I can’t really say I was a friend of Merv Wilkinson – I knew him and he knew me. More precisely he knew me because of my parents who had the “Little Farm” on Cedar Road which had a view of Quesnel Lake from the west side. Merv had his “tree farm” on the east side of one of the larger arms of Quesnel Lake off the Yellowpoint Road. My folks were good friends of Merv and his wife Ann, and over the years of visiting and later living on the farm I had the great pleasure to get to know Merv and Ann. Visiting them at “Wildwood” was an adventure, traveling down a dirt road best suited for trucks or landrovers was not easy even in the dry season.
Merv was a pioneer. Born on Sept 22, 1913, not far from Wildwood, Merv had different professions which enabled him to survive. He was a stone mason and a logger. He bought the nearly 30 hectare parcel that would become Wildwood which he managed for 60 years and which continues under the management of The Land Conservancy.
The property is a diverse ecological treasure, with hills and valleys and the beautiful arm of
Quesnel Lake on one side. Merv built his own log cabin with a magnificent view of the Lake but deep into the property. Without a doubt developers have long cast an enviable eye upon the property which would have had great potential in terms of real estate for a resort or secluded lots with a spectacular view. Merv went in a different direction – and when he realized that what grew best on the land was trees he moved into a Scandinavian model of selective tree farming. He realized that his resources were limited but with selective tree farming he could take out trees while at the same time protecting the forest. The annual growth was likened to the interest he had on his investment – so if he only withdrew the interest his basic investment remained protected. He would cut trees and mill them himself, often for select projects from customers who had specific lumber needs such as for boats.
Over the years Merv moved from sustainable tree farming to the position of eco-forester. This came with a recognition that the forest was far more than tall trees that were simply a “product” to be taken and sold. He defied the long standing practice of the major logging companies that to this day continue to strip the forests without regard for flora or fauna. From keeping a tidy tree farm Merv moved into a deeper appreciation of the diversity of life that depended on his management of the forest. Trees that previously would have been harvested for timber or cut because they were not profitable were now recognized for other values such as habitat for animals and birds. Even at the ground level there is a diversity of life that astounds the novice ecologist.
As he approached the eighth decade of life Merv and Ann became more renowned because of his participation in the Clayoquot Sound protests, blocking loggers from clear-cutting areas of the Clayoquot Sound area near Pacific Rim National Park. They were arrested and jailed. At his trial he said: “”I am the operator of a forestry (business) that has harvested timber for 45 years off the same land and still has the forest Now, at 80, I simply must defend what is left of my country from the multinationals of vandalism.” This senior tree farmer was putting to shame the nation which permitted the rape of the land in ways that European nations today would outlaw. Not only did Merv and the thousands of protesters succeed in stopping the clear cutting of Clayoquot Sound, but their actions led to the area being designated a UN biosphere reserve. The judge who sentenced Merv to 100 hours of community service said of Merv that he was “magnificently unrepentent”.
Merv was publicly recognized with the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada. He became Dr. Wilkinson when the University of Victoria in 2005 conferred upon him the title of Honorary Doctor of Laws. These tributes while marvelous and overdue, are nothing compared to his great legacy of Wildwood which has been entrusted to The Land
Conservancy. Under this management Wildwood will continue as a working forest with added responsibilities in terms of education and research.
Many times I have taken visitors to Wildwood for the Saturday afternoon educational walk through the forest, and every time I learn something new about the complexity and diversity of the forest. Long before Merv this forest was managed by the First Nations people who lived in the area, as is evidenced by the high burn marks on some of the older trees.
Merv taught us to be responsible for the forests. He was a true tree hugger and was proud of it. It was a privilege to have known this pilgrim who bucked the trend, who travelled down the road less travelled (not just the dirt road to his log home), who set about setting the example that the forest could give but still needed responsible care. He did not oppose cutting but was a vehement critic of “clear cutting” as an act of violence against Mother Nature and the earth.
Merv set an example and I am sure he influenced my father in his decision to reforest one of the pasture areas of “The Little Farm” with more than 3,000 fir trees. My dad later planted more trees in another area after celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. It was among that second growth of trees, some now more than 15 feet tall, that my father’s ashes were scattered.
Merv Wilkinson died on August 31, 2011. This great pioneer – renowned not only in Canada but around the world, an associate of the David Susuki foundation, demonstrating that the role of ecologist and forester were not necessarily diametrically opposite roles, has finished his journey. I can think of no better way to honor this life work and commitment of Merv Wilkinson than to support The Land Conservancy so that his legacy will not only continue but will evolve just as Merv evolved in his journey from logger to tree farmer to eco-forester to ecologist.