Winter at Sproat Lake
A big part of the allure of Sproat Lake is peace and quiet, still appreciated at one of the most popular and accessible of Vancouver Island’s big lakes.
There are larger bodies of freshwater on the Island (three to be exact, Kennedy, Great Central and Cowichan lakes), but they don’t have the range of natural assets and attractions that make Sproat, with its famously warm water for swimming, a popular summer destination.
Those qualities shine for year-round residents, even when the weather isn’t so nice. Winter at Sproat Lake is a for savouring sweeping views of mountain majesty, seasonal recreational pursuits and workshop projects, or for just getting to know neighbours across the lake a little bit better.
For Linda Bowers, winter at Sproat Lake means learning to appreciate the subtle beauty of the lake when, looking out across the water, she can’t see where the ends and the sky begins. On many days, as the sun rises above Mt. Arrowsmith, coastal fog funnels up the lake from the mouth of Sproat River, gradually rising and dispersing to reveal the snowy heights of Klitsa Mountain and frost-tinged trees along surrounding ridges.
“It’s wonderful to be here,” says Bowers, who’s lived at Sproat for 25 years. They may lack the conveniences of city dwellers, “but I’ll take the rain and the sun and the leaves. It’s lovely. When storms blow it may be a little nerve-wracking, but it’s exciting!”
Bowers has grown to appreciate life at the lake even more in challenging times with much of the world still in the grips of a COVID-19 pandemic: “We all have our bubbles, groups of six to eight maybe. They all have families, but we still need that core of neighbours who look out for neighbours.”
Lake dwellers get together for games of Mahjong or a few rounds of pickleball at the community hall, which reopened in the fall after major improvements.
“One side of the lake has its bubble and the other side has another and we sort of share if you can’t get enough players,” Bowers says.
A time of peace, tranquility and enjoying the great outdoors
Hiking is an all-season pursuit in the mountains of the Central Island. Much of the winter is free of snow down in the valleys, ringed by mountains shimmering in winter white beneath azure skies. Lake residents have a range of trails from which to choose, including a pedestrian/cycling trail that parallels Lakeshore Road on the north shore. Fossli Provincial Park off Stirling Arm Road on the south shore, is another popular walk in midwinter, often the best time of year to view waterfalls. Weiner Falls above Sproat Lake Landing are equally impressive in the wet season.
Snowfall opens up ample opportunities for backcountry snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Mt. Klitsa plateau above the lake’s southwestern shore, offers ample opportunity for all three. Devil’s Den Lake is a popular spot for family ice skating in the coldest months of January and February. Nearby Stamp River provides some of the best winter steelhead fishing in B.C.
Then there’s the lake itself, always the center of attention.
“Even in the winter it’s nice when it’s calm,” says Rene Lacoursiere.
Those who fall in love with the lake often do so at first sight. Gary Spencer-Smith who, with his wife Kryssie recently purchased the Fish and Duck Resort, counts himself among them.
Living at the lake?
“That was my lifelong goal since I was 16 years old,” says Spencer-Smith, who hails from Newcastle, England. “I came here on holiday in 1993 and said, ‘One day I’m going to live here.’”
Seven years ago, the couple had a chance to live and work year-round at the lake and jumped for it. He appreciates the stillness of the water, the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings. He finds the water “puts your world at ease.”
Neurological science supports the theory that humans experience multiple health benefits, notably reduced stress and anxiety, just by being in the presence of water. One theory holds that this stems from the importance of water to life itself. Lake dwellers find serenity in the steady rhythm of waves lapping on the shore, in a breeze cooled by the chill of fresh fallen snow or in the flat calm as morning fog drifts past.
“Winter gives you a chance to stop and reflect. It makes you appreciate how beautiful it is,” Spencer-Smith says. “There is everything to do in winter that there is in summer,” whether it’s a jaunt in the woods or “waterfall hunting,” he adds.
He still believes Sproat to be one of the most beautiful places in the world.
When the quiet season settles in — and “the world beyond the mountains is not such a pleasant place to be” — Bowers appreciates her lake home that much more.
“I think we live in paradise, I really do, and I’m sure I’m not the only one around here who feels that way,” she says. “We’ll get through this.”
Learn about living at Sproat Lake
Written by Mike Youds, at the Valley Vibe. Port Alberni’s fast growing community and online magazine. The passion here at the Valley Vibe is to showcase the beautiful of our valley for all who live here, and travel through. Working together with many talented writers, we at the Valley Vibe love to explore, discover and uncover secret jewels about Port Alberni and Sproat Lake.