When walking under the gnarled branches of the old cedars of this nature reserve, keep your mind open to the possible presence of ancient spirits housed in these cedar giants. Snuneymuxw linguist and elder Dr. Ellen White honoured this special place with a Hul'qumi'num name - S'ul-hween X'pey - meaning Elder Cedar. Dr. White translated the name to mean more than old; it has connotations of unseen ancestors and guardians. Spared from much of the logging that has occurred on Gabriola Island, these 65 hectares may well have guardians looking over this forest. The property is now protected as the Elder Cedar Nature Reserve.
Elder Cedar holds some of the last remaining mature forest on Gabriola Island. Rocky outcrops, several interconnecting streams and wetland complexes travel through the property. The diversity of landscapes on the 65 hectare reserve provide habitat to a wide array of species, including the threatened Red-legged Frog and Western screech owl, and Townsend's big-eared bat.
Elder Cedar Nature Reserve was protected through the Sponsored Crown Grant program, with the support of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, the Gabriola Land Conservancy and local governments.
Gabriola Island has a long history of First Nation occupation and use. The forests of Elder Cedar were likely used by aboriginal peoples because of its close proximity to the island's northern shoreline and its freshwater. The forest lands neighbouring Elder Cedar Nature Reserve are held as Treaty settlement lands for the Snuneymuxw First Nation. To allow the property to be protected for its ecological values, the Snuneymuxw graciously excluded what would be Elder Cedar Nature Reserve from their settlement claim. In recognition of their generosity, the Islands Trust Fund named the reserve "S'ul-hween X'pey" at the suggestion of Snuneymuxw elders. The translation, elder cedar, references the rich First Nations history of this area.
The property was partially logged in the early twentieth century, but several veteran Douglas firs and hemlocks survived. Despite heavy logging of the interior forests of Gabriola Island in the late 1980s, the trees at Elder Cedar were spared.
In 1992, the Gabriola community recognized the special features of what would be Elder Cedar, and started the long journey to protect the property. With the help of the Gabriola Land Conservancy, the local government, and the Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services, the Islands Trust Fund was successful in its application to have the property transferred from the Province's Crown land holdings through the Sponsored Crown Grant program. After nearly 15 years, the property was protected.
The entrance to the Elder Cedar Nature Reserve is located in the "North Road Tunnel", a favourite drive for locals and visitors. The property offers a loop trail making it a popular destination for walkers. Please stay on the trail and refrain from using bikes, horses, or all-terrain vehicles in the reserve - added compaction of the soil can damage the sensitive root structures of old growth trees and erosion along banks of the streambeds, even during the dry season, can damage this watershed.
The Gabriola Land and Trails Trust and Nanaimo & Area Land Trust hold a conservation covenant on Elder Cedar Nature Reserve and the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust acts as the on-island management group on behalf of the Islands Trust Conservancy.
The Islands Trust Conservancy's primary management priority for this protected area is to minimize trampling of the sensitive wetland complexes on the reserve, and reduce damage to the maturing and old-growth trees in the reserve. Construction of a boardwalk and viewing platform to protect the root system of an ancient cedar tree and marshy areas was completed in 2017-2018. The wooden boardwalk was completed thanks to a partnership with the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust and funding from a TD Friends of the Environment Foundation grant.
We hope to work with the mountain biking community to raise awareness about the boundaries of the nature reserve and the importance of the protected area. We're also working the Gabriola Land and Trails Trust to monitor and remove invasive species such as Scotch broom, holly and ivy. The management plan for Elder Cedar Nature Reserve can be viewed here.