By Morgan Ostler
A humble dirt trail across the road from the waterfront was the only way residents at the south end of Campbell River could walk or bike into town in the early 1950’s.
How that neglected trail has evolved into its present status as a spectacular waterfront is a fascinating story. It highlights what can be achieved when city staff, a service club and eager citizens work in harmony.
Our highly valued Rotary Seawalk started life as the result of a brainstorming session at City Hall back in 1983. At that time, a newly elected mayor, council, planning staff and the Waterfront Advisory Committee were casting around for development ideas that would lift Campbell River out of the economic doldrums that had affected not only the community but the entire country.
The trail itself was the only route into town and one of a dozen ideas that had surfaced from a list of possible projects. Public Works was on a tight budget and there was no hope that staff could initiate construction. The waterfront trail became just another great idea to wallow in the “to do” list.
And there it sat for a year until one late autumn day in 1984, when the city was approached by Betty Barton, a Canada World Youth Coordinator. She had recently arrived in Campbell River with 15 youth from Indonesia and Quebec. They were part of a Canada-wide exchange program. To augment their studies, the team were hoping to be involved in a program that give them a deeper community experience while living here for three months.
Mayor Bob Ostler and Chris Hall, planning manager, hesitantly suggested the group might like to start construction of a waterfront trail. Winter weather was coming and as most of the group were from a very hot tropical country, it was thought there would not be much interest in an outdoor project. But just the opposite reaction occurred. The students thought it would be fun and they dove right in to the adventure.
A call out to residents for warm jackets, toques, boots and gloves produced a heap of clothing piled up in the entrance to city hall. Public Works personnel kicked into action with a truckload of wheel-barrows, mattocks, rakes, stakes and twine. Staff mapped out the route which began at the base of the First Ave Hill, beside the entrance to Ocean Shores condos.
It stretched along the waterfront to a small cove, now known as Rotary Beach Park.
The Canada World Youth group worked diligently but winter came early that year and working conditions were tough, especially for the Indonesians, and after a few weeks on the site, the visitors’ time was up and they departed for Quebec.
Fortunately, a Canada Works program for unemployed youth provided several young men and they finished the route to the Rotary Beach Park. The city supplied truckloads of gravel as a base and from start to finish it took 14 weeks to complete the job. The community was delighted with the project and soon the rough pathway became the favoured trail for pedestrians, runners, cyclists and especially the baby strollers.
This was the beginning of what eventually became a great asset to the community. In 1996, the Rotary Club, led by president/elect Ted Foster decided to celebrate 50 years of service in Campbell River.
The project they chose was paving the Seawalk from the First Ave. hill to Frank James Park in Willow Point. Rotarians have more than fulfilled their plan to build a seawalk to Willow Point and have now extended the route far beyond the original expectation.
So that’s the story of how a narrow strip of neglected land, with visionary foresight, is becoming one of the most admired waterfronts on Vancouver Island.