Saving Trumpeter Swans at Lonesome Lake

Ralph Edwards and his daughter Trudy horse-packed barley over treacherous mountains to save the trumpeter swan population at Lonesome Lake


Heroic Efforts to Save Starving Swans

Lonesome Lake is situated in Tweedsmuir Park, within the rugged Coast Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. The lake--and a man who would later come to be called "Crusoe of Lonesome Lake"--would play a crucial role in saving endangered trumpeter swans.

During the years 1912-1966, Ralph Edwards carved a homestead for himself and his family in the Atnarko Valley at a place he named Lonesome Lake. While he chose to live off the beaten track in the remote Canadian wilderness, his heroic efforts to save vanishing trumpeter swans garnered worldwide attention.

Ralph noticed the magnificent birds his first winter at Lonesome Lake. Loudly trumpeting their arrival, the giant birds were hard to miss.

Giant Birds With Impressive 8' Wing Spans

Photo: Trumpeter Swan Stretches its Wings
Photo: Trumpeter Swan Stretches its Wings | Source

By the 1930's, the known world population of trumpeter swans totaled less than 100. About one-third of that number wintered at Lonesome Lake.

Scientific Name

Cygnus buccinator

A Fateful Meeting at Ootsa Lake Spells Survival for the Swans

In 1926, while on a guiding trip to Ootsa Lake, Ralph met up with John P. Holman, a member of the Audubon Society. Holman questioned him about the trumpeter swans at Lonesome Lake and later contacted the provincial game warden about the flock.

The warden alerted J. A. Munro, Chief Migratory Bird Warden for B.C., who contacted the Edwards family, requesting information about the swans.

Ralph and his wife Ethel began keeping a swan log and later mailed it to Munro.

This intervention was timely. By the 1800's, the birds had been hunted to near extinction, prized for their skins, down, feathers and quills.

Worth Saving

Threats to the Swans

  • Cold weather
  • Flooding
  • Freezing
  • Hunting
  • Starvation

While Ralph chose to live off the beaten track in the remote Canadian wilderness, his heroic efforts to save vanishing trumpeter swans garnered worldwide attention.

Threats to the Swans and a Challenging Undertaking

Flooding... Ice...

Ralph observed that cold weather posed the greatest threat to the dwindling swan population. In the severe winter of 1932-33, he was directed to purchase barley to feed the swans. This set in motion a chain of events that would spell the difference between survival and extinction for the trumpeters.

The undertaking was challenging. 100-pound sacks had to be transported (by humans or horses) over miles of rugged terrain to the swans wintering at Lonesome Lake.

In 1936, due to flooding, more than half of the trumpeter swan flock died. Ralph, and later his daughter, Trudy, continued to protect and feed the starving swans by horse-packing tons of barley into their feeding areas to ensure their survival through the harsh winter months.

At times, in -30 weather, the Edwards family broke ice over feeding areas and made sure the swans had drinking water available.

At one point, in 1956, when temperatures plummeted, Ralph appealed to the Canadian Wildlife Service to fly in emergency grain supplies.

These efforts on behalf of the trumpeter swans were successful. By the 1960's, the swan population had grown to 400-500 swans at Lonesome Lake and at other feeding areas in the Atnarko Valley. In time, the swans migrated to former breeding areas in the Peace River area on Vancouver Island and also in the Northern United States. {1}

Have You Read Books About the Edwards Family?

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Have You Been to Lonesome Lake?

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A markerLonesome Lake, Central Coast C, BC V0T, Canada -
Lonesome Lake, Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, Central Coast C, BC V0T, Canada
[get directions]

Ralph and Trudy Honored for Their Efforts on Behalf of the Swans

  • Ralph was awarded the Order of Canada Medal in 1972. {2}
  • Trudy was honored with a personal letter of thanks from the Queen.

Ralphs Edwards at Lonesome Lake

Author Note

I remember reading Crusoe of Lonesome Lake in my teens and I never forgot it. Learning about this hardy wilderness family was something that stuck with me through the years.

Years later, I came across another book, Ralph Edwards of Lonesome Lake and I enjoyed it enormously. Through its pages, I learned more of Ralph's story, including that he to fly a plane.

The next book I plan to read is Fog Swamp, written by his daughter, Trudy.

Conservation Efforts From True Canadian Heroes

The Edwards family battled isolation, deprivation and the elements to live in the pristine Chilcotin wilderness but their dedication to a starving flock of swans at Lonesome Lake turned into their greatest triumph and legacy: saving the majestic trumpeter swans from probable extinction and thus preserving the species for the enjoyment of future generations.


  • Burkette, Pat, "Lonesome Lake Fire: Putting Emotion Back Into it. Pat Burkette Talks to Trudy Turner" Salt Spring News, Aug, 2004
  • Gold, Ed, Ralph Edwards of Lonesome Lake, Hancock House Pubs Ltd. 1981 {1} P. 291, {2} P. 292
  • Turner, Trudy/McVeigh, Ruth M., Fogswamp: Living With Swans in the Wilderness, Hancock House Pub Ltd., 1977
  • Stowe, Leland, Crusoe of Lonesome Lake, Random House, 1957

© 2013 Athlyn Green

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Comments 4 comments

Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green 13 months ago from West Kootenays Author

I found the books, such an interesting read and quite out of the "every day." The Edwards family devotion to the swans was truly remarkable.

Thanks for your comments. Appreciated.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 18 months ago from Northeast Ohio

This was a lovely hub about saving the trumpeter swans in Canada. You wrote a well-written and researched hub. I love swans. Voted up!

DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Most beautiful creatures with such an interesting insight of these birds, I found this hub to filled with facts of Trumpeter Swans, and you did it s o well.

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Very impressive material. I watched the movie, too. If it were not for the Edwards family, the Trumpeter Swan never would have survived, that is guaranteed. We owe them all a lot of gratitude.

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    Athlyn Green profile image

    Athlyn Green884 Followers
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    Athlyn Green hails from Nelson, B.C. and is a lover of clean air, pristine lakes, hot springs, and mountains.

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