Saanich Peninsula’s only old growth forest beckons

John Dean Park in North Saanich boasts area’s large stand of giant trees.

Friends of John Dean Provincial Park Edo Nyland (one of the original founders)

There’s a stand of old growth trees in a large forest and it’s five to 10 minutes away from most homes on the Saanich Peninsula.

John Dean Provincial Park opened to vehicle traffic this week and volunteer members of the organization that looks after the grounds are welcoming people back this spring.

“People don’t have to drive for hours to go see massive trees,” said Maureen Dale, the president of the Friends of John Dean Provincial Park. “This is the last stand of old growth forest on the Saanich Peninsula.”

The park was established in 1921, said Dale, and is the third-oldest park in B.C. It was once property owned by John Dean, a contractor, civic leader and real estate agent. He donated part of his land to the province for use as parkland. The remainder was added after his death in 1943.

Today, the Friends (which was founded in 1984) are 120 to 150 members strong, but like many volunteer organizations, a smaller crew of dedicated people work to make sure the parks trails remain intact. Dale said the number of trails are kept to their current level— ensuring visitors get a wilderness-type experience. Dale said they are often asked if the park is home to bears or cougars. She said they pass through, certainly, so hikers and walkers need to know they are in a wild forest.

The trails themselves are only a couple feet wide. Dale said that’s to give people the impression of growth all around them.

The park’s 427 acres includes more than 10 kilometers of hiking trails. The trails provide spectacular views of the North Shore Coastal Mountains, Gulf Islands, San Juan Islands, Mount Baker, Olympic Mountains, Finlayson Arm, and Malahat Mountain.  Recreational opportunities include hiking, viewing wildlife, and nature study.

The Friends have placed several interpretive signs in the park  John Dean Cabin, Celebrating Volunteerism; Garry Oak-Arbutus Meadows, and; Woodland Plants and Flowers.

The park is accessible from the Pat Bay Highway (Hwy. 17) and is closed to vehicles from Nov. 1 to March 15.  Take the McTavish Road exit, turn left at East Saanich Road, and turn right onto Dean Park Road.