For the last four years, I’ve liked to think that I helped save the historic Cornwall Mountain fire lookout near Ashcroft from being demolished. During a conversation with Wes Kibble of the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC earlier this month, I found that I’m not wrong, and that makes me very happy.
My first visit to the lookout was probably in the summer of 1972. A friend of my parents had (and still has) property up Oregon Jack way, and we were in the habit of visiting a cabin there on weekends during the summer. It’s a log prospector’s cabin from the 1940s, with no electricity, a wood stove, and water piped in from a nearby creek. For a kid from Richmond it was a wondrous place to spend some time, far from the madding crowd.
There was a pick-up truck—no insurance, expired plates—on the property that was used to go to and fro, and it was in that truck that I first ventured up to the lookout. This was back when pick-up trucks were utilitarian vehicles, with no frills. We kids stood in the bed of the truck and clung to the roof of the cab, our arms burning from contact with the hot metal as we bumped and jolted our way up the mountain.
I well remember the feeling of something like awe as we crested the top of Cornwall, to a vista of lush green grass speckled with multi-coloured wildflowers rolling away in all directions; I would not have been surprised to see Julie Andrews singing her heart out. It seemed a strange place to see any sign of human habitation, but there was the lookout, painted in crisp white and green, standing guard over all, with a fire spotter there making sure that all was kept safe.
If you’ve been to the lookout, then you know how breathtakingly beautiful it is: both the site itself and the vista all around. (If you haven’t been there, a video at http://bit.ly/2JKFiCc gives you an idea of what it’s like.) It’s also a reminder of our place in the landscape: a tiny speck, trying to play shepherd to the inestimable beauty and vast expanse that has been entrusted to us, in the hope that we will safeguard and preserve it to the best of our abilities.
Slowly, gradually, the fire lookouts like the one at Cornwall became of less importance, as new ways of overseeing the land came available. Eventually the lookout was closed, left to guard itself against the elements, but it lived on for me, in the shape of a small wooden carving of a horse that is beside my keyboard as I type. The words “Cornwall Lookout Souvenir” are burned on its base; the work of a fire watcher who used his spare time to craft the object while at the lookout.
In summer 2015 I was filling in as editor of the Journal while regular editor Wendy Coomber was on holiday, and received a message from someone who did not want to be named, who said that BC Parks was going to dismantle the Cornwall fire lookout if someone didn’t take it over and agree to maintain it. I spent the next three weeks trying—and failing—to get someone from BC Parks to talk to me, and ended up running a story about the proposed dismantling, appealing for someone to step in and take over the site. I hoped—prayed, even—that my appeal would be answered.
And it was. Someone spotted the article and posted it to the Facebook page of the Four Wheel Drive Association of BC, which prompted that group to approach BC Parks with a proposal to take over management of the Cornwall fire lookout. The request was granted, and the Cornwall fire lookout was reprieved.
“The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it,” said Sherlock Holmes. As someone who has known and loved the Cornwall fire lookout for close on a half-century, I’m happy to see those words ring true, and glad to know I played a small part in saving the historic building.