The BC Parks Foundation, the official charitable partner of BC Parks, is fundraising to purchase one of the most well-known properties in the Bella Coola region: the former home of Ralph Edwards, known to many as the “Crusoe of Lonesome Lake.”
The foundation has secured an agreement for purchase and sale and have until May 1, 2021 to secure the funding of $695,000. If they’re unable to raise the funds to purchase the property, it will be sold privately.
The 153-acre property is a rare privately owned parcel in the middle of a globally significant wilderness area: southern Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, B.C.’s largest park at almost one million hectares. It is located 60 kilometres east of Bella Coola and accessible by float plane or by hiking the Hunlen Falls/Turner Lake Chain Trail.
The original homestead, known as the Birches, was built by Ralph Edwards, a pioneering homesteader, amateur pilot and conservationist. Unfortunately the Birches burnt to the ground in a 2004 forest fire, but Ralph’s son John Edwards constructed a small cabin which still stands there today.
Ralph was perhaps best known for his commitment to the area’s trumpeter swans, who were facing extinction when he took up residence at Lonesome Lake in 1913 at age 21. When Edwards first arrived, Lonesome Lake was home to a gaggle of trumpeter swan refugees, a species facing extinction due to over-hunting in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The lake’s remoteness offered the swans safety, but at the cost of starvation during severe winters. In 1925, the Canadian government enlisted Edwards’ help to feed the swans during winter. Over the years, a number of family members took on the task – first Ralph, then Stan, John and Trudy – using sacks of corn hauled in by packhorse.
During then Princess Elizabeth’s 1951 tour of Canada, she was promised a Dominion gift of trumpeter swans, by arrangement of British conservationist Peter Scott, who was head of the Severn Wildlife Trust in Britain (now known as the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust). Canadian officials discovered the only swans tame enough to capture were at Lonesome Lake as they had been fed by the Edwards family for decades.
In 1952, with the help of Ralph and his daughter Trudy Turner (Trudy had by now entirely taken over feeding them), five were captured and flown to England, the first time trumpeter swans had ever flown across the Atlantic (although, in the 19th century, swans had been brought by ship to European zoos).
In 1972 Ralph was awarded the Order of Canada for his work and by the 1980s, trumpeter swan populations had increased throughout their range, and the Canadian government stopped its feeding program.
Ralph and family members have written or been featured in several books and television programs, most notably Leland Stowe’s best-selling Crusoe of Lonesome Lake and his sister-in-law’s book Ruffles on My Longjohns.
Ralph become semi-famous for his living-off-the-land accomplishments and was featured in a documentary and on the 1957 Christmas Day edition of This Is Your Life. Guests for the show included his younger brother, whom he had not seen in 35 years; former Army comrades he had not seen in 38 years; and his 93-year-old mother.
Ralph passed away in 1977 and John in 2007. The property remains in the family and the push is on for the BC Parks Foundation to raise the funds to purchase this unique piece of land. To learn more about the property or to donate to the cause, go to bcparksfoundation.ca