In January 2001 the Youbou Mill closed putting the last few hundred people out of work. It was the end of an era as now there were no more mills on Cowichan Lake!
The Community Economic Adjustment Committee was formed with monies from the Town of Lake Cowichan, CVRD Areas F and I and federal and provincial governments. CEAC’s aim was to develop tourism and an industrial site in the area, then to search for businesses to relocate here. This infrastructure would benefit present businesses and the local economy.
All of those things didn’t happen, but we did get some work done on local tourism with the Trans Canada Trail trailhead kiosk and trail signage. We also developed a Cowichan Lake brochure, monthly calendar of events and the local map of the Cowichan Lake area that the visitor centre hands out.
However there was more work to do so Maureen Loebus, a feisty organizer and general busy body, had an idea. Her niece had walked the Great Walk in Tahsis and she had heard that Eva and Gary Fearon, and Floyd Augustine from Youbou had also participated a few times. Maureen encouraged Eva Fearon, Helen Evans, John Elzinga, Bertha Gravelle, Linda Blatchford, and me to come to the first planning meeting [for the Great Lake Walk] that summer and there was no stopping us from there.
It took over a year to organize, print brochures, get sponsors, design t-shirts, along with many other items. Thanks to Barry Gill we had $1,000 in the bank to get started. In the spring of 2002 the town awarded us a grant-in-aid of $1,000 which helped us bring the first GLW to fruition. We paid that back after the walk as we had sufficient funds to keep going for the next year.
At one of our meetings Maureen suggested we have a reason for people to participate and the idea of “walk for your charity of choice” was born. Over the life of the walk several hundred thousand dollars have been raised for numerous causes and charities.
Many hours were spent on the computer, telephone and on the road. My husband and I travelled all around the Island, other parts of B.C., Alberta and the northern part of Washington State hitting every visitors’ centre and recreation centre we saw. We hit the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands in our boat and bragged about the Cowichan Lake area and this fabulous 56 kilometre walk around the second largest lake on Vancouver Island.
The first year on the third Saturday in September we had over 800 participants, and a full moon to get them on their way from Youbou at 5 a.m. It took 300 volunteers from Youbou to Lake Cowichan to bring it off. All organizations in every community around the lake were involved in this one event for the first time in 25 years reported Pat Weaver at our first closing ceremony.
Enrolment started to decline year after year and those of us who were founding members suggested that if we have less than 500 participants we should change the event, make it shorter and advertise wider for participants. Unfortunately, the suggestions were not followed.
Over the years, some organizations have used our model to develop their own walks and as you can see on the news there is a walk/run every month for something on the Island and in the rest of the province.
The Great Lake Walk was developed as an event to bring people into the Cowichan Lake area in hopes that they would return and many have. In one of the first walks a lady came all the way from New Mexico to participate and many have come back to camp and support businesses in the area.
The Great Lake Walk may have run its course, but the legacy will live on in many lives and for many years to come.