Strathcona Wilderness Institute

Story of the Forbidden Plateau

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One of the most common questions at the Wilderness Centre was about the origin of the name ‘Forbidden Plateau’. There is a colourful story to the source of the name!

Ruth Masters summarizes it all in her introduction to “History of Forbidden Plateau 1920-86” at the Courtenay & District Museum :

“Nowhere in my searches did I find any authentic Indian history or legends dealing with the Plateau. The “Forbidden” idea appears to have originated from the Comox Argus editor, Ben Hughes’ reading the diary of Dr. Robert Brown, early explorer of Vancouver Island, who in 1864 recorded that the Comox Indians declined to accompany his party into the Puntledge River country “fear of the vengeance of the Scshahts (sic) and Opechasahts (sic) being too great and the attractions of the salmon fishery now commencing too strong for them.” From this small beginning, all the yarns about evil spirits, hairy monsters, Indian women and children being murdered up there, the red snow representing their blood and so on, appear to have originated. I believe the ‘Indian Legends’ referred to in the numerous accounts about the naming of Forbidden Plateau all stem from the fertile imaginations of early Plateau promoters and explorers, namely the late Clinton S. Wood, who saw the potential for recreation on the Plateau, and journalist, and editor, Ben Hughes.”

In 1967, Clinton S. Wood recorded his recollection in his summary about the Forbidden Plateau, as transcribed in the book. Wood was Waterworks Engineer for the City of Courtenay in 1925 at the time of his explorations into the Plateau area, to find a larger water source for the expanding City.

” So entranced was I with the great beauty of this sub-Alpine country that I made up my mind that the general public should be made aware of its great potential as a drawing card for the district and as a great recreational district for all, especially if it could be made a bit more accessible. I was Secretary of the Board of Trade, and had the idea that a bit of mystery added to the obvious attractions would help to publicise it. I wrote a small article to the Comox Argus and the idea was seized upon by Ben Hughes, the Editor, who wrote an article to the Vancouver Daily Province, using the word ‘Plateau’. To this was added the word ‘Forbidden’ by Cecil Scott, and thus originated the name – “Forbidden Plateau”.”

Trevor Davies, a founding member of the Comox District Mountaineering Club, recorded a similar reminiscence in 1983, also transcribed in the book:

“Ben Hughes was the first publisher of the Comox Argus (local newspaper), a wonderful man at making up stories. So he invented the story of the Indian war, when the Indians took all their wives up there, and there were some big hairy creatures of some kind, and the women disappeared, and the Indians have refused to go there ever since. That is how the name “Forbidden Plateau” and and the legends started; but there is absolutely no truth in these stories as far as the local Indians are concerned, but they became legends, and Ben printed articles in the Comox Argus, and away they went, – and they are now history. Obviously the Indians didn’t go in there, because all their food was on the beach, and they weren’t stupid like we are, they didn’t go mountain climbing for no reason…” 

From ‘Vancouver Island. Exploration. 1864’ by Robert Brown, relating to his voyage up the Puntledge River, through to Port Alberni by way of Comox Lake

All in all, a demonstration of the power of a story!

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