Comox Valley Naturalists Society
Knowing Nature . . .
Mack Laing Nature Park
January 8, 2008
Getting out for a nature walk is a must, even on these dark, wintry days. We enjoy taking “nature breaks” with our baby son Alden, exploring the many beautiful parks of our area. One of my favourite parks, that I feel a personal connection to, is Mack Laing Nature Park in Comox.
Mack Laing (1883-1982) was a passionate self-taught naturalist throughout his long life. Hard working and able to turn his hand to just about anything, Laing was a respected scientist, writer and artist. He made a living collecting birds and mammals for museums and private collections and published more than 700 nature articles in various magazines, as well as several books. Laing was also an avid photographer, and his excellent images provide an invaluable record of the past.
Laing moved to Comox in 1922, and purchased a prime piece of property along Comox Bay, where he built a house and established a nut farm. His first house, called “Baybrook” was later sold, and a second home known as “Shakesides”, was built in 1950. In 1973, Laing donated the house and property to the town of Comox, for people to enjoy and appreciate nature.
My grandfather, Major Allan Brooks (1869-1946) also bought property in Comox, and spent his winters there from 1928-1945. Laing and my grandfather were good friends, sharing a keen interest in birds and natural history. Laing admired Brooks’ work as an ornithological illustrator, and published a biography of Brooks (Allan Brooks: Artist-Naturalist) in 1977. A fascinating biography of Mack Laing (Hamilton Mack Laing: Hunter-Naturalist) was published in 1985 by historian Richard Mackie.
Mack Laing Nature Park is a second growth forest that was logged sometime in the late 1800’s. The lushly vegetated Brooklyn Creek, an active salmon stream, runs through the property. In the spring there are many wildflowers in bloom, such as large white trilliums, nodding pink and white Erythronium lilies, and yellow violets.
This woodland is hot spot for birds, even in the winter. In a recent walk through the park, we almost stepped on some tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets, which were picking grit off the trail. We were also lucky to see a Pileated Woodpecker with a handsome red crest, swooping through the trees.
The trail opens up towards the Shakesides house. Here, the black soil is rich with bits of broken shell, evidence of an extensive First Nations’ midden that was used for thousands of years and stretched all along Comox Bay.
At the waterfront, there is an entirely different habitat. It is a great place to discover salt marsh plants such as the salty tasting pickleweed. Here too, birds are abundant. In winter, small shorebirds such as Dunlin scamper along the mudflats, and Comox Bay is dotted with thousands of ducks.
Taking in the marvelous view of the bay and Goose Spit that Laing enjoyed for so many years brought back memories of a visit to Mack Laing during my childhood. He wore a green visor that must of dated from the 1920’s, and worked at his desk with an enormous magnifying glass. Laing, who was notoriously thrifty, wrote in a very small hand in order to save paper.
The park has illustrated signboards that highlight some of the plants, birds and fish found there. A cairn with a plaque sums up, in the words of Thoreau, Mack Laing’s view of life. Considering today’s consumer-driven society, and the scale of development in present day Comox, the words seem particularly apt:
"Simplify, don’t waste the years struggling for things that are unimportant. Don’t burden yourself with possessions. Keep your needs and wants simple, and enjoy what you have. Don’t fritter away your life on non-essentials. Don’t enslave yourself for luxuries. A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can do without. Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. Live in the present, enjoy the present. Simplify your life. Be not simply good, be good for something."
Mack Laing Nature Park can be accessed from the end of Comox Avenue, at the top of Brooklyn Creek along Balmoral Avenue, and through MacDonald Wood Park at the corner of Balmoral Ave. and Croteau Rd.
Click on a link below to view the CVNS newspaper column.