Since retirement, we have travelled extensively throughout parts of North America – from tropical paradises in the Caribbean and Mexico to the wilderness of Alaska and the north country, and from the Sonoran Desert and Grand Canyon in Arizona to the wild and wet, fog-shrouded rain coast forests on Vancouver Island.
We have witnessed beauty and marvels of nature which defy description. And, yet, the most beautiful, awe inspiring miracle of nature lies right in our backyard. I am referring to the grandeur and spectacle of Pitt Lake.
It was created more than 10,000 years ago, when the retreating glaciers of the last Ice Age gouged out the deep trough that forms the lake bed. The lake is now a body of fresh water, but it is still subject to ocean tides, one of the only freshwater lakes in the world where that can be encountered.
We have enjoyed the lake at its best, when the gentle waters beckon and entice you. But the lake can be a wild, destructive beast when winter winds howl and whip the waters into a frenzy, with three to four foot waves ready to wreak destruction on unwary boaters.
Pitt Lake is surrounded by towering, sometimes snow-capped mountains, such as the twin peaks of the Golden Ears, which rise majestically from the eastern shore of the lake.
Enshrined in legends of the Coast Salish people who lived, travelled and hunted in the area, the Golden Ears can reflect many different moods and images depending on the season and the weather. Some of the images are so vivid you will remember them forever without the aid of photographs.
Of all the great sunrises we have seen in the southwest deserts or aboard a tall ship in the Caribbean, nothing can compare with the almost mystical scene of the sun rising over the Golden Ears and spreading its warming rays westward across the chilly waters of the lake.
Prior to its evolution as a fresh water body, Pitt Lake was an ocean fjord. Its shores encompass almost every British Columbian tree species known on the West Coast. From that heritage, we are left with the marvelous site of Arbutus trees in various locations along the lake’s shoreline.
Arbutus trees with their highly visible peeling red bark normally grow only along rocky coastlines. There is no other known location of these spectacular trees growing this far from the ocean.
Climbing the eastern slopes of Pitt Lake will lead you to sites where you can discover seashells, another reminder of the lake’s ancient history.
There is also the mystery of Slumach’s lost gold mine, which, according to legend, is supposed to be located somewhere in the general area northeast of Pitt Lake.
Slumach was a Coast Salish native who had reportedly discovered gold in the area east of the lake. He was later convicted of murder and hanged without ever divulging the location of his secret gold mine.
The steeply sloped and heavily forested shores of Pitt Lake are home to black bears, deer, wolves, cougars, coyotes and many other species of wildlife which can be easily spotted by a patient observer. Eagles, owls, and several other raptors also frequent the area along with water fowl of every type. And in the cold, deep waters of the lake, fish make their way to spawning grounds in the tributary streams to the Upper Pitt River.
One of my favourite things to do is to travel to the head of the lake by boat and then cut the engine and simply drift along with the wind and tide and admire the awesome tableau unfolding before my eyes and breathe in air so fresh it almost has a scent of its own. With water gently lapping at the hull of the boat we can relax and enjoy the scenery.
Undoubtedly, in the years ahead, we will continue to travel and marvel at the bounties and beauty of other places, but Pitt Lake will always be one of the most beautiful and interesting places we have been privileged to enjoy.
Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.