Lake Cowichan is located 31 km west of Duncan at the headwaters of the Cowichan River. Cowichan Lake is one of the largest bodies of fresh water on Vancouver Island. It is an incredibly beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.
The first peoples used lake Cowichan as a hunting and fishing territory but never built any permanent settlements here. In 1883, William Forest moved to Cowichan Bay, then in 1884, he and another man named James Tolmie canoed the lake. Mr. Forest thought this was the most beautiful spot he had ever seen and began to push the province for a road to connect the lake to the rest of the island. The premier said if he could find ten to twelve families that were willing to settle on the lake, he would have a road built. The families were found and the road was built. Within a few years, a fair number of settlers had built their homes at the end of this road and this settlement became the town of Lake Cowichan.
Many more choose to settle on land grants or cut timber further up the lake and had to pass through this settlement, they would reach their destination up along the lake by boat. Most permanent residents at this time we’re here to build farms or to log the massive timber forests that grew here. Logging quickly became the major economic driver in the region.
Talk of a railroad to Cowichan Lake began circulating in 1906 and things began to get busy. By 1910 the building of the railway was assured, and a survey was conducted to layout lots and roads for the new town Lake Cowichan. In 1912, the E & N railway finally reached Cowichan Lake and a logging boom began. The community had a railway terminus, hotel, and mail service. The lake got busy after this.
The population around Cowichan Lake increased steadily throughout the twenties. Lumber companies used the E & N railway and the C.N.R railways to transport logs from the lake. These companies required plenty of manpower to get the timber out, so huge self-contained camps were built around Cowichan Lake. Some of these camps are still in use today.
The people of Lake Cowichan started to look at incorporating the community and after much work, the village of Lake Cowichan became a reality, it was 1944 and the village’s population was 660. Today, there are no railways running here and the logging is dying off but this will not spell the end of Lake Cowichan, tourism is a big driver here now and people are coming in droves.
Tourists that are heading out to other points of the lake will pick up supplies here. Those that are heading out to Gordon Bay, Port Renfrew or the Carmanah Walbran valleys to take advantage of the great camping and hiking spots on the west coast, come through Lake Cowichan, bringing in tourist dollars as they stalk up on stuff needed to camp.
The hiking trails around town and around the lake are plentiful and there are trails for all levels of ability, the birdlife will make any birder happy and you could see black bears, elk, deer, cougars, wolves and many other kinds of wildlife. All in all, this is one of the sweetest spots on the island.