Resurrecting the Past

A look at one woman’s crusade to ensure a historic Valley landmark doesn’t become history

“The entire Valley uses this forest as their playground, <a href=

discount ” says Andrew Nicol, hospital president of the CCFS, with Meaghan Cursons, the society’s community and outreach coordinator. “This forest doesn’t just belong to the residents of Cumberland—it’s here for everyone who calls this Valley their home.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> “The entire Valley uses this forest as their playground,” says Andrew Nicol, president of the CCFS, with Meaghan Cursons, the society’s community and outreach coordinator. “This forest doesn’t just belong to the residents of Cumberland—it’s here for everyone who calls this Valley their home.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Though my favorite trail around Cumberland is officially named Space Nugget, I call it a little piece of heaven. Heavily wooded, the spongy and meandering trail is hugged on all sides by bright green ferns, moss covered trees, and mushroom studded hills. Quite simply, Space Nugget is a jewel in Cumberland’s cap.

Entering Space Nugget is like falling into the rabbit hole. Just a few steps from Cumberland’s quaint downtown core, once you’re in the dim, lush forest you’ll feel distanced from civilization. As you walk the trail you’ll hear the sound of your footfalls and the sound of your breathing. If you listen carefully, you may hear the sound of the forest as the wind whispers through and strokes the trees. It feels soothingly lonely. However, you’ll probably meet someone along the way, because Space Nugget, like the rest of Cumberland’s trails, is popular with walkers, runners and mountain bikers. But after a friendly smile and a wave it will just be you and the forest again.

But this lovely trail and the forests surrounding it may soon be nothing more than a clear cut.

Space Nugget is just a small parcel of second growth, closed canopy forest near Cumberland that is slated to be logged as early as 2015. Like nearly all of the land that surrounds the Village of Cumberland, this beautiful forest is privately owned by a US based logging company—part of a legacy of the E&N Land Transfer that took place in the late 1800s, when two million acres of land along the eastern side of Vancouver Island transferred into private hands in exchange for agreements to construct a railway that would stretch from Victoria to Courtenay.

But the news isn’t entirely bleak—there is hope for Cumberland’s forest. Thirteen years ago the situation was the same, as forest land adjacent to Cumberland was literally on the chopping block. When residents realized they may lose their forest forever they banded together, fundraised, organized, and eventually raised $1.2 million to purchase 71 hectares of land. Immediately, a land-use covenant was put on the lands to ensure that they remain parkland and the ownership was passed to the Village of Cumberland. The Cumberland Community Forest was created, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But history is about to repeat itself, as the Cumberland Community Forest Society is now gearing up for another big purchase to save more of Cumberland’s precious forest. “Our next purchase is critical to preserving key trails and protecting the southern view-scape of the Village,” says Andrew Nicol, president of the Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS).

“We’re currently looking at three pieces of land that total over 50 hectares. The first piece contains some of the original mountain biking trails built in the area, including Black Hole and Space Nugget. The second part is behind the historic Chinatown site and it contains trails including Buggered Pig and Bronco’s Perseverance.

“The third piece is the beautiful forest just beyond the #1 Japanese townsite and includes the Perseverance Creek wetlands—a stunning natural area. We’re also exploring the possibility of a multi-use boardwalk as part of this project.  This could create accessibility for visitors of diverse ability while at the same time protecting a fragile natural area.”

In order to purchase the land and save the forest, CCFS needs to raise $1.2 million—and they need to be quick about it.  “It took us five years to raise the same amount last time,” says Nicol. “Now we only have two years.”

Still, Nicol is positive they can reach their goal—not only because they’ve done it before, but because they know that the community values the forest. “It really is amazing, people are coming out of the woodwork and stepping up to do anything they can to save the forest,” says Nicol.

For example, one man is offering his time doing odd jobs around town, and giving all the proceeds to the CCFS. Artists are donating their work to be auctioned off for the forest. And musicians are creating a CD that will be sold to raise funds.

“There is an incredible community behind this campaign,” says Meaghan Cursons, the community and outreach coordinator for CCFS.

To be successful, CCFS will need to garner contributions from individuals, partner organizations, private foundations and corporations. As well, CCFS will organize a variety of fundraising activities. “We’ve always had a measure of success with our fundraising events, but this year people are really stepping up and supporting us in amazing ways,” Nicol says. “There’s the Perseverance Trail Run, which raised $9,000 this year—twice what they raised last year. Our Fall Trivia Night sold out this year and raised $3,500.”

A huge part of their fundraising effort is gathering more monthly donors. Currently CCFS has 190 monthly donors, which brings in $5,600 each month. According to Nicol, these monthly donors have been pivotal for CCFS’s success.

“If it wasn’t for the monthly donors, we would not have been able to purchase what we did,” he says. “The monthly donations prove monthly income—that we can pay our bills. We can’t get traditional funding because our equity is a forest that will never be logged. However, we can get private loans from people who want to help. Our monthly income gives prospective donors the assurance that we’ll pay them back if they give us a loan. In essence, we are able to leverage the incredible generosity and commitment of our monthly donors into larger fund development.”

Since the monthly donor is so important to the goals of CCFS, they are putting a lot of attention into growing their pool of monthly donations. “Our goal is to get our monthly dollar amount up to $10,000 each month. Roughly speaking, we want to double our current donor amount—and we want to do that by next spring,” says Cursons.

CCFS hopes families and individuals will seriously consider becoming a monthly donor, and that current donors will consider raising the amount they donate each month. “Monthly donors are how we make these purchases possible and almost every day new donors are signing on to make sure we save these forests in time,” she adds.

Much of the forested land near Cumberland is a closed canopy forest, a dense growth of trees in which the top branches and leaves form a ceiling, or canopy, where light can barely penetrate to reach the forest floor. The limited sunlight reduces the amount of vegetation growing under and between the mature trees, leaving the ground mostly free of brush. As a result, the forest floors surrounding Cumberland are thick with not much more than green moss, ferns and salal. The occasional shaft of light penetrates the forest canopy, gloriously illuminating sections of green undergrowth. This type of forest also provides cool shade during the summer, and protection from the rain on a wet coastal day. Simply stated, the closed canopy forest is something special—something worth saving.

The forests surrounding Cumberland are extremely important to the animals and birds that call these forests home. These forests are part of a wildlife corridor that stretches from Comox Lake to the ocean. As a result, saving these forests is part of a larger scheme to save waterways and habitats used by wildlife to forage for food, move about, and breed. Essentially, it fits into a broader conservation strategy for the entire Valley.

Many at risk species of flora and fauna live in the forests near Cumberland, such as the red legged frog, the small eared bat, and the barred owl. Logging this area will essentially wipe out their habitat. As well, there are mushroom varieties here that only grow in dense, dark, forested areas. Currently, scientists are discovering that many types of mushrooms have immune boosting and bacteria fighting capabilities, so it’s important that we work to save the forests where these mushrooms are found. For example, there are many varieties of mushrooms now extinct in Europe due to the deforestation that occurred there decades ago. Some varieties of mushrooms now only exist here in the forests of the Pacific West Coast.

Perseverance Creek, deemed a sensitive habitat, is a major salmon bearing stream, home to Coho salmon, Cut-throat trout, and Dolly Varden. According to the Perseverance Creek Streamkeepers Society, the creek has already been negatively affected by logging that took place farther up the hills. When a forest is undisturbed, the forest floor acts like a sponge, holding water and slowly releasing it. When a forest is logged, the water just runs over the surface and down the slopes. Downstream, the creeks and rivers flood in the winter and experience drought conditions in the summer. These conditions make proper salmon spawning nearly impossible. Perseverance Creek is already struggling, and logging the forest that surrounds the lower reaches of the creek is sure to cause more serious problems to the existing salmon habitat.

Perseverance Creek is a large part of the main water supply for both Cumberland and Royston. In addition, Comox Lake, into which the creek drains, is the main reservoir for the rest of the Comox Valley’s water supply. Clearly, it’s important to protect the health of Perseverance Creek—to protect our watershed, and to protect an important salmon habitat.

Community members took part in an Indiegogo video shoot in November as part of the ongoing campaign to save the Cumberland Community Forest.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Community members took part in an Indiegogo video shoot in November as part of the ongoing campaign to save the Cumberland Community Forest. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

To Cursons and Nicol, the importance of the forest adjacent to Cumberland cannot be understated, as they both believe that the efforts of CCFS are globally significant. “Forests are critical to global well being and every effort to protect forest lands benefits the planet as a whole,” says Nicol.

Cursons agrees: “We’re not just doing this for our own backyard,” she says. “We’re doing this for global reasons.”

Cursons believes the forest surrounding Cumberland is pivotal to Cumberland as a whole. “Cumberland is a community that defines itself by its proximity to the woods,” she adds. “It’s a village in the forest.”

More and more, young families are choosing to call Cumberland their home, and the closeness of the forest to the community is one reason they are settling in Cumberland. “I’m passionate about Cumberland and about this forest,” Cursons says. “Like so many other people that live here, I walk or hike these forest trails almost every day.”

Nicol agrees that the forest is extremely important to what makes Cumberland special. “Access to the natural environment is essential to our physical, mental, and spiritual health,” he says. “To me, the value of having a great outdoor area within walking distance to the village is immeasurable.”

Aside from the environmental and recreational benefits of the forest, both Nicol and Cursons believe the future of the forest and the future of Cumberland’s economy are directly linked.
“We believe that economic development and environmental sustainability can be complementary,” says Cursons. “There are economic reasons to save these forests because these trails have an economic consequence to Cumberland and the entire Comox Valley. Long term, these forests are worth more to us while they’re standing.”

To Nicol, the forest is what makes Cumberland stand out and what makes its economic future so bright. “Cumberland is such a unique town. It doesn’t look like anywhere else in BC. There’s a unique feel. This has a huge economic value.”

Though the trails surround Cumberland, saving these forest lands is relevant to everyone in the Comox Valley. “The entire Valley uses this forest as their playground,” Nicol says. “This forest doesn’t just belong to the residents of Cumberland—it’s here for everyone who calls this Valley their home.”

The Cumberland Community Forest Society realizes that to reach its goal, it needs assistance from the larger community that makes up the entire Comox Valley. “Thirteen years ago, the forest was saved because the community banded together,” notes Cursons. “If the people of the Comox Valley get behind this campaign, I believe we can do it again.”

For more information on the forest and to help with the campaign visit

Kelly Pound has spent the past year and a half transforming the run-down Comox church into a vibrant community arts and healing centre.  “I have demonstrated that I am willing to pour my love and energy into the Little Red Church… and I am absolutely thrilled with the community response, <a href=

” she says. Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> Kelly Pound has spent the past year and a half transforming the run-down Comox church into a vibrant community arts and healing centre. “I have demonstrated that I am willing to pour my love and energy into the Little Red Church… and I am absolutely thrilled with the community response, sanitary
” she says. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

It is Christmas Eve, 1889. Records don’t indicate whether or not there was snow on the ground, but historical documents make it clear that there was excitement in the air. This would be the first year that St. John the Baptist Church parishioners would celebrate Midnight Mass with their very first resident pastor—Father Durand —and with music from a brand new organ played by Mary Downey (nee Anderton).

Father Durand would lead his congregation until 1898 and Downey would lead the choir as the church organist for the next 30 years. For the next 100 years, St. John the Baptist Church was a hub of social and cultural activity for the Comox Valley. For the past two decades… not so much!

This historical landmark located on what is now the corner of Comox Avenue and Alpine Street wasn’t always red—it used to be white—and the structure that stands today isn’t the original one. The first church was erected in 1885 and consecrated (dedicated to a sacred purpose) in 1886. It was built on land donated by the Murphy family and constructed by William Anderton and his son John, with generous financial contributions from Michael Donahue, Joe Rodello and many parishioners.

In 1887, two tall fir trees crashed down on the church during a fierce windstorm—essentially crushing it and cutting it in half. Needless to say, this was a major blow to the community. But, the pioneers of the Comox Valley took it in stride. In 1888, St. John the Baptist Church was reconstructed and subsequently consecrated again. As was common at the time, the building was built with pegs, not nails. More than 100 years later, this would prove to be a formidable problem as the construction technique—made fragile with time—made it impossible to move the building when its future was threatened.

Fast forward to 2010, and St. John the Baptist Church is essentially in lock down. While the attached community hall was still being rented on an occasional basis, the church was in a state of disrepair. It needed extensive structural preservation, electrical work, heating, plumbing and more. There was a massive rat’s nest in a small room that was once the confessional. And amongst the rat’s nesting materials was a foot-high green ‘Jesus Saves’ piggy bank.

While still owned by the Roman Catholic Church, newspaper archives from the new Millennium chronicle that the property and its buildings were the subject of heated debate. The church had been declared a historic site in 1986 and there was considerable controversy about its future. Some people desired to see it saved. Others demanded it be demolished. The Roman Catholic Church needed it sold. And Comox Town Council simply wanted the case closed.
It was in the spring of 2010 that Kelly Pound, a young artist from Alberta, moved to the Comox Valley with her then 12-year-old daughter. She had no preconceived notions about becoming the driving force behind the resurrection of any local landmarks. History just unfolded.

Pound was born and raised in Calgary, graduating from the Alberta College of Art and Design with a degree in Fine Arts in 1988. She spent a few years as a commission artist before becoming the owner of a successful art gallery and high-end picture framing shop in Calgary. She ran that business from 1990 to 2010, before heeding a ‘call to the Island.’

“I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do once I arrived in the Comox Valley, so I took a year off to do some soul searching,” recalls Pound. “I started painting again and worked part-time in a consignment store for a friend. My dream was to find a warehouse space to convert into a community art gallery, but the right property just didn’t seem to exist. One day, my realtor told me about the church. Despite its state of extreme disrepair, I was captivated with the potential of the site.”

In the past, Pound had purchased and extensively renovated five properties on her own, so she was certainly no stranger to hard work and the challenges of extensive Do-it-Yourself projects. And, as an artist, she has no trouble with creativity.

“After that first tour of the property I couldn’t stop thinking about the little church,” says Pound. “It wasn’t just that ideas were popping into my head. It was more like visions. My initial dream of an art gallery quickly evolved to include all aspects of visual and performing arts, as well as community events. In these visions, I saw this becoming a gathering place for people of all ages, all denominations.”

The property included about an acre of land as well as the historic church, with the attached community hall that had been added in the 1970s, and a 2,500-square-foot, two-story home that was once the rectory. It was zoned for ‘public assembly’ as a church, which limited its use for other purposes. So, before she could put in a bid to buy it, Pound got busy trying to get the zoning changed to increase capacity, expand use, and allow for food services and liquor licenses.

With a clear vision to breathe life back into what would soon be re-named the ‘Little Red Church,’ Pound submitted the first of what would be many applications to the Town of Comox for re-zoning. While Council was a little hesitant at first, they welcomed the idea of turning the facility into an arts centre, but all in all, the process still took more than six months. Pound, however, was patient, because she knew she had the Town councilors on her side.

Once approval was granted in May 2012, Pound put in an offer to purchase. She became the proud new owner of the St. John the Baptist Church—and all its land and infrastructures—in June, 2012.

“Town Council had been struggling with the status of this building for many years,” says Comox Mayor Paul Ives. “With the hope of selling the property, the Roman Catholic Church had asked that the Heritage designation be removed… but we didn’t want to do that. We were glad that Kelly came forward with plans to restore it for public assembly use. It is great to see the activities that are now happening there—from concerts to craft fairs—bringing life back to the building. It is good to see that she is making improvements and, by most accounts that I have heard, everyone is pretty happy with it.”

Over the past 18 months, Pound has proven that she’s not afraid of a little—or a lot—of hard work and that she is into this project for the long haul. Her first renovation project was to take the interior décor of the rectory house from the 1970s to present day. This involved ripping out all of the carpets and putting in laminate flooring, interior painting, new window coverings and more.

“I had initially intended to clean up the house and move into it myself but, as I talked to people in the community, I realized that there was a demand for small workshop and meeting spaces. I had another vision!” says Pound with a smile.

It wasn’t long before the rectory was redecorated and renamed the ‘Little Red Church Healing Centre.’ The four former bedrooms are now transformed into beautifully decorated and fully furnished private meeting rooms. The large living room and the 15×25-foot rec room are used as larger workshop spaces. The kitchen on the upper level and the laundry room/kitchen area on the main level, as well as bathrooms on both levels, add value to anyone wanting to rent space. Before long, a variety of alternative health-related practitioners, community groups and more were booking space. In an average week the Healing Centre may be booked for such things as yoga and art classes, Mystic Valley Voices choir practices, Celtic Club meetings, a photography studio, workshop space and more.

The newly renovated interior of the Little Red Church.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

The newly renovated interior of the Little Red Church. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Pound began tackling the Church Hall renovations in October 2012. Her first undertaking was to remove the suspended ceiling that masked an impressive vaulted ceiling and to rip down damaged wood paneling from around the perimeter of the room. The tear down would take three months because progress was hindered by the fact that hall was still being rented by a local church for their weekly worship. Each week the renovations had to stop, Pound had to clean up the space and move the pews back into place for the Sunday service.

“One week, I forgot to wipe all the dust off the pews and the parishioners all got dusty bottoms!” recalls Pound with a laugh. “I felt terrible about that! It certainly was a crazy, busy time.

“While I have done most of the work myself, I did pay two people to help me at this stage of the project,” she adds. “It is interesting to note that both men were creative types—one a musician and the other a sculpture artist. In fact, many of the people who have come forward to help over the past 18 months have been associated with the visual or performing arts community… it seems they are drawn to the building also.”

In order to keep her costs down and to support a commitment to reduce waste, Pound re-used as much of the building materials as possible. The ceiling tiles, for example, were bundled, covered in fabric and remounted on the vaulted ceiling as acoustic panels. Anything that was salvageable, that she couldn’t re-use, was donated to the ReStore. New tracking lighting was installed and the walls were repaired and painted a neutral color. Another month was spent insulating the hall’s attic.

Today, the community hall space—now called the Little Red Church Arts Centre—is warm, welcoming and buzzing with activity. The work of local artists is featured on the walls, metal sculptures are dispersed throughout the space and a baby grand piano (on loan from the North Island Festival of Performing Arts) sits on the new stage.

Pound’s vision of a putting a community heartbeat back into this gathering space has come true. In the past year the Little Red Church Arts Centre has been booked for concerts, theatre and dance performances, Zumba and Tai Chi classes, Girl Guide sleepovers, a celebration of life and more. The Little Red Church Community Market, held on the first Sunday of each month, started in October. From the very first event, all 30 tables were sold as local crafters, artisans, food producers and farmers welcomed another opportunity to market their wares.

In September, the exterior of the Little Red Church Arts Centre received a facelift. Thanks to Oliver’s Painting and a team of volunteers who simply showed up when they heard the painting project was taking place, the wooden shingles now sport a coat of bright red paint. And, although exterior renos are still a work in progress, progress is being made.

News of the Little Red Church facilities being available for rent to local groups and individuals has spread by word-of-mouth, social media, Pound’s website ( and with the support of the local media.

“The 124-year-old church is next of my list of renovations but the work that needs to be done there is extensive,” says Pound. “Quite frankly, I am a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of this project!”

So, Pound will hang up her hammer for most of the winter and focus instead on working with community groups to help promote events and activities in these two new/old community spaces. She will also investigate what government grants may be available to help her begin restoration of the church. She welcomes any support from individuals or businesses in this community who may be able to offer assistance with this rather daunting task.

“I have demonstrated that I am willing to pour my love and energy into the Little Red Church… and I am absolutely thrilled with the community response,” she says. “But finding some support to help with the Heritage building project would be amazing.”

While the church sanctuary ­­­is still ‘off limits’, 124 years since that inaugural Midnight Mass, there is excitement in the air once again as the spirit of Christmas and a celebration of community comes alive at this landmark location.

For more information call Kelly Pound at 250-650-6570 or visit