An archival moment: Who is Charlie?
A large, beautiful cedar sign near the bus shelter at the intersection of College Drive and University Drive reads ‘Charlie’s Trail’. The trail connects to the Galloping Goose bike path at the north end of campus and follows Colwood Creek down to Sneq’wa e’lan (Blue Heron House). It is a lovely trail: at certain points it is tranquil and meandering, and at other times a raging torrent cascades over waterfalls and invigorates your mind and body as you dodge the spray to make your way up or down the path.
The trail was restored over several years, beginning in 2006, thanks to a generous donation by Sue and Charlie Johnson, both residents of the Highlands. Charlie Johnson, a professional forester, launched Pacific Regeneration Technologies (PRT), a forestry company that grows seedlings for reforestation. Together with his partner Sue, they developed a love of the heritage trails around Royal Roads University. They also supported a garden inventory project and a teaching award in recognition of the unique type of education being offered at Royal Roads.
The trail, which had become hazardous over the years due to the steep slopes with no safety rails, decayed bridges, and fallen trees, has a heritage story of its own. Originally used by First Nations People, the creek was the site of a remote lumber mill in the1860s, and by the 1870s a thriving tannery and boot and shoe manufacturer had taken its place. When the Dunsmuirs bought the property in 1907, the glen, as it is also known, was a favourite spot of Laura Dunsmuir and was landscaped into an ornamental garden with bamboo, rhododendrons and hellebores. When Royal Roads was a military college, the trail was used for physical fitness training by cadets, and often formed part of the route for the fabled obstacle course that marked the end of the recruit term.
The multi-year restoration project involved reconstruction of bridges, installation of boardwalks to protect tree root systems in sensitive environmental areas, and clearing of log jams and debris to encourage fish migration. Sadly, Charlie died suddenly in late 2007. The trail is dedicated to him and is marked by the beautiful signs, crafted from cedar harvested on site and unveiled in 2009.
Some scenes from the cadet obstacle course from October, 1964, as captured by Len Watling for the cadet photo albums. The full collection of albums (1963-1988) has been digitised and can be seen online.
A view of the trail prior to restoration. There are now steps on the steep bank at the left of the picture.