The natural history and geological history are outlined on a separate page.
The native people from the Alberni area call this mountain, "Kuth-Kah-Chulth", also translated as "Catch-Catch-Oos" in the early 1900's (George Bird), both names which mean "that which has sharp pointed faces". In the mid-1800's, the English gave it the name of "Arrowsmith" after two cartographers, Aaron Arrowsmith and his nephew John Arrowsmith. Early settlers on the east side of the mountain called it "The Sleeping Maiden" for its profile at sunset and the minor peaks between the summits of Arrowsmith and Cokely, now called "The Bumps", were sometimes called "The Sisters". Whether these are western invented terms or translated native names is not yet known.
Although the first ascent of this peak is unknown for certain, it's very likely that native people were the first, as there is archaeological evidence that they went up into the Island mountains to hunt marmots from time to time. Mid-Island groups of modern day First Nations have mapped their traditional territories and several show the height of land of Arrowsmith and its ridges as their traditional borders.
The Arrowsmith massif has been attracting visitors since before the turn of the century. In 1887 John Macoun (Naturalist to Geological Survey, Assistant Director and Dominion Botanist), his son James, along with their guide "Qualicum Tom" and his son Jim made a trip up the massif. Professor Macoun mentions in his account, of being able to see the Pacific. Whether this was the Alberni Canal as seen from Cokely or Barkley Sound that can be seen from the main summit is not clear. (The Ottawa Field-Naturalists Club, 1922).
The next well documented ascent on Arrowsmith was in 1901, by Dr. James Fletcher, Canada's first Dominion Entomologist and Botanist, J.R. Anderson, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, the Rev. G.W. Taylor, John Clutesi (father of author and native elder George Clutesi of Port Alberni) and Rob McKinley. Fletcher wrote to his sister, "This was a glorious trip of four days, it is the highest mountain on Vancouver Island." [as it was thought in those days]. (Lindsay Elms, Beyond Nootka, 1996.)
One interesting bit of folklore is that Edward Whymper, (of Matterhorn first ascent fame), made the first European ascent, sometime between 1901 - 05 and some people refer to the cairn on the summit as the "Whymper cairn".
In 1910 the C.P.R. built a tourist chalet at the East end of Cameron Lake. By 1912 a pack trail was completed from the lake to an overnight hut at 4200 feet on the slopes of Mt. Cokely. From here visitors could do an easy day hike to Cokely or a more challenging day to Arrowsmith's summit. This trail, known as the Old Arrowsmith trail to some and to others as the Cameron Lake trail, is still very popular to this day and is the oldest intact trail on Vancouver Island.
A 1912 Victoria Daily Colonist article states, "If one were to go into the fastness of Vancouver Island and find a great deposit of coal or ore, the discovery would be hailed as a real achievement of tremendous benefit to this section of British Columbia, and as another big addition to its assets. By the same process of reasoning, when one considers the benefits accruing from tourist travel, it will have to be admitted that the 'discovery' of Mt. Arrowsmith is also a great achievement, and that it will prove an asset of incalculable value."
Arrowsmith's sister summit, Mt. Cokely, once also known as "The Hump", was unofficially named in 1926-27 after Leroy Sterling Cokely, a Dominion & B.C. land surveyor. In 1973 the name was officially adopted.
The 1920s and 30s saw more ascents by the Alpine Club of Canada and others, most notably in June 1925 by the husband and wife mountaineering team of Don and Phyllis Munday. Don later wrote, "Phyl's eyes shone as she handed me the binoculars and pointed to a tall mountain due North through a cloud rift." They had discovered the Waddington Range, on the mainland, with the highest mountain peak in B.C. They went on to explore that area in the following decades and would become famous in the mountaineering fraternity for their efforts. Mt. Arrowsmith was to hold a special place in their hearts. (Don Munday, The Unknown Mountain, 1948).
In the 1940s and 50s, more cabins were built on the massif and this area became a destination for hardy folk to go on winter ski trips and for others, to enjoy the alpine beauty. The most noteworthy cabin was the Rosseau Chalet, named after a Port Alberni mountaineer, Ralph Rosseau. The cabin was destroyed by vandals in the 70s, but a popular trail on the massif still carries his name. Some of these user-maintained cabins still exist today, used by yet other generations of hikers and mountaineers. Ralph died in a climbing crevasse accident in the Septimus range, in Strathcona Park and the highest peak in the range was officially named Mt. Rosseau.
The 60s saw logging roads pushed further up the mountain's flanks. As drivable access became easier, the popularity of the massif increased dramatically. "Arrowsmith ... must rank as the most popular mountain among the Vancouver Island climbing community", (Randy Morse, Canada/The Mountains, 1980). and "It [Arrowsmith] is the most popular training ground on Vancouver Island and offers great potential for winter climbing because of its 'Scottish' conditions and reasonable access." (Bruce Fairley, A Guide to Climbing & Hiking in Southwestern B.C., 1986). The roads, as they often do, opened the area to more activity. Some would say for the better, but some old-timers say the mountain was overrun and ruined.
In 1972, 607 hectares on the northern slopes of Cokely was sold, for a dollar, by MacMillan Bloedel to the Alberni/Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD), to be turned into a regional park, since there was already a small volunteer ski operation held there. Since then several commercial ventures have tried their luck at offering downhill skiing with no success and have all gone out of business.
In 1992, the Commission on Resources and Environment (CORE) looked at making the massif into a Class A Provincial Park. As there was a large amount of alpine area in Strathcona Provincial Park already protected and since there was a small regional park in place on Mt. Cokely and the recreational area is above 1000-1200 meters, therefore containing little merchantable timber, it was decided to use their 12% of allotted land to make parks in more threatened lowland areas, a decision since regretted.
Since 1995, the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) has shown some interest in turning this block of land into a protected area, either a provincial or a regional park.
In the fall of 1998 the Public Access Resolution Committee (PARC) garnered the support of over thirty clubs, societies, federations and outdoor groups and petitioned the Regional District of Nanaimo to obtain block 1380 to turn it into a wilderness type regional park. RDN staff went one step further and recommended the district to also aim towards leasing the privately owned land that the Old Arrowsmith Trail runs through, from Cameron Lake up to the regional ski park for additional park land. When these proposals went before the RDN Board of Directors it was unanimously voted for in favour to obtain these areas for park status.
In 1999 the RDN appointed a committee from local citizens representing a broad range of outdoors groups to advise them on the direction this park should go. This is proving to be a very good working relationship between the frequent users of this area and the body that governs the area.
In the fall of 2001 a deal was brokered, between the Regional District of Nanaimo and the timber companies, to lease the land the Old Arrowsmith Trail runs through, from Cameron Lake to the Arrowsmith Ski Park, for regional park use.
The Alpine Club of Canada is turning 100 years old in 2006 and the Vancouver Island Section of the ACC and the Federation of Mountain Clubs of B.C. have made it their goal to see the Arrowsmith Massif gain protected park status, hopefully by that time. To this end, they have given presentations to the area's regional districts and local MLA's. This has resulted in an official partnership with the Regional District of Nanaimo (where Mt. Arrowsmith is located), to be the stewards and managers of this mountain area. The Arrowsmith initiative is working with the provincial ministries as well.
As the summits of Arrowsmith, Cokely and South Summit, the Lakes Emerald, Hidden, Fishtail and Lost and all the area in block 1380 are still unprotected, negotiations to turn this jewel into a park are continuing.
As evidenced by a large and continually increasing number of visitors, Mount Arrowsmith is already a park, if not in name. The summit register has shown an increase from about 150 signatures ten years ago to about 700 in these past years and this is just a small percentage of people accessing all other aspects of the mountain.
The Victoria Times Colonist wrote, May 15, 1965, regarding the logging, mining and damming in Strathcona Provincial Park, "If the parks are whittled, demoted, exploited, in the absence of any fool-proof guarantee of the continuity and preservation, we shall have little enough to enjoy in our time and a poor bequest to hand on to the millions of the future who will look back on us as despoilers rather than stewards of natures irreplaceable treasures."
As we stand on the threshold of a new millennium these words ring true, clearer now than ever before.