The trail’s origins are murky, but it probably dates back close a century. While the name Pulpit Rock doesn’t show up until 1923, by the early 20th century, hikers were already clambering up the steep hillside. Jack Hume, whose family lived on the North Shore, recalled: “It seemed that every group or individual who came across the lake to climb to Pulpit Rock would monkey with the valves in our reservoir.”
Coal Oil Johnny
Whether he built the original trail is unknown, but Francis Holland was likely its most frequent user. Arriving in Nelson in 1896, he worked several claims above and below Pulpit Rock. To finance his operation, Holland bought coal oil in bulk and resold it, earning him the nickname Coal Oil Johnny. The light from his cabin could be seen across the lake, a beacon to his determination. Coal Oil Johnny died without striking ore.
Redeveloping the Trail
In the 1920s, the Rod and Gun Club called for the area around Pulpit Rock to be set aside as a wildlife sanctuary, but nothing came of it. The trail remained extremely steep and hard to find until the 1980s when the Chamber of Commerce organized the construction of a new gentler route. In 2008, private property concerns led to the temporary closure of the trail and the creation of the Friends of Pulpit Rock Society. The Society, in partnership with Al Dawson a long-time RDCK director, organized the purchase of permanent legal access to the trail, trail upgrades and construction of the parking area.