Next Year British Columbia will celebrate the centennial of its wonderful park system, and much will be spoken and written about the Price Ellison Expedition, which got the park system going by recommending the creation of 250,000-hectare Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island in 1911. Price Ellison was a provincial cabinet minister in the McBride government and has received his share of accolades for the expedition, but there is a case to be made that the expedition would never have survived the first few days of bushwhacking had it not been for the amazing skills and heroic efforts of its unsung guide, an eccentric hermit who actually lived in the park-to-be.
Hugh H.N.B. Bacon, “Lord B” for short, was a trapper and prospector who became something of a local legend in the Campbell River-Quadra Island area before the First World War. He staked out a squatter's cabin on Buttle Lake and posted this sign in front:
Tread these forest Isles
Do not disturb the great
Forest and storm God
Lord Bacon, The only Lord in America
Bacon would appear in his tattered rags at the Willows Hotel in Campbell River and go on three-day benders during which he would entertain bemused locals by declaiming passages from the classics in plummy British accents that bespoke an expensive upper-class education gone for naught. But the Lord had his serious side. “He would suddenly sober down,” wrote visiting angler Sir John Rogers, “and though wizened in appearance, he would put a pack on his back only a few men could carry and disappear into the woods to his lonely cabin, only to reappear in a few days ready for a fresh spree.”
Bacon put his grimy thumbprint on BC history when he took on the daunting job of guiding the Ellison expedition, expertly leading a hapless crew of 23 lawyers, politicians, poets, social butterflies and overweight servants on a gruelling six-week exploration of the Strathcona region’s top attractions. “He never seems to hurry, yet always gives the impression of speed,” wrote the expedition chronicler, a dilettante named Harry McLure Johnson. “He slides along just like a cat — more properly ‘like a cat of the woods,’ a cougar, so like a thing of the woods is he, always alert, every muscle under perfect control, always masterful, seeing every exigency before it happens and always ready to meet it.” As Stephen Hume wrote in a recent article in the Vancouver Sun, “He knew how to build a smudge to keep off the biting insects, where to pitch camp to catch breezes that blew them away, how to read and negotiate fast water — ‘a solid, wild, foaming, roaring torrent interspersed with rocks, others just submerged and causing wondrous turmoil’ — which became more frequent as the expedition moved deeper into the mountains.” Under Bacon’s inspired leadership, the motely crew survived with only one sprained ankle (Ellison's) and came back with such a record of wondrous experiences that creation of the province’s first park was a given.