Warren Cook standing in the Chef Creek estuary on his property.

Warren Cook working on the Chef Creek enhancement project on his property in 2006.

Whether you’re a forest owner, a land manager or a tree farmer you bring a vision and commitment to the work you do. You know the decisions you make today will have an impact on generations to come. You take this responsibility seriously and it shows.

A recent visit to Warren Cook’s 87-acre Managed Forest property near Bowser on Vancouver Island reminded us just how much pride goes into the work of managing B.C.’s private forest lands.

Warren is the fourth generation Cook to hold title to this property. Back in 1883, long before railways or highways, Warren’s ancestors, Ephram and Ezra Cook, paddled a canoe from Nanaimo and purchased 500 acres at a price of $1 per acre. Warren’s property has been in the Cook family ever since.

The trip from Nanaimo to Deep Bay, the same one Warren’s ancestors took via canoe 132 years ago—a trip that probably required considerable strength, planning and preparation, and likely resulted in blisters and back ache along the way—we managed to accomplish in about 40 minutes, with little effort, via Highway 19, while sipping frothy-lattes and listening to a lively blend of top 40 hits. Times sure have changed.

Steven, Amber and Bruce Cook.

Bruce Cook (right) with his brother Steven (left) and his daughter Amber (centre) surrounded by Douglas-fir seedlings recently planted by Amber and Bruce. Apologies for the blurry photo, the photographer takes all the blame.

We arrived to find Warren’s two sons, Bruce and Steven, and his 23-year-old granddaughter Amber, hard at work on a Friday afternoon—busy cleaning up the property after a recent harvesting operation. Bruce explains, “We’ll be cleaning up through the fall and winter, getting ready to plant a couple of thousand trees in the spring.”

Bruce and Amber already have a jump on the planting with a few hundred Douglas-fir seedlings planted in an area where they only took out six or seven trees, but they’ll hire a professional crew to do the rest of the planting next spring.

A stroll, and an ATV ride, around the property, with Warren’s son Bruce and a sweet dog named Stella Grace, quickly revealed how the family’s rich stories from the past inform the work they do today, and at the same time, help point toward the future and the continuation of the Cook family legacy.

Inspired by our visit, we put together a list of 5 Life Lessons from the Cook Family Tree Farm:

Life lesson #1: Know your roots.

You can’t go too far on Warren Cook’s property without noticing signs of the family’s history. Bruce points to an old, orange tractor, parked on the driveway near the house, and explains, with a smile, “Oliver was my grandpa’s first farm tractor, but he was too scared to operate it so he never ran it.”

an old orange tractor

“Oliver”, the first piece of farm equipment Bruce’s grandfather bought.

Small, wooden signs nailed to trees throughout the property tell what year, and by whom, nearby trees were planted. It’s a visual record that keeps track of the history of the plantations and gives everyone a bit of credit for the work they do.

A milk-crate-sized metal box with holes and a lid sits near the Chef Creek estuary. Bruce explains, “This was my grandma’s refrigerator. It’s how she kept the milk and butter cold. She put them in the box and then put the box in the creek.”

A big sign, the sort you’d see in a provincial park, with pictures, maps, photos, and a detailed history of the Cook family and the Chef Creek estuary is situated not too far from the house. The sign, a gift from the province after a 2006 salmon enhancement project, is perhaps the most obvious reminder of the family’s deep roots and connection to the area.

Life lesson #2: Work with good people.

A sign attached to a tree saying when and by whom the trees were planted.

Signs indicate what year and by whom nearby plantations were planted.

These days, Warren, his son Bruce, and Bruce’s daughter Amber, do most of the work on the property. After a heart attack, at the age of 58, Warren stopped working at the mill in Campbell River and moved to the property full time with his late wife Irene Cook, living in a small trailer until they built the house about 20 years ago.

Bruce has worked full time with his dad, on the property and managing the family oyster business, for over two decades. Bruce’s brother, Steven, works out of province and comes home to help when he can.

Any questions they don’t have answers for they research, ask experts or find resources to help.  The work they can’t do themselves, for example the recent harvesting operation, they find good people to help them with—they ask around, talk to locals, get recommendations, and find reputable people to do good work.

Good people make all the difference.

Life lesson #3: Take pride in what you do.

Together, the Cook family takes a lot of pride in the work they do. Steven explains, “Just to see the look in my father’s eyes when he comes out and sees his trees—he has a lot of pride in what he’s done.”

Life lesson #4: Have a vision and stick to it.

It’s hard to get where you’re going if you don’t have a plan or a vision for what it’ll look like when you get there.

planted seedlings with browse protectors

Cedar seedlings planted with browse protectors in a previously swampy area.

Steven describes, “This was always my grandfather’s dream, and dad’s just carried it on. He loves his trees. He’s like the Johnny Appleseed of Deep Bay, out there planting every day.”

He goes on to say, “Yesterday, 82 years old, out here with his walking stick because he wanted to plant a tree. I was saying, ‘Dad, slow down, you need your rest’, but he just can’t stop. The other day, he brought me a whipper snipper, ‘Can you do that bank?’ he said ‘I want my trees to get some sunshine.’ And then he wanted to come out and see how I did. ‘You missed a couple there,’ he said.

Nobody said having a vision is easy, but it sure pays off if you stick with it.

Life lesson #5: Everything is connected and you can make a difference.

In 2013, Ducks Unlimited Canada awarded Warren Cook the Wildlife Habitat Canada Award. The award is in recognition of the preservation and enhancement of the Chef and Cook Creek watersheds on Warren Cook’s property.

Sign explains the Cook family history

Signage at the Chef Creek estuary describes the Cook family history and the Chef Creek watershed.

A biologist with the Ministry of Transportation describes Warren Cook as “a landowner steward in action that deserves a lot of credit and recognition for his overall philosophy and approach to maintaining and enhancing the rich environmental values on his property. He, and his father previously, allowed and encouraged salmon research, assessment and restoration to take place on his property, owned by the Cooks since 1883.”

Bruce explains, “Dad can remember, when he was a little boy, the salmon running up the creek were so many you could cross the creek and your feet wouldn’t get wet.”

We’ll include more information about the preservation and enhancement projects in a future post, but for now a big thanks to the Cook family for their work, the tour and the inspiration.