Charles Helm

Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark



As with all Global Geoparks, the Tumbler Ridge is about a lot more than just the rocks. It is about how they have affected our history and who we are, and in turn the effects we have had on them. Our history, especially that of the early surveyors and explorers, is therefore of great importance.


One of these larger-than-life figures is J.C. Gwillim. While many of us enjoy our recreation on the shores of Gwillim Lake in Gwillim Lake Provincial Park, and some of us live on Gwillim Crescent, few of us know much about the person behind these place names.


The Tumbler Ridge Global Geopark is working with BC Parks to try to change this, and at the same time enhance the experience for visitors through interpretive signage at Gwillim Lake. And the recent discovery of inspiring photos of John Cole Gwillim, likely never before appreciated by anyone in the Peace Region, will aid in this interpretation.


Two of these photos were obtained from the Yukon Archives, showing Gwillim heading a survey crew in the Atlin area in 1899. But the most important picture was generously provided to our Geopark Committee and Museum Archives by Gwillim’s grandson, Don Travers, who lives in Ontario. It is a fine portrait of a man in his prime, before his life was sadly cut short by illness at the age of 52 years. Crys White, who heads the Tumbler Ridge Museum Archives Committee, is delighted to receive this new addition to the digital archives collection.


Gwillim conducted surveys in our region in 1919 with his colleague Edmund M. Spieker (after whom Mt Spieker is named). Gwillim was born in Herefordshire, England, in 1868, and came to Canada when 13 years old. His family settled near Winnipeg, where he attended St. John's College. He graduated from McGill University with a BA (Honours) in Natural Science in 1895. He was a member of the Geological Survey of Canada from 1899, and engaged in field work with geologists Joseph Tyrrel and D.B. Dowling. In 1903 Gwillim was appointed professor of mining at Queen's University at Kingston.


His summers were usually spent in the field, mainly exploring the coal lands, and later the oil fields of Alberta for the CPR. His last field work was for the Department of Lands of the British Columbia government in the Peace Region in 1919, exploring for oil. His work was held in high esteem. The J.C. Gwillim prize, is awarded annually to a second year undergraduate in mining engineering at Queens University.


Gwillim created a regional masterpiece, the most accurate map at the time for what is now the Tumbler Ridge area. It included the first written mention of the name “Tumbler Range”. His route took him along the shores of “Rocky Mountain Lake”, which was renamed Gwillim Lake in his memory in 1921, soon after his death.


In addition to such information on J.C. Gwillim, other interpretive panels are planned, featuring the rich archaeological heritage of the lakeshore, its geology, the first written description and photos of the lake, the reasons for its shape, and information on fossils found nearby.


Meantime, thanks to the generosity and support of Don Travers, we are enriched by being able to put a face to the name which we use so frequently.