Posted by: friendsofstrathcona | October 21, 2009

Bedwell Bridge Repair And What It Means (by Karl Stevenson)

On October 16, 17, and 18, a team was sent to the foot bridge over the lower Bedwell River to stop the bridge from falling into the river. At some time last winter, the snow load broke the 2 pins securing the bridge to rock on the east bank of the river, and the bridge was only prevented from disappearing completely by a small diameter broken cable, wrapped around a cedar stump.

The bridge was originally built by FOSP after the 1988 Strathcona Blockade forced the government to reverse their action of dumping the Bedwell Valley from the park. Ironically, the Friends built the Bedwell bridge and trail in an attempt to stave off future attempts by governments to further desecrate the Bedwell Valley. Unfortunately, it seems the trail is now being used by the current government as an excuse to butcher the Strathcona Park Master Plan to allow a wealthy resort owner to access the Bedwell for commercial operations.

FOSP decided to secure the bridge for several reasons:

  • It cost over $15,000 to build, and such a bridge is crucial to the Bedwell trail. It would be a shame for it to vanish into the river this winter.
  • It has major sentimental and symbolic value. Although some members of FOSP and the public would be quite happy to leave the Bedwell to recover by itself, with no trail, thus allowing the elk and other wild life an area relatively free from human activity, that is a question for the future, when the valley is (hopefully) once again safe from government sanctioned commercial encroachment. After the 1988 blockade, the bridge was seen as a symbol of co-operation between the government and the people who love Strathcona Park, and it was in this spirit of co-operation that the Ministry of Forests accepted responsibility for the bridge when it was built, in 1993.
  • If there is to be any sort of future public action in the valley, a method of safely crossing the river will likely become necessary. FOSP wanted to secure the bridge, so it will be there if needed.

Six people went in to secure the bridge. They were Bob St. John, Kel Kelly, and Karl Stevenson, from FOSP, and Warrick Whitehead, who is a member of the Strathcona Park Public Advisory Committee (SPPAC), was there with his wife, Jan. Pal Horvath, a Comox District Mountaineering Club member from Quadra Island, completed the group.

We needed a massive amount of equipment, much of it rented. The weights involved in pulling the bridge back into place were estimated at 14,000 pounds or more. We had decided to drill 4 holes in the rock and use much larger pins, to replace the 2 smaller pins which snapped under snow load, (after holding up for more than 15 years) which were used in the original engineered design. Aside from using these 4 much larger pins to replace the 2 broken ones, ( specified by the engineer) we made absolutely no changes to the structural components of the bridge.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (the outfit we are supposedly fighting against) gave us a huge amount of help, totally unsolicited by us. We are extremely grateful for their assistance, in fact we couldn’t possibly have managed to accomplish what we did, in the time we had, without them. They supplied transportation to and from Tofino, and got us to our work site through a semi-flooded Bedwell valley (the river had risen eight feet over night due to heavy rains on the weekend we scheduled for the work party) by pulling us and all our gear through flooded creeks with a skidder. For us, it was a thrilling ride, and it meant we reached the work site in time to be drilling our first hole in the rock by mid-afternoon.

We worked and slept under tarps, in mud, and heavy, intermittent rain. It was an intense, challenging three days, with lots of problems to solve, but nothing we couldn’t deal with. Co-operation, in the spirit of Gayle McGee, whom the bridge was named for, was often in our minds. At the end, as we walked across the repaired bridge, now much stronger than before, we were all coated in slimy mud mixed with many gallons of sweat. It hadn’t been easy, but we’d accomplished what we’d come to do, and we all felt very good.

So what does it mean, when you are helped toward your goal by the people from an outfit you are supposedly against? I think it means that most of us are basically good people, in the same way that the drillers we were supposedly fighting in 1988 were also good people. We had nothing against them, and they had nothing against us. They may have had their ideologies, and we had ours, but we were all just doing our best to be good human beings.

What was true then, is just as true now. Our fight has never been against the drillers, or the loggers, or the horse riders, or whoever. It’s not their job to protect the park, any more than it’s ours. That obligation belongs with the government, and our fight has always been to force the government to fulfill that obligation. When they butchered the Strathcona Park Master Plan to allow outfits like Clayoquot Wilderness Resort (CWR) into the park, they were not only ignoring their obligation, they were working against it.

After the 1988 blockade, the government was frightened into co-operation with the public in protecting Strathcona Park. We gained the Master Plan, SPPAC, and a system of public review before allowing significant changes to the park. On the bridge project, to repair a bridge which was born in a spirit of co-operation, we enjoyed incredible co-operation with CWR.

We are left with a question. What is wrong with government, when they seem to be willing to co-operate with the public on park issues only when they are forced into it by extreme measures?

See the video of the bridge repair.


  1. Just watched your epic bridge building video, on You-Tube….. Great job & fabulous effort – Hearty congrats to the entire crew and thank you for making it possible for myself to complete this journey, someday!

  2. I was recently impressed by the current FOSP Newsletter, particularly by the objective understanding of Karl Stevenson regarding the present policies of government concerning the original basic motive of Provincial Parks. I share the conclusions of the FOSP regarding the government’s favouring the potentially abusive result of encouraging private intrusion and development within our Parks, especially Strathcona….

    Hopefully the FOSP will continue to pursue the courage of their convictions, persevere in the face of adversity, and eventually get this or some future government to recognize the need for policies as expressed by Karl Stevenson and Friends. Good Luck, and Merry Christmas to All!

    FOSP Note: Bob Broadland is a member of FOSP. His wife was arrested in the 1988 Cream Silver blockade, and he was in charge of historic sites for BC Parks. He was the manager of the team that created Barkerville as a historic attraction.

  3. Thanks for forwarding me the FOSP newsletter on the Society’s activities in support of Provincial Parks. It’s nice to know there are still a few like–minded people around labouring in a forlorn cause. The barbarian hordes will overwhelm the parks just as they are the rest of the natural world. The future of humankind is not guaranteed. Maybe Planet Earth will recover after homo sapiens has extinguished himself.

    FOSP note: Bob Ahrens is a former Deputy Minister of Parks.

  4. Thank you for repairing the bridge, and remembering my aunt Gayle so fondly, as I do.

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