Catastrophe – Strathcona Park Lodge Fire, 50 Years On

Categories: HIstory
The original Strathcona Park Lodge building engulfed in flames.
As Remembered By David Boulding


At about 2 pm May 23, 1973 Jim Dennis yelled, “FIRE!! FIRE!!”.

Jim was a carpenter friend of Jim and Myrna Boulding (owners and operators of Strathcona Park Lodge). There were fewer than 10 people on the property at the time. It was a gray day, no rain, no wind.

The Boulding family was in Campbell River buying groceries. Myrna remembers that Jim was buying her flowers for her birthday (May 24th), something he never did again as he believed it to be a bad omen. Within minutes, the few people left on the property were racing to take all valuables outside to the space between the Gold River Hwy  and the Lodge gas pumps.

When discovered, the fire was already out of control, having started in the small attic space above the kitchen. The Lodge building was, factually, a 3-storey box of kindling……long 40-inch, double cedar roof shakes and solid yellow cedar logs, all over 40 years old.

The original Strathcona Park Lodge before the fire, circa 1960s

There were some heroics

Days earlier Jim Dennis had removed the larger Garland six-burner gas stove so he could do some kitchen renovations, and four strong men were needed to move it back in. As the fire blazed Jim tossed me a small crescent wrench and said, “Disconnect and get it out of here!”  I disconnected the stove and picked up the south end, Jade Chua picked up the north end and we ran out the door smashing off the inch or so of door trim. She was like Superwoman without the cape.

the fire roared skyward, the people present: myself, Jade Chua (a diminutive UBC student from Hong Kong), a few ‘Friends World College’ students (most were in town), Jim Nelson from California, and Alan Strid from NZ assisted Jim Dennis with the moving of anything we could carry out of the burning building.

Fire consumes the original Strathcona Park Lodge in 1973.

The Chevron sign above the gas pumps melted into a wavy hunk of 4-foot red, white, and blue plastic.

Jim Nelson drove the 1966 Dodge Fargo Power wagon, with six or eight plastic garbage cans and wool blankets to the lake shallows in front of Cabins 2 and 3. We soaked the blankets, filled the cans with lake water and hoisted them into the bed of the truck.  Again, Jade showed her strength and threw the cans up as if made of paper and air. The truck bed was level to her shoulders.

With the makeshift water truck, we drove to cabin 14 where the university kids spread wet blankets on the roof.  The flames and black smoke were now 200 feet in the air. Three or four trips were made, as the priority was saving other buildings.

Looting and Loss

Others carried out Jim and Myrna’s valuable indigenous carving and basket collection. Later some onlookers stole most of the baskets – they just loaded up their cars and left.

As he was living in the top attic bedroom, scuba instructor Jim Nelson lost all his scuba gear. All my photographic equipment (cameras, negatives, enlarger, and trays) were also burned. The Bouldings lost all their personal posessions and family memorabilia.

Pots, pans, and equipment from the kitchen were mostly salvaged. All the linens  from the basement laundry room were burned. All the booze from the bar burned, as did all the Lodge furnishings.

The jukebox from the restaurant burned and melted. Jim’s favourite song was “YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS” on that machine. He later moaned about the loss, about never being able to hear it again. 

Myra Creek Western Minors arrive to help

Just as the fire was beginning to slow down, about 25 miners from ‘Myra Creek Western Mines’ showed up, still dressed in their mining uniforms, with pick-up trucks, fire hoses and pumps. Some of the miners later sat on the old rock wall and cried.  Too late, but to their credit, the miners stayed to help move stuff out of the way of the last flames.

In about an hour, Jim and family arrived. He was wearing his suit as he had to see the banker about money. I remember Elizabeth crying and being consoled by her brother Jamie and sister Annie. It was all over, only some smouldering wood and melted plastic that stunk.

There were tears from all.  It was hard to understand how fast the fire devoured the building. My best guess was 20-30 minutes after I first heard Jim Dennis screaming.

The Chevron sign above the gas pumps melted into a wavy, gravy, hunk of 4-foot red, white, and blue plastic.

The original Strathcona Park Lodge before the fire, circa 1960s.

The memory of the fire I am sure contributes to my almost fanaticism about fire safety to this date. I always go back into my house to check the stove and make sure the dryer is finished its cycle. 



David Boulding sporting his SPL T-shirt, circa 1970s