, he suggested that the job be offered to Corporal John Buttle. He gladly accepted and the committee appointed Buttle as expedition commander. He was accompanied by Thomas Forgie, Magin Hancock, Francis McCausland, Thomas Laughton, and two native guides. These men were all quite capable of carrying out the exploration of the wild west coast of Vancouver Island. His first assignment was just that, the exploration of the island’s west coast.

Buttle Lake, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC
Buttle Lake, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

On June 19, the Navy’s H.M.S. Forward left Esquimalt, two days later they delivered John along with the rest of his crew and their supplies to the shores of Clayoquot Sound where they set up a base camp. For the next five weeks, Buttle and the rest of the expedition explored Clayoquot Sound. then on July 28, they arrived at a point two miles up the Bedwell River that at the time was called the Bear River. Here the river forked and the party decided to separate into two groups. Buttle, along with two other members explored the right branch which is now called the Ursus River. Hancock and the others headed up the left branch of the river. Both parties took with them enough supplies to last 10 to 12 days.

On John’s trip up the Ursus river, John climbed one of the mountains along the way, he was accompanied by one member and the native guides. From the summit he got a good view in the direction of Comox, he reported seeing saw a very large body of water that was about 20 miles long, and about 2 miles wide, one must assume he was looking at Buttle Lake. From Buttle’s personal diary of the trip dated August 2, he wrote: “Saw a beautiful sheet of water at the very least twenty miles long”.

Paradise Meadows, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC
Paradise Meadows, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

John Buttle would send in reports whenever possible and in one report, he noted that Hancock and his crew had found gold up the left branch of the river. This report of gold was picked up by the newspapers and sensationalized, a mini gold rush followed, unfortunately, no one found much gold.

After reaching base camp again Buttle continued with the exploration of the west coast arriving at Nootka Sound and then traveling as far as Conuma (Woss) Lake via the Tahsis/woss grease trail. Buttle had been trying to reach nimpkish, but illness and bad weather forced him to turn around and then return to Victoria.

When the party reached Victoria, they had to deal with many angry prospectors who had rushed to the Bedwell River upon hearing of the discovery of gold, only to be disillusioned by the small quantities.

Criticized for the Bedwell River fiasco, Buttle moved on to California and was rarely heard of again on Vancouver Island. In 1892, the surveyor William Ralph named the Buttle lake after Corporal John Buttle.

Winter On Paradise Meadows, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC
Winter On Paradise Meadows, Strathcona Park, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

Although the work done by John Buttle was not undertaken to find areas that could be set aside as parks, his work would eventually be used to do this. The reports written by John were the inspiration that helped make this the first provincial park in the new province of BC.

Strathcona Park was designated a Provincial Park in 1911, Strathcona park is a premier wilderness hiking park with some of the Islands highest peaks in it. The wildlife here is incredible and the outdoor recreational opportunities are endless. This park is beautiful. Many others had a hand in the creation of this park but in my eyes, John Buttle was instrumental in its creation. I have heard it said that Buttle lake is the jewel of this park, a fitting name for it, the name of a great explorer who was one of the first to explore this area.

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