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Latest update: May 27, 2004, 0705 hrs. Published in Cowichan Bay by Thomas Wagner
Copyright 2003 ISBN 0-9732168-0-8

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Cowichan Bay

From 1850 to now…

(give or take a few years)

In the beginning...

Early dates for Cowichan Bay start about 1850 when Captain Richards on board the HMS Plumper started naming the area. The profile of the British Admiralty has always been high in the Gulf Islands and surrounding waters.

A lot of the activity actually went back to the slave ships when Britain sent some of her best, most modern vessels in an effort to stem the trade. Slavery was not abolished until 1863, so the trade off our coast was in full gear. There a was a lot of concern about the growing influence of the American colonies. Barkley and other Americans were already surveying our island, so they were a tad concerned.

As well, the Sveaborg and the Crimean War (1854-55) prompted the British to send ships as close as they could to the East Coast of Russia.

A good percentage of the names of landmarks and islands in the area are of British boats and the sailors on them. Of course, the Native names remain, along those of Spanish ships and Explorers. But, the mark of history in this area is definitely British. And, we must not forget the influence the Hudson’s Bay Company had in most of the area. Heck, on August 12, 1856 Vancouver Island was declared a colony of Britian. We almost missed being a country on that one.

Cowichan Bay, owes considerable debt to the Governor of the time. Governor Douglas had a policy regarding the security of settlers. Quite simply, any hostile acts by the Natives were dealt with rapidly and severely. September 1856 saw the hanging of a local native for the murder of a settler. Douglas had the warship Trincomalee towed up from Victoria by the Hudson’s Bay steam vessel Otter. Over 400 able bodied seamen showed up in Cowichan Bay and demanded justice of the local Indians. A number of cannon balls were fired into the nearby mountain to intimidate the natives. As an aside, one of the balls was used to break up the stone for the construction of the first church, another was found by a road crew. That, the size of the ship, and the number of cannons; they were still not too eager to surrender the murderer. That was a bloody big vessel, but the natives were still adamant!

Governor Douglas himself was on the Trincomalee (sketch at right) and the incident could have resulted in a whole chapter of history being rewritten. He was almost killed in the attempt to arrest the Indian(s) responsible. Were it not for the fact that weapons were unreliable and a gun mis-fired he would have been killed in Cowichan Bay.

Eventually they surrendered the culprit. A trial was held and the fellow, named Tath-La-Sut, was promptly hanged. A sturdy oak tree was the gallows. The location of the oak tree is near St. Peter’s Church in Duncan. It survived for many years and was simply known as "The Hanging Tree".



The Hudson’s Bay Company…

The original site of the Hudson’s Bay Company was the flats at the top of Cowichan Bay. It is possible that it was just a trading post, some folk have mentioned a fort. But I think it a fort is an overstatement. In 1858 the Hudson’s Bay Company started selling land in the area that eventually became Cowichan Bay . I am not sure if the Colonist has archives that far back, but the July 11, 1859 issue supposedly has the list of all the investors in the what would ultimately be the village. John Otty, who became the "Surveyor General" for British Columbia, was contacted. Plans were drawn up for the town that even included a sheriff’s office and jail. Unfortunately, they were just that, plans. However, if we consider the date of actual settlement, Cowichan Bay was the earliest development north of Victoria. Settlers started coming here in the 1850’s for the Hudson’s Bay Company. That was four years ahead of Nanaimo, the only other area of activity..

The location of the town dictated that it should have a strong tie to logging and the benefits of a coastal harbour. Up the Cowichan River the town of Duncan would be founded, but it would be farmers and trappers that set their theme. Loggers, and eventually fishermen, pretty well set the theme of Cowichan Bay.

The original settlement was near the mouth of the Cowichan River where the natives had a village there named Quamichan. One of the biggest obstacles to settlement was the shallow water at that end of the bay. Goods brought to the Hudson’s Bay Company fort had to barged from boats anchored in the deeper water. The natives had a bridge, but it was not sturdy enough for cattle, so, traffic and commerce to the south was extremely difficult. That fact made the south shore the most natural place for settlement and ultimate boat travel south to Victoria. It is difficult to see in the small picture above, but the Stone Church mentioned many times here, is under construction on the hill to the right of the tall tree.

Cowichan Bay or Harrisville...

Duncan almost missed being called "Alderlea", the name of the farm that was the site of the town. History tells us that the farm was named due to the abundance of Alder trees there. Similarly, Cowichan Bay just missed being called "Harrisville" after Samuel Harris.

Samuel Harris came to the area like most folk with dreams of fortunes to be made. The former British lifeguard built his home and a small inn on one of the sheltered areas of Cowichan Bay around 1859. A lot of history relates that he dispensed liquor, groceries and "justice". He had a hotel, bar, small dock and a jail. Sam was our first (and only) town constable, but it is also rumoured that perhaps he might have been the best customer for his inn and his jail.

But, it is a fact that Sam Harris was the biggest single influence we have had in history of the entire area. It was due to his vision that the entire area, not just Cowichan Bay, was settled. He arranged for boats carrying settlers to come to the area. These settlers spread out from Cowichan Bay to other areas in the Cowichan Valley. A lot of them did not stay here thinking Harris and his town were a little too "rough around the edges".

In 1862 the HMS Hecate arrived with a boatload of settlers. Records note that the standard payment to the natives for settlement land was two blankets.

Most of the settlers went north from here and a handful went south. Mill Bay, Maple Bay, Cobble Hill and Duncan all owe their existence to those settlers.

Harris’ personal dream for a town almost became true. Others came and built shacks near his wharf. The bar at "John Bull’s" (the name of the Inn pictured above) closed on Sunday for religious services. It is noted that he was a "Special Constable" for the area. Unfortunately he never received full payments for his services; nothing in the way of an official appointment could be found. He sort of lost his enthusiasm for the dream and abandoned his plans for the town he wanted to bear his name.

Harris sold his interests to Giovanni Baptiste Ordano, who owned a grocery store down the road from Corfield’s property, and retired in rather poor health to Victoria.

Samuel Corfield and his family had a farm up on the river near the top of The Bay. They had a general store, and were the one time residence of Robert Service. He was rumoured to have actually written a lot of his poetry while living and working in the area.

The wagon road...

Cowichan Bay was the last stop south on the trail from Nanaimo. Anyone travelling took a boat from here to Victoria. In 1861 the government cleared enough land to put a trail, imaginatively named "The Cowichan Trail", from Goldstream to Cowichan Bay. The route was from Langford (Sooke Lake area) to north of Shawnigan Lake. Near what we now refer to as Dougan’s Lake. From there it went down the hill to the our area. That road roughly followed an old Indian trail in the area. The original trail was less than 6 feetwide in places. Around 1863 it was widened to allow oxen to haul loads. It would be nearly 50 years before the Malahat Highway was built to replace it.

At an average speed less than 5 MPH the travelers needed food and accommodation. So, a number of "Road Houses" were developed to accommodate them. Cowichan Bay was no exception, and the present day Masthead owes its existence to it. In 1863 (there is some dispute on that date) it was built by Giovanni Ordano as the Columbia Hotel. Very little has happened to the structure since then, with the exception of a new foundation. Of course, it has not been a hotel for a long time, being converted to a fine restaurant, an upstairs apartment (an old sail loft in the attic) and a few businesses now in the lower area. But, it pretty well qualifies as the oldest remaining building in town. However, it is not the oldest roadhouse in the area. The Dougan family built a road house up near the lake named after them that predates the Masthead. It was converted to a residence a number of years ago.

Traffic to the north of us was still a problem. In 1864 a petition was forwarded to Victoria for a bridge strong enough to sustain real traffic. It never happened till the 1870’s.

At the other end of the trail we found The Goldstream Hotel, now Ma Miller’s Neighborhood Pub. Built in 1864 it was on both the wagon road and the railway In 1966 it was renamed in honour of Ma Miller who was the innkeeper there for a number of years. They still brag of having the oldest continuous liquor license in BC.

Keep in mind, the first car arrived in our area around 1911. Till then the wagon was the king of the road.

The first school…

Cowichan Bay has long been tied to areas south of us. Most settlement to the north became rather independent So, it is natural that we should share some early history with areas such as Cobble Hill. After all a distance of a couple of miles was quite a journey!

The first school was built on land donated by a Cobble Hill pioneer named John Nelson. Located on Bench Road it was a one room log building. At the time the school was simply called Bench School as there was no official Bench Road. The Bench Road area was so named as it was a natural bench, really a flat open area of land, on the side of the hill overlooking Cowichan Bay. When the new school was built a number of original students of the log school were still alive. Some in their 70’s, were invited to the opening. It was quite an occasion, and a number of folk remember the strong personalities these early folk had.

The telegraph…

In 1879 the first telegraph lines from Victoria to Nanaimo came through Cowichan Bay. The first operator was a fellow named Harry Good. The telegraph wires were moved when the railway was built and the center of communications then shifted to Cowichan Station. Telephone service came much, much later.

Fishing and logging...

Over the years fishing and logging figured pretty prominently. The logging has more or less remained, but the fishing has been closed. The best stories are told about the fishing times and folk. Famous people like Bing Crosby, Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd), Bob Hope, and John Wayne were here. They could all be found at the Buena Vista Hotel. A super luxury hotel located at the corner of Cowichan Bay Road and Wilmot Road. The location of the present Cowichan Bay Arms.

Moby Dick in Cowichan Bay…

We had a pet whale here. A gray whale lived in the bay for years and was so tame that folk would scrub him with a mop. Probably hung around because the salmon were as thick as fleas. We still get the odd pod of Killer Whales (Orcas), but the visits they make are rare indeed.

The boat that wouldn’t sink...

Then there is the story of "the boat that would not sink"... Seems that the government in order to increase the fishing fleet offered considerable cash to anyone building a fishing boat. One of the more "colourful" folk decided to build a boat, purely for the cash value. So, it used the poorest materials, and was never intended to actually be used. But, nevertheless it was built.

Of course the government expected that a fishing boat should go fishing. So, it was decided to destroy it and claim the loss. The engine room was torched. Well, the water came in and put out the fire. A hole was drilled in an attempt to sink it. The bloody thing just sank into the water and refused to go under. Maybe some lessons should have been taken from this one, perhaps it was a better design than anyone ever intended.

Logging was king…

Growth and development in Cowichan Bay pretty well evolved by the nature of the area. The fact that it was a good harbour dictated that logging should be a part of it. Forests up the Cowichan River were some of the best anywhere.. Booming logs down the river was tried, but it ruined the banks and caused all sorts of problems The railway eventually solved that. There was almost as much tug boat activity on Cowichan Lake as there was here at one point. Logs were boomed on the lake by steam tugs, loaded on railcars and brought directly to Cowichan Bay. Today there is still an active sawmill and shipping facility for lumber.

My charts still show the rail line to the dock, but roads and trucking have taken over. The rail line is long gone. The pilings and dolphins (moorage thingees, not fish) have only recently been removed. Logs are no longer brought down from the lake, but arrive by boom behind a tug boat every week.

Falt Towing tugboats have been here for 35 plus years working the area. Al Falt recently told me the story of his early days when he was a deckhand working the booms. A fellow, who identified himself as the movie character Hopalong Cassidy, was down on the shore with a bunch of buddies. They were doing some home movies and had watched Al working the booms. They requested that he fake a fall into "The Chuck" for them. History here declines to record if he complied with the request, but he has admitted that every time he fell in he shouted "Geronimo". A fallback to his one time movie career?

Early logging figured prominently in all the surrounding areas. Mill Bay was the location of a power generating station for Henry Shepard’s sawmill. An American industrialist named W. Sayward turned the mill into one of the major industries in the area. Cowichan Lake was too far into the wilderness to even count at that time. But, eventually logging spread into those areas. The area of Mill Bay continued for a number of years as the hub of industry. Logs had to be dragged by oxen. The process was called "skidding".

As an aside, the city of Seattle is responsible for a phrase we use every day. It seems there was a "skid road" (the road they used to drag logs to the water) right through the town to Elliot Bay. Eventually it fell into decay and became an area where the less desirable elements of society lived. Anyone living there was said to live on the skid road. A phrase that eventually became "Skid Row".

Once railways were established Cowichan Bay skyrocketed. The railway did not just go down island where the E&N was established. Rail lines were built far into the Cowichan Lake area where a number of mills and logging concerns were operating. The Mayo family built the original sawmills up there. There were actually two log dumps on the spit where the present Wescan Terminals sit. They were quite effective in dumping logs off moving rail "skeleton cars". The docks themselves were tilted and a pusher pole shoved the logs as the cars were towed past. Ordano had a single tug which was used to form the logs into booms around the dolphins (still standing in the area). Eventually the fleet grew to what is now Falt Towing’s little orange and white tugs.

The Government Dock...

Originally most Government Docks were built by the Provincial Government. These docks were built all over British Columbia to support the shipping of goods up and down the coast and to supply the Missions which were established on the west coast of British Columbia. An entire fleet of ships were maintained to serve them. Some of these vessels still exist to this day and are magnificent old boats.

The increasing importance of commercial fisheries resulted in the docks being sold or transferred to the Federal Government. By this time British Columbia had joined the federation and the railway and industry had arrived on the West Coast. In April 1955 the Cowichan Bay Provincial Docks were transferred to Federal control. At that time the main dock and the breakwater existed. It appears however that there was only a small dock behind that, large enough to accommodate a handful of boats. It was dredged to accommodate deep draft vessels in most tides. Some of the docks and a boathouse to the west were removed at a later date and the Masthead dock was completely re-structured. At that time all the property up the hill to the left (where the Resort Hotel now sits) was 20 to 25 foot property land and water parcels. What is now the pub was then the market and post office, the original site of the dream of Harrisville. It was also the first "Real Estate" office in the area.

Moving down to the west, the Hotel had a sort of angled dock. It appears that the smaller boats gravitated to this area. As well, there were a number of "float houses" where the west section of the government dock now sits. My pictures from the 50’s show a large floating structure right next to the government dock behind the Masthead. It was a floating chandlery, eventually to be dismantled for materials for a float house that sits in almost the same position.

Ships and Shipyards...

Shipbuilding as mentioned earlier figured prominently in the history. So, the next building to the Masthead would naturally be the only surviving shipbuilders. What is now the Cowichan Shipyard is next to the Masthead. Pictures show two buildings, the smaller of which is the original shipyard. It is based on a small boat building venture started by Ordano. He never built the boats himself, but had an employee who built the boats that would eventually be the fishing rental fleet. As well he operated the first tug boat in the area.

Now the emphasis is on repair and restoration. I rather enjoyed looking at some of the interior. I appreciate old machines, and a lot of the very old "tools of the trade" are still in use today. All in fine working shape. And that includes wooden hand tools too! The owners, Grant and Melodie have maintained not just a building but quite inadvertently, an archive of the way we used to do things. New does not always mean better!

At one time deep sea vessels, both of a commercial and a military nature came to what we now refer to as "Cowichan Bay". As mentioned in earlier chapters, here is a long history of the Admiralty showing up here. The British had a strong military presence for many of our very early years. The mission boats were regulars, and in fact were the main reason for the Government Docks being here. Commercial fishing came later to the area.

In the 50’s this was a major commercial refueling area on the West Coast. All the major oil companies at the time, some by the same name (Shell Oil) and others by names long gone (British American Petroleum) had refueling facilities. Few docks have the same look as today from the water. But it was only one of a number of places to fuel up for the "big boys". Docks existed that accommodated ships of considerable draft. Some of the ways still exist, some are just memories and scrap metal.


Maritime History…

The early 1800’s saw the first arrival of the British Admiralty. The Spanish are recorded to have still been in the area as late as 1792. Cowichan Bay history seems to all come together around 1859, but the Admiralty had been operational here since roughly 1853, some 6 years earlier, mainly to stem the slave trade. As well a presence was needed to keep the expanding American colonization from creeping north.

We are not talking about wind driven ships like the Trincomalee, but modern and fast "screw driven" frigates. Vessels like Vesuvius, Satellite, Thetis, Grappler and Ganges (to name just a few) are remembered in name all around us. As well vessels which came to grief are usually remembered on the rocks they usually sank on. The Norwegian vessel Horda is a prime example, although a bit distant from Cowichan Bay. Generally; we seem to have been a rather peaceful, uneventful harbour.

It is hard to believe that we were not directly touched by the Alaska Gold Rush. But, unfortunately there seems to be no memorable incident of record. Certainly by our proximity to Ladysmith (a coal stop) and Saltspring (apples) we must have had some visitors. Perhaps the fact that our docks were pretty tiny at that time deterred a lot of activity.

Then there were the days of Prohibition. I have not heard any stories of famous "rum runner" ships from here. But, then, perhaps no one wants to admit that bit of maritime history. I have found stories of old booze stills in the Mill Bay area, but to the best of my knowledge we seem to have missed most of the excitement. Personally I would like to think that "Whiskey Point" in Mill Bay commemorates that era.

We start an identity...

Cowichan Bay rapidly established itself as a sort of Resort. Logging and shipping provided the economic base. The town’s actual territory goes from the water up to where the main highway is now. That included a number of farms. Some of which are still owned by the same family.

Hill’s Indian Crafts was started by Mrs. Hill, a local resident who to this day is still alive. She virtually put the Cowichan Indian sweaters on the map. I still meet folk from California who mention that they have one. A number of ladies from the Cowichan Band still knit directly for this market. No patterns exist for the real items, only traditional designs in the knitter’s memory are used.

The Dougan family still has a strong presence in the community. At one time they were one of the major land owners in the area. Dougan’s Lake is named after them. More on them in other chapters.

Older residents all relate the stories of community activities. The old fire hall was the center of all the "fun and games". Dances and games were the order of the day. Everyone knew everyone and the community spirit was alive and well.

As will be mentioned many times in this book, fishing and logging were part of the identity of Cowichan Bay. In the old days when fish were plentiful we were the salmon capital the Pacific Northwest. Campbell River was a fair distance north, so we were a natural stop for Americans looking for fishing.

The whole top of the bay was a log booming and sorting area. Logging companies up in the Cowichan Lake area tried to boom logs down the Cowichan River to The Bay, but there were just too many problems. So, logs were mainly trucked or delivered by train to the booming ground. The large green crane on the shore is a permanent reminder of our history on that subject. Some of the "dolphins" (those log things) remain in the shallows. They were used to hold the huge log booms that covered The Bay.

Early hotels...

Eventually the commercial nature of the bay started to disappear. At the far west end of the commercial area the Bluenose Marina was built by Al Falt. It was the home of a non-commercial marina and small boat repair facility. At the other end of town where the Ocean Grand Hotel is now was once a cozy cottage resort with a large outdoor swimming pool and shuffle board court. The present resort has had a number of owners over the year, some of which were quite famous (Tommy Hunter) and a few who were infamous (sorry, no good gossip forthcoming). Originally built to be luxury development it has had a very tough time in the last few years and has recently been renamed The Ocean Grand Hotel. I have also heard a story related that it was also a favourite place for Bill Bennet Sr. and his government to convention. After he lost his power to the NDP the place was sort of blackballed. Now, that is just a story, isn’t it?

A number of Bed and Breakfast places exist for the traveler to the area. One right across the street from the hotel, the Dream Weaver, was built with a particularly stunning old style charm. We have cottages on the water and a number of excellent small accommodations. A number of original heritage homes and farms are now popular B& B’s

From my vantage I rather enjoy one of them who has what I refer to as a "floating patio". A big deck with a motor that they sail out into The Bay on nice summer evenings, complete with umbrellas and comfortable lounge chairs.

Buildings long past...

As mentioned many times in this book, the Masthead is one of the oldest buildings.

However, the Buena Vista Hotel is one of the fondest remembered buildings. Built on the corner of Cowichan Bay Road and Wilmot Road it commanded one of the best views of Cowichan Bay. The hill on the village is still referred to as "Buena Vista Hill" by the old-timers. Its bar was legendary, and the clients were some of Hollywood’s best. In those days Cowichan Bay had the best fishing and was most accessible to the American sport fishermen. Long before Campbell River! Not only a great bar but they had the best view of Cowichan Bay in the area.

When the railway was built, Ordano closed the Columbia as a hotel, re-aligned the docks and added a complete fishing supply operation. The Ordano fishing boats were on the side of the Government Docks until the Masthead docks themselves were re-aligned. As well the Government had a floating office there, the first office for what would eventually be the Department of Fisheries.

One of the earlier hotels in the bay was The Cowichan Bay Inn (picture above left). A sort of rambling collection of buildings at the site of the present Inn At The Water. It had an outdoor pool and shuffle board court. Fishing boats could be rented there as well.

Looking further west to the present developed area we saw a huge complex to support Cowichan Bay’s position in commerce. The docks that supported deep sea ships are long gone (one was so big it had a railway from the dock end to the shore). Some of the ways are intact and remains of the dock piles can still be seen.

At the west end of Cowichan Bay we still have a crane that was used to dump and recover the logs from inland. That entire area used to be filled with so many log booms that you could almost walk to Mt. Tzeuhalem.

Downtown Cowichan Bay has not really changed a lot in the last 40 or so years. Some original buildings remain. What is now the fish market was the site of Peck’s Market (rebuilt after the Maxwell House Hotel fire). The Starfish is on the site of the Maxwell House Hotel. That building figured sadly in the start of the volunteer fire brigade.

Down near what is now Cherry Point we have the Wilcoma Inn. They were a very popular fishing operation One of the old fishing guides still lives in the area.

The railway is built...

James Dunsmuir, the Coal Baron from Nanaimo was instrumental in getting a railway built to ship coal down to Victoria. In the 1880’s the railway was completed to Victoria and no less a personage than the Prime Minister at the time, Sir John A. MacDonald drove the last spike near present day Shawnigan Lake. There was quite a fuss about where the stations would be. It was after all just forests and farms. Today the nearest stop and probably the first is at Cowichan Station . The small shelter is still there and has been restored and lovingly cared for (picture at left).

A rail spur was extended to what is often referred to as "The Lumber Dock". It has since been removed and allowed to overgrow. If you look close you can see the remnants of the overpass on the east side of the highway just south of the farm market. Some of the track is still intact nearer the dock.


We drove on the left side of the road..

The first car arrived in our area around 1911. There were certain rules of the road. The speed limit was 10 miles per hour, the car had to stop when being approached by a horse. And most important, the car had to drive on the left side of the road.

In 1922 the rule was changed for drivers to stay on the right side of the road. Signs everywhere said "Keep To The Right". Some confusion reigned, but no great disasters are recorded. A copy of the signs is in the gallery.

Drivers did not need to get a license till 1925 and the first licenses were "Life Time" and cost a dollar.

The "First Nations" people...

Governor Douglas started a policy of "zero tolerance" of any violence between the natives and the settlers. Generally this policy made for a fairly peaceful co-existence between the settlers and the first residents in the area. There were a number of skirmishes, but as mentioned before, the punishment from Victoria was severe.

Right beside Cowichan Bay is Mount Tzeuhalem (there are many spellings of his name). Tzeuhalem was supposedly driven mad by the sight of his family being massacred in one of the frequent raids of the time. His tribe banished him to the caves of the mountain and threatened him with death if he ventured off. Eventually he did venture down in search of a bride. He was killed for his efforts and even in those days a "post mortem" was conducted to discover the cause of his dementia. It was said "his heart was the size of a salmon’s".

The Indian village in Cowichan Bay was officially named the Kilpaulas village and was one of the foremost villages in the area. They were renowned for their Potlatches, a get together where lavish gifts were bestowed upon the guests. The government at the time, fearing that the natives would give away all their wealth banned the events in 1884. But, the potlatches continued for many years, eventually even going underground. The early 1950’s saw the law repealed, but by then the village here in The Bay was gone.

Before the Hudson’s Bay Company they were the foremost traders (and predators). The Cowichan influence goes long past Nanoose. Generally most area tribes were part of the "Coast Salish" nation, but the Nanoose natives spoke a dialect called "K’auitan" loosely translated as Cowichan.

By the time the HBC arrived a lot of native warfare had ceased. Especially among the newly arrived white man.. They found considerable profit in the early relationships with the HBC.

Mount Tzuhalem…

Many spellings surround the name of this mountain to the north of Cowichan Bay. It is indeed a mountain full of legend. It was the home for many years of the native for whom it is named. As mentioned many times here, an Indian so feared by his people that he was banished to it and threatened with death if he came down. A mistake he made, and paid for with his life.

It was the target of cannon balls when the Trincomalee fired a warning shot to impress the natives of it’s arrival in Cowichan Bay. The canon ball was recovered and used to break up the stones for the "Butter Church".

Legend has it that anyone witnessing a boulder falling from the mountain would soon die. Edward Marriner proved that rumour true in the late 1800’s. To this day that legend is still passed around. I for one am certainly not looking for any to fall!

The Docks and Waterfront...

(Image at left is clickable for large view) Cowichan Bay as we all know it is basically the waterfront from the drying flats to the Hotel. Over the years it has been the home to logging, marine transport, shipbuilding and repairs, fishing and now tourism. The picture at left is from the 70's and has many features we see today. At the very top is the resort hotel. Area above it is the indian reserve beach. Just below it the present Fisherman's Wharf. Either side of it on the road are the present Bay Pub and Masthead. Cowichan Shipyard is the rusty roof (now repaired) next to the Masthead.

Old Stewart's Marina (now the Marine Store, Hair Salon) is the brown peak roof building. The large ship at the end of the dock and large square white building are now the Starfish and fish market (old Peck's Market and Maxwell House).

Long dock with blue building on the end is the present Pier 66 (then Shell Docks).

Rock Cod Cafe was part of large wharehouse and dock complex. The open area white building with peaked roof and long dock is the present Wooden Boat Society (who provided the picture). The Bluenose and their docks are near the bottom.

Stilt houses are now on angled part of the road. Various buildings and docks have been here over the years. Private docks all go dry at very low tide.


Our very own resort...

Most hotels in the area seemed to suffer some sad fate. The old Cowichan Bay Inn was torn down to make way for a new one. For a few years the replacement sat vacant at the east end of Cowichan Bay. From the day it was conceived it seems to have been destined to some sort of failure. Not mainly because of the economy, but more of red tape and mishap. The old Buena Vista met a fiery end. The Inn has recently been re-opened (for the third time I know of) and we look forward to a renewal of a focus to tourism that only a large hotel and convention center can bring. Plans are presently under way to again make it a destination spot. It certainly has all sorts of possibilities.

The Volunteer Fire Department…

1947 saw the biggest fire that Cowichan Bay has ever experienced. The Maxwell House Hotel caught fire one night, the fire spread to Peck’s Market. The old scrounged pumps refused to work. Little Butchie died that night. He was only seven years old. It was clear to all that there was a real need for a fire brigade.

An old truck was acquired and fitted with a water tank. They kept it part way up the hill on Botwood Lane as it had to be rolled down the hill to start. This was a great treat for the kids, as practices usually meant the kids had a chance to catch a ride. Eventually a real fire truck was bought. It still survives to this day. The fellow that has it has steadfastly refused to sell it back. We all hope he will remember us in his will (grin).

Peck’s Market was rebuilt and became the contact place for "The Brigade". In those days the phone was a crank system, so one long crank and two shorts meant there was a fire call. Some one then went across Cowichan Bay Road and tossed a switch (half way up the telephone pole) to sound the fire siren. That siren still exists too. When the fire hall on Wilmot was built it was moved there. However, when the present hall on the highway was built plans to install it there were scuttled. Seems there was a chicken farm next door at the time and the fire department was informed of dire consequences if the siren killed off a chicken. It was that loud!

As it was a volunteer brigade any funds had to be raised by the volunteers. The fund raising events put on were highlights of the community. The old hall remains, but a new modern facility is the present home. Recently the old hall was renovated and is now open as a small community center.

The Fire Department is a vital part of Cowichan Bay. We have a rescue boat and the most up to date equipment we can get. Fund raising is still done, but the department is now supported by the municipality. Each year the volunteers host an Easter event at the Coverdale-Watson Park. They will hopefully be a regular at the annual Cowichan Bay Lighted Sailpast too. More adventurous souls have indicated they will start a New Year’s Polar Bear Swim. I will give that one a pass!

As an aside, the Fire Department figured prominently in the setting of Cowichan Bay’s boundaries. Contrary to common thought, the present Trans Canada Highway is not the true boundary. I was recently told a story about one of the early residents on the fringe asking how his farm could be covered by the department. He was told to "join the brigade". He did, and the boundary was suitably adjusted to include his farm. It was that easy in the early days.

Summers at Cowichan Bay...

One of the most memorable events in Cowichan Bay was the celebration of Dominion Day. Photo show the end of the Government Dock with boats everywhere. Particular attention is drawn to the cruise ship at anchor at the far end. Later pictures I have seen show cruise boats docked nearer the center of town at one of the many large commercial docks. It was indeed a gala event. A local diver went to the area shown on the picture and reports a considerable pile of "long neck" beer bottles where they used to anchor. I would bet there are considerable amounts of "historical artifacts" to be found in Cowichan Bay.

Some pictures show a native event that packed the beach to the east of the Government Dock in the 1890’s.

There are a lot of folk who still live in the area. Most remember childhood hikes or bike rides to Cowichan Bay to fish, dig clams or crab. It figures prominently in a lot of memories of youth. The local bar tender in the hotel would look the other way when some of the local "youth" snuck into the bars for a quick illegal beer.

The winds are such that it has an almost guaranteed summer sailing wind. Late morning the wind starts up to sail us out of The Bay. Late afternoon it reverses and brings us back. It has been referred to as "The Doctor" or "The Veterinarian" by older boaters. For a sailor who could ask for more!

In the old days fishing was king in Cowichan Bay. Now closed to sport fishing, it is still one of the best recreational crab areas I have found. I have yet to have a day of bad luck crabbing. The kids still catch Bullheads off the docks. The other day one of the kids landed a huge Mud Shark. That will be a story that will be told for years to come by that group!

Cowichan Bay Regatta …

In the early 1900’s the Cowichan Bay Regatta was the event of the summer. A number of boating events were held. I have found folks with trophies for all sorts of events. Rowing was always popular. Every year the event saw boats anchored in nearly all the bay. The Maple Bay Yacht club owes its existence to Cowichan Bay. Before it was in it’s present location it used The Bay for it’s events. We still have an annual regatta, usually held on the BC Day long weekend. There are many photos in the gallery section of this event.

Development around and nearby...

There were a number of small communities started near us that eventually died off or were amalgamated into other areas. The most notable was the village of Tzouhalem. Centered just south of St. Ann’s Church it was an active little place with a post office and a general store. The outbreak of the First World War spelled the end of this area.

The native village of Comiaken was a the top of the bay where the Cowichan River is. The first Hudson’s Bay Company Fort was nearby.

The flats of Cowichan Bay were home for a while to Robert W. Service. He worked for a while at the Corfield family store. Historian Bruce Hodding in his excellent book on the N. Cowichan area relates how he had a bit of a wild nature and was prone to greeting strangers with his rifle. He relates that a good number of Service’s poems were probably written during his residence in our area. One thing is sure, he learned to play the banjo while he lived here. Today the flats where the store was are just referred to as "The Farm". The old Corfield buildings have disappeared, but records show the area officially named Corfield. It could have been another town.

Early sport fishing...

Preceding picture is a postcard. Long before Campbell River was popular for sport fishing, this was one of the best salmon fishing areas anywhere at the time. As it was close to the US a lot of famous Americans showed up here. Seaplanes flew fishermen in almost hourly when the salmon were running. John Wayne, William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), James Arness and others came here regularly. The "Hangout" was the Buena Vista Hotel. It was located between Wilmot and Pritchard right on the corner of Cowichan Bay Road (up from the Masthead where the apartment block is now). Naturally it had a magnificent bar where everyone gathered. It was the place to stay in the area. No trace of the original remains to this day, it burned to the ground in a rather mysterious way. Well, in truth, not too mysteriously. A couple of days prior some folk who tried to register were told that they were full and not taking any registrations. Just before the fire the owner was seen removing the cash register. He was tried and duly convicted of torching his place. Now there is an apartment on the site. Young fellow holding the fish is Roger Kuttai, the son of Joe, the fellow who ran the Cowichan Bay Fish Market.

The Guinness Book of records once showed us as the record holder for a salmon caught by a woman. The photo is in the archives of the present owner of the Masthead. The lady was from Seattle, but the fish was caught here. Many postcards of the 60’s showed the docks with boats for rent. Float planes landed from all over the place with wealthy sportsmen.

Polo in Cowichan Bay...

Whenever the British have time on their hands they resort to the sports and activities that they know best. The early 1900’s saw the fields of the Corfield farm being used for Polo matches. Across the road from the present farm, the field was popular as a polo ground. It is told that the matches often went on to late evening, so local automobiles were lined up along the edge of the field to illuminate the matches. Now it is a corn field and a popular bird area.

Up the hill on Lanes Road, toward Cherry Point, Arthur Lane built an official polo field. The caretaker's house and the farm are still there today. More on that later in the book on the bit about the Wilcoma Lodge and the "Water Tower House".

S. Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club …

By far the most famous legacy is the "South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club". Started in 1888 by Frederick Maitland-Dougal on land donated by Corfield, it is the second oldest grass tennis facility in the world. Only Wimbledon itself predates it.. Both brag about being the only grass courts in the world.

The Butter Church...

In 1859 Father Rondeault arrived at Cowichan Bay. Services had been held in the bar of the John Bull Inn, but there was never a real church in the area. For the settlers religion was not a great issue, but with the organized church, religion among the natives was of vital importance. The original church was built on the top of Comiaken hill in 1870 by Father Rondeault. It was built of solid stone and was known for years as "the Stone Church", but as it was financed by the sale of butter from the church dairy herd it is better known as "The Butter Church". One of the cannon balls fired by the Trincomalee was used to break up the stones for the building.

Church politics lead to the abandonment of the building. In favour of the new St. Anne’s Church.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not did a feature on it in the 30’s. They wrote that it was cursed and that the natives would not go near it. Total and utter crap! The bishop of the diocese simply declared that a new church would be built. St. Anne’s was constructed just up the road. A wood church, not a solid stone one, it burned to the ground shortly after construction. Rebuilt, it still stands in it’s present location. The old church soldiers on! The windows and doors of the stone church were taken to Saltspring Island were they remain in St. Paul’s Church. There were no wood pews, the congregation sat on the floor in those days.

It should be mentioned that the old church at one time was the only church in the area. Up until other communities built their own folks from as far away as what is now Shawnigan came for services.

Over the years a couple of attempts have been made to restore and maintain the old building. But, it remains as a solid, solitary reminder of the early days of Cowichan Bay.

Cowichan Bay Farms …

There were a number of farms at the top of Cowichan Bay. Not much remains of the old buildings. One in particular seems to bear a particular resemblance to the picture above. That picture shows Edward Marriner at probably the first farm in the area. The one at Comiaken can still be found, but only parts of the barn actually remain. By far the largest was the Corfield farm, the one time home of Robert W. Service.

Samuel Harris…

Naturally any story of folk in Cowichan Bay would have to mention Samuel Harris. He was not the first, but certainly was one of the most memorable. Supposedly Sam arrived here in 1859 and spent a while prospecting. Eventually he gravitated to what is now the area of the Government Docks and built a couple of cottages. They led to a hotel, dock, bar and jail. The jail due to the fact that he was appointed "special constable" for the area. He may very well have been one of the better customers, as he was known to partake of strong spirits on occasion . He was however the best promoter of the area for many years.

To further his dream he convinced Victoria to promote Cowichan Bay as a destination for settlers. In 1862 the HMS Hecate brought the largest single boatload of settlers. Unfortunately for Sam most of them spread out to pioneer surrounding areas. His gruff and outspoken nature left a lot of folk with the impression that we were a tad too rough around the edges!

Were it not for a squabble with the government over his pay as a constable his story might have been longer. But, he became disillusioned with his dream and sold the hotel and all his property to the Ordano family who owned another store further up the road.

Edward Marriner..

Edward and his brother Henry came from England in late 1863 and set up farming on the flats at the top of Cowichan Bay. They went on to positions of prominence in the districts north of us. They are credited with being the first established farmers in our area. Edward is also remembered as the first victim of the old Indian curse on Mount Tzeuhalem. It was said that anyone seeing a rock fall off Mount Tseuhalem would die. He saw a rock fall and withing the year he was dead!

George Corfield…

Up The Bay a bit a Scotsman by the name of George Corfield started a farm, general store and post office. Postal records for 1893 show him and Ordano both having post offices. Corfield, the name for the area eventually became part of Cowichan Bay. His dairy farm was the best in the area. The general store dealt in all matter of goods. The Cowichan Indians brought game and fur to trade for guns and food. That game made it into Victoria by the newly built E&N Railway for the tables of the Empress Hotel. There was not a thing that was not traded at the Corfield Store. As an avid tennis player he donated the land to the tennis club. As mentioned, polo was played in his field.

His family went on to become quite prominent in Duncan. They owned the largest automobile garage, Duncan Motors and the fleet of school buses to name just two.

Robert W. Service…

A famous tenant of the Corfield farms (and employee) was Robert W. Service. During his stay here as a "cow juice jerker" he is reputed to have started many of his famous poems. It is certain that he did indeed learn to play the banjo here. His habit of greeting visitors with a gun got him into a little bit of trouble with the landlord, so in 1897 he moved on to greener pastures south, and ultimately to
the Yukon.

The house where he lived survived for a number of years in total obscurity. A plaque on a marker near the river remembers his stay here.



The Ordano Family...

Giovanni Ordano is perhaps the person most remembered in the area. He left home as a boy and got a job as a cabin boy. This landed him in San Francisco around 1892. Settling in Friday Harbour on the San Juans he got himself in trouble by declaring he was"Canadian". Mainly because of the dispute that was known as "The Pig Wars". Not wanting to land in jail he paddled to what is now Genoa Bay. He built his first trading post near the site of the Butter Church. He had two boys and two girls. Domingo Ordano married Harriet Frumento who eventually became the post mistress for both Cowichan Bay and Cowichan Station When the Ordanos bought out Harris they embarked on a development plan that pretty well established what The Bay is today. Thier building, the Columbia Hotel, built as a road house to serve the wagon road from Victoria to Nanaimo, survives to this day as The Masthead. In its day it was the center of the town. Giovanni changed the name of Snugleave, the cove across The Bay to Genoa Bay in honour of his home town of Genoa Italy. The Ordano family built a shipyard to build the boats that eventually were the rental boats for the hundreds of sport fishers that came here. That shipyard eventually became the present day Cowichan Shipyard. They also had the tug boat that boomed the logs that were now coming down the railway from Cowichan Lake. Ordano was perhaps the single most powerful person in the area. His descendants still live in the area.

Father Peter Rondeault…

Father Peter Rondeault arrived on the shores of Cowichan Bay by native canoe from Sidney in 1858. He then paddled a canoe to Comiaken where his mission was to serve the natives there. He is best remembered as the builder of The Butter Church. But, was in fact the first permanent missionary in the area. A tireless worker he made a great impact on the entire area. Like many early pioneers, his grave is at the St. Anne’s Church cemetery.

The Dougan family…

No one person can truly be singled out. Not because there were no notable folk, but because the history of the family is still being written. They are still living in the area and they are remembered in many ways.

Dougan Lake, often called Dougan’s Lake started existence as Roger’s Lake. Named after A. W. Rogers, a very early Cobble Hill pioneer. In 1934 the government officially changed the name to Dougan Lake.

James Dougan holds the record for the first road house in the area. The building is at the lake and has long been converted to a residence.

Joe Dougan, was a member of that large area family. He is best known for probably being one of the first "fatalities" of the area.

The Hotel had a lockup for unruly customers and Joe and a lady friend became the residents one night. Early that morning they were let go and proceeded up Cowichan Bay road. They were met along the way by Joe’s wife, who needless to say was not only a little mad but also armed. That night Joe caught "lead poisoning" at the hands of his wife. She was taken to court, but released as the whole incident was "very obviously an accident". Begbie, the notorious "Hanging Judge" was the magistrate.

He and the family are buried in what is the only private cemetery in the area. It can be found on Cowichan Bay Road, just north of the shopping centre.

The Peck family…

The Peck family were the later day merchants in Cowichan Bay.

Peck’s Market eventually became the trading hub of the area. The store is the present location of the Cowichan Bay Fish Market.

One of the more memorable patrons of the store was Josie Lemo and her husband Abel Charlie. Even in her late 90’s she used to row her dugout canoe with her husband (who was over 100) to the store for goods. A good story is told about her taking a fancy to a Scottish Kilt. She had to have it, even though it was far to small for her. But, a suitable method of fastening it was devised and she rowed off happily. A fairly rotund Indian lady in a Scottish Tartan!



The Hill family

Anne Hill is probably best known for putting the Cowichan Sweater on the map. Hill’s craft store is still here to this day. Just watch for it on the right as you enter Duncan from Victoria.

The Stewart family …

The Stewart family were one of the first "resort" operators having the property where the Inn At The Water sits now. They built the Cowichan Bay Inn which is fondly remembered by many. As well they had a couple of cottages they rented for the summer. They are particularly remembered for their hospitality. The Stewart Auto-Marine Garage was where the present video store is. It was recognized by the large glass top gas pump in front of the building.

The Spiers family ...

The Spiers owned property between Hillbank and Bench Road. In the early 60's the property was bought by the Watson family. They moved the old family log house to the other side of the property. Split it down the middle, added 15 feet using original logs. The house and the barn are still there. The creek that crosses the property and Cowichan Bay Road bears the old family name. There appear to be no living relatives in the area.

Arthur Lane ...

Arthur Lane, a British Remittance Man is remembered most for his farm and polo field on Lane's Road. He built what is now the Wilcoma Lodge as his residence. Records don't say too much about him except that he liked to dress up in ladies clothes. The farm land is being subdivided and it is hoped that the old farm house may be restored.

The Sandilands family…

The Sandilands are fairly recent additions to Cowichan Bay. Keith and Jeanne originally arrived in our area to practice veterinary medicine, but living so close I suspect the ocean called rather loudly. So loudly that they built a sailboat, grabbed the family (and the cat) and headed off in search of adventure.

After the big adventure they returned to Genoa Bay . Keith started a small boat building business and eventually a float house in Cowichan Bay.

But, their achievement was the creation of the Wooden Boat Society (covered here too). Keith died in 1984, but his son Eric continues his tradition at the society.

The Falt family…

Al Falt and his wife Georgina came to Cowichan Bay by way of Victoria. Al worked the boom boats in the bay for all of his time here, and eventually bought the company. His son Bernie runs them to this day.

Every day, and whenever large freighters come to the bay, you can see the little orange and white tugs out working. One is called "Georgina" for Al’s wife. The other is called "Falbro" for the Falt brothers.

Our first Brothel…

An un-named fellow brought a boat to the then Government Docks and set a "lady of the evening" up in it. One of her customers, when he sobered up decided he wanted his money back. He went back to the boat, grabbed her clothes and told her if he did not get a refund she would not get her clothes. She proved "all sales are final" by grabbing a distress flare gun and shooting him. He staggered up to the docks where a number of folk had heard the shot.

He nearly lost an eye and had some injuries that were very difficult to explain. I have not followed up on this story. And I have no intention of doing so (grin)! But I will say that he lost a considerable amount of blood.

Hydro Electric Power…

This section following our first brothel is purely unintentional!

The one item we take for granted took considerable time getting to Vancouver Island. Some local areas had power because of mills, but these were small operations. The first power lines from the BC Electric company didn’t arrive in our area till the late 1920’s.

Up until that time the major source of light was the coal oil lamp. Some folk had battery radios, but generally we were quite primitive here.

Area sawmills had small generating plants, but these were never extended to Cowichan Bay.

The Winter Cowichan Bay froze …

Winter often saw the whole Bay freeze from shore to shore. A rare occurrence when the fresh water from the rivers freezes and remains on top of The Bay. The folk from Genoa Bay actually hooked up wagons and drove to Cowichan Bay. Bob Vey took this picture from the Government dock. Since then there have been minor times where the boats freeze to the docks as well. Nothing like the old days when logs and wagons from Genoa Bay regularly took a short cut here across the frozen water.



The Buena Vista Hotel burns …

Over the years the fortunes of things change. Probably the biggest change was the Buena Vista Hotel. Once the haunt of all the elite, its fortunes were tied to the sport fishing industry. As fisheries moved, the sport moved further north, mainly to Campbell River.

The story goes about a fellow asking around town where he could stay. He was told that the Buena Vista was full. The next day the place burned to the ground. A coincidence? Well, the fact that the owner had been observed removing the cash register before the fire had a lot to do with it. Charged with burning his own hotel, the owner spent some time paying the penalty.

Now the Cowichan Bay Arms apartments sit on the site of the hotel.

The Columbia Hotel…

Cowichan Bay Road was the original route of the wagon road up island from Victoria. Unlike the route of today the trip was a considerable journey. So, to serve the route a number of roadside hotels sprang up. Surprisingly many of them still exist, mainly as neighborhood pubs. The present Masthead is probably the closest to any of them in form. The only change that is readily seen is the door in the middle of the east wall. In later years the building was raised and the area right in front filled in leaving the door high and dry. The second floor door was never used for anything other than a fire escape. There was a balcony from it to the water side that connected to the docks.

The main floor was a public area, the bar being at the back overlooking the water. I have been told there was a trapdoor in the floor behind the bar where the local natives would row canoes up. The bartender would lower a sack and the natives would send up trade goods (or cash), in exchange for liquor. For many years natives were not allowed to drink in the white man’s bars.

The hotel was built by Giovanni Ordano, but he never lived there. He commuted every day from Genoa Bay where he built his house. The present plaque on the door says 1868, but in actual fact the hotel was built in 1863.

The railway spelled the end of the hotel, but Ordano being an enterprising fellow had already developed a tourism linked business. He built a shipyard next door where among other things he built boats for his thriving fishing charter business. When the hotel was no longer viable he converted the main floor to a tackle store and machine shop. They remained that way till the 70’s when the first restaurant was opened. The building was raised in the 80’s and a lower floor developed. The attic area was converted to a sail making loft.

Over the last few years the hotel has been the home of the Masthead Restaurant, and is now pretty officially known as "The Masthead".

Not one my pictures shows anything from the doorway on the second floor. I do have pictures that show the balcony from the side to the water The pictures of the Maxwell House Hotel show a similar door arrangement on the second floor, but there has been no record of any stairs or railings on it.

Cowichan Shipyards…

Originally built by Giovanni Ordano as a shipyard to build his fishing boats. It is perhaps one of the truest buildings to it’s original form. The larger of the two buildings is a later addition, the smaller being essentially the original shipyard. It replaced a sort of lean-to structure. As the hotel had not been raised till the 80’s there was a door direct to the hotel. As well you could crawl from there under the hotel. An altogether drafty and difficult situation!

The present owners, as mentioned earlier, have operated it pretty well as it originally stood. Some old power and hand tools are still operational to this day. I am particularly fond of the old wooden shaping planes which are used to duplicate the old shaped edges on wood cabinetry.

They still work on some of the old boats that are in Cowichan Bay. There are still a number of old wood vessels owned by folk in the immediate area. The picture on the previous page shows the wall of the Masthead. It was just a lean-to in the beginning. The real shipyard was operated for years out of the tiny building in the middle of the picture above.

The Maxwell House Hotel…

In 1947 The Maxwell House Hotel was the site of Cowichan Bay’s major fire. More of a boarding house than a hotel it was located right in the middle of what is now the main street. One night it caught fire and before anyone knew it burned itself and the neighboring Peck’s Market to the ground. There were a couple of fire pumps that had been acquired to fight future fires, but both refused to start. There was one fatality that night. The hotel was never rebuilt, but Peck’s market was. The Starfish Emporium now resides on the site. Before the Emporium it was a small boatworks and ice house.



Peck’s Market…

The Cowichan Bay Fish Market (at left) is the direct descendant of the original Peck’s Market. Photos show the docks pretty well as they were when the market was there. They had a float that housed the gas pumps for the docks that was first near the shore, later out on the end of the dock. The photo in the gallery shows Josie Lemo and her husband Able Charlie just leaving the main dock with a load of goods.

Pecks Market suffered two major fires. Both times it was rebuilt.

For many years the building stood vacant. Gail Jones and her daughter re-opened it as a fish market. It is now a very popular bakery.


Ordano's Docks...

Ordano built a dock at the back of the then Columbia Hotel that was the center of all sport fishing activity of the area. It replaced a small dock off the end of the then Provincial Dock, but for the most part was still connected to the causeway to the dock. He built the Cowichan Shipyard next to the hotel to make his boats. They were made by someone else, Ordano being the brains and money did not do the actual work himself. To this day a couple of the boats still survive in private collections.





The Wooden Boat Society…

This is a pretty recent addition to the town, actually being a legacy of Expo 86. The dock is the old Chevron Oil facility, probably the largest dock in the area. At the conclusion of Expo the buildings were acquired and placed along the dock. The society is doing it’s best to create a living museum of past history, not just of boating but of Cowichan Bay.

Keith Sandilands, Paul Mitchell and Rob Fox conceived and started the society as a boat building school. The first location was a small building at the Bluenose Marina. Now they have a fine building and a permanent display of the history of boating. Not just our area, but all the many small things that went into boating as we know it. A number of classes are held over the years to teach the wooden boat building skills to later generations.

The land has been deeded to the Provincial Government who lease the space to the society for a very "reasonable" sum.

The Log Booming Grounds…

Later years saw the emphasis on logging by truck. The gallery picture shows one of the trucks dumping logs. The area exists pretty well as it was then.

The change of logging importance has resulted in the total absence of any real clues of the amount of logging that was done in Cowichan Bay. If one looks at the west end of the bay one would see what are referred to as "dolphins", vertical log groups that were used to secure the log booms. The logs were so thick that one could almost walk across Cowichan Bay.

These artifacts now have an important use. If you look close you can see bird houses on them. It seems Cowichan Bay is a major wildlife area. The birdhouses are to attract Purple Martins, but the area is home to just about every form of bird. We are one of the few remaining nesting areas for Blue Herons an endangered bird that is quite prolific in our area. Bald Eagles are everywhere.

Remembering pioneers …

There are a number of pioneers who are barely remembered. Roderick Finlayson was the first factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in our area. He was here when Governor Douglas brought the Trincomalee here to hunt down the first Indian to be hung here.

Governor Douglas himself never lived here, but, he was the first factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company in Victoria. From there he went on to be the first governor of what was then the colonial area of British Columbia.

The commemorative plaques near the Koksilah River remember the contributions of the countless un-named women pioneers who made our area. Larger pictures can be found in the gallery.

Robert Dunsmuir was not a resident of our area, but it was because of him we have the railway. A "Coal Baron" from Nanaimo he hatched the concept of the railway from Nanaimo to Victoria.

Lumber and it’s importance are linked to a number of pioneer families. The Mayo family, descendants of lumberman Mayo Singh, are still resident in the Paldi area of Duncan.

Cherry Point Marina and Wilcoma Lodge …

It seems like we are getting away from Cowichan Bay, but this area has been important in the history of The Bay. Lanes Road is where the second Polo Field was located. The marina itself and the lodge were popular sport fishing areas. Eventually the lodge itself became a retreat, and the marina a popular boat moorage. The lodge was the home of Arther Lane, a British Remittance Man. He first built a farm house (at right), polo field and gate house for the grounds keeper. All of which remaian to this day. His final home is now the Wilcoma Lodge. In the early 30's it was a popular fishing lodge and place where the local boys could get a drink without being asked for ID.

The Water Tower House ...

Featured a few years ago in "Wierd Homes" the house was built inside (and around) the water tower for Arthur Lane's house. The fellow who built it raised a family, but forgot one important factor. He was only squatting, and paid no one any rent. In 2004 the property was cleared and subdivided. Photo shows it all alone (along with the farm house) awaiting it's eventual state. He was quite a "collector" too. A number of truckloads of "stuff" were removed. As well, the tree that formed part of the deck had to come down due to rot.

The stilt house community…

One of the most "unique" features of the area is a small cluster of houses just west of the main area. These homes are almost entirely built on pilings over the water. When you pass them on Cowichan Bay Road you hardly have any idea that they are built on almost no dry land at all.



Wineries in Cowichan Bay …

The natives called the Cowichan area The Warm Lands. Due mainly to the effect of the mountains and the valley we live in. Very early farmers found that many different fruits grow quite well. Naturally the growth of apples and grapes lead to the making of wine and cider. There are very well established wineries in the area. All are worth a visit, and a taste of course.

Falt Towing ….

Al Falt started his career working on the tugs in the 50’s. At that time the logging was at its heyday, the booms covering the whole dock. When the owner of the company retired Al took over the tugs. Al has now retired and his son runs them. Now there are only two tugs and a smaller boom boat. One is named "Falbro" after the Falt Brothers. The other "Georgina" after his wife. No more big log booms, but as long as there is a sawmill and freighters you will see the little orange and white tugs.

CNR Docks…

Charts and maps still show the docks at the west side of The Bay as the Canadian National Railway Docks. But it is now the home of Wescan Terminals who refer to it as the Cowichan Bay Docks.

For the present lumber is still being shipped from Cowichan Bay. It is stock piled for ultimate loading on freighters. These boats are specially designed to go through the Panama Canal and regularly tie up at the dock.

Looking at old photographs of dock we can still see the remnants of the railway ramp. In early days of Vancouver Island rail cars were brought over from the mainland and unloaded here. The rail line is gone, and that portion of the dock is now in total dis-repair. Just west of the ramp is a large giraffe shaped structure. That is a conveyor for wood chips. Another industry long gone. In years past wood chips were shipped from here to the huge paper mills all along the west coast. They too are gone forever from the scene.

At roughly that point there were two railway log dumping docks. As mentioned earlier, they were truly ingenious devices. Basically log cars were slowly driven along. A pole arrangement stuck out from the shore side of the dock and was placed against the logs. As they cars moved it forced the logs off the cars into the water where Ordano formed them into log booms. Some pictures of the present remenants of the rail line are in the gallery.

The Amelia …

The Amelia was a side paddle steamship that provided regular service to Cowichan Bay. She originally stopped monthly and all activity stopped for her arrival. When she was late (which seemed to happen often) folk waited in the bar on the dock. That fact made for a rather "festive arrival". Eventually the schedule was upped to weekly, but for years she was the major contact we had with the outside world.

The Taconite …

Of all the boats that have visited Cowichan Bay over the years the Taconite has got to be the favourite one of record. Built in the Boeing Shipyards at Coal Harbour she was the Boeing family private boat.

For years she sailed from Vancouver up and down the West Coast. I got to visit her in the 70’s. Boeing himself had an aversion to small porthole type windows, so when she was built full size picture windows, and a wood burning fireplace were incorporated into her design. She still cruises, the picture above was taken in September 2002 just outside the Ganges Harbour. Check the gallery for pictures of her off the government docks in the early days.

The Master …

The Master is the last remaining steam powered tug on the west coast. Photo following is her (on the left), Clayburn and RFM (Robert Frances Marpole). Taken in 1948. The RFM, to be mentioned later is now home port of Cowichan Bay.

The RFM …

Now converted to a Schooner she is moored in the harbour. The RFM was named after Robert Frances Marpole, remembered as an early logging pioneer in Vancouver. The Marpole area is the location of his sawmill. She has since been renamed The Frances Lynne by her present owner and previous to her conversion she is pictured on the right.

The Monique …

No pictures exist of the Monique. She lies in about 55 feet of water about 60 feet off the Government Dock, now one of a number of local boats which have found permanent homes on the bottom of Cowichan Bay. Others have made the visit to the bottom, been recovered, and are still sailing the waters. In particular the Falbro, one of the Fault tug boats. It was recovered and lived happily ever after.

The Northern Light …

Picture earlier in this book shows a couple of big boats at the docks. The one on the left is the Northern Light. She lived for a number of years on that spot before being towed up island and sunk as a breakwater. She is remembered as one of the biggest boats to be seized for "Pot Smuggling". She is the largest boat seen in the postcard in the gallery.

The Shell Oil Fire …

One of the more recent disasters for Cowichan Bay was the Shell Oil dock fire. The present Pier 66 Marina was destroyed. Folks at the Cowbay Fire Department say it was one of the most spectacular fires we have had. A lot of 45 gallon drums of oil and fuel went up. It was like watching a fireworks display. The present Pier 66 building was completely destroyed. The building was rebuilt. The tanks are gone, they were across the road, in the cut back area of the bank.

What to see now...

Those of us that live in Cowichan Bay refer to life here as "living on Cowichan Bay time". Compare this picture with the one on the cover and you just might think not a darn thing has changed. Indeed, it seems that we are far removed from the pressures and stress of big city. So, as such we can be a bit aloof and stand offish when it comes to tourism and change. Even among ourselves we seem to polarize between "Baysiders" and the rest. But, in fact our entire area is rich with places to go and things to do.

Today the docks are packed with pleasure boats, fishboats and some float houses. The home shown here is owned by Gail Jones, and was the one mentioned earlier as having been built from the remains of the old chandlery building.

Geographically we are bounded by Cowichan Bay at the North, Satellite Channel and Saanich Inlet at the East, Koksilah Road at the South and the Trans Canada Highway (roughly) at the West. I have left the highway to last as technically our original boundary seems to be lost there by the original highway construction.

Tourists in their haste to get up or down island seem to pass us by, indeed a loss to them. Cowichan Bay Road is the oldest highway up Vancouver Island and should be the scenic route for any trip.

In our area we have some excellent vineyards. A number of farms invite you to stop and visit. Whippletree Junction is a grand place to spend a few hours at with many interesting shops. And of course, Cowichan Bay itself!

Like seafood? This is the place. How about some fresh fish for the table? Distinctive crafts, a great pub, many restaurants, a real ice cream store and much more . Come in the summer and participate in our Wooden Boat Festival, Regatta and many community events. We have many excellent Bed And Breakfast places for you to stay. Who knows, perhaps some day you to might find yourself "living on Cowichan Bay Time".

How to find us...

Leaving Duncan and heading south we are really easy to find. Just watch for the left turn lane right after the farm market. It is at the bottom of the hill. If you find yourself going up the hill you have gone too far. In that case just turn left at the next traffic light. From the turn at the bottom of the hill go to the "T" intersection and turn right. The tennis court is right there. The old farms are all around you.

If you turn at the traffic light follow the Bench Road to the bottom of the hill and turn right where it "T"’s

From Victoria we can be a bit more of a challenge. As you near the intersection that takes you to Cowichan Bay you will see signs alerting you of the Shawnigan Lake - Cowichan Bay intersection, but basically just look for the traffic light with the shopping center on the right. Turn right and follow Cowichan Bay Road to the town center.

There are signs all around promoting us as the "Ocean Side" route of the highway.

Some photographs on this website are from the collection of private individuals and the author. Others are from the Provincial Archives who has granted the use of them for this site (click on highlights for Photo Gallery). All are copyrighted and must not be copied or linked to without the author's or owner's permission.

Time Line, or "How we fit into the big scheme of things".

1760: Spanish expedition by Greek Captain Juan de Fuca shows up in our area (rumoured that he actually explored much earlier). Spanish exploration continues till Captain George Vancouver explores and maps area.

1778: Captain James Cook makes a brief visit to area near Juan de Fuca Strait.

1787: American trade ship "Boston" and Captain Barkley on the "Imperial Eagle" start mapping in the Juan de Fuca Straits (Yup, they were here before George Vancouver).

1789: Nootka Agreement between Britain and Spain resolved conflict in New World and Spain finally leaves the area.

1792: Captain Vancouver aboard Discovery and Chatham start exploration in our area.

1840: James Douglas, then Chief Factor for Hudson’sBay Company arrives in Victoria area.

1849: Hudson’s Bay Company given Royal Charter for exclusive trade on Vancouver Island in exchange for a promise to promote settlement.

1850: Captain Richards on the HMS Plumper starts mapping Cowichan Bay area and Gulf Islands.

1851: J.D. Pemberton, surveyor general starts mapping Vancouver Island.

1855: Hudson’s Bay Company sets up fort/trading post in our area (near Cowichan River mouth)

1856: August 12, Vancouver Island declared a Colony with James Douglas the Governor in Victoria

1856: Local Cowichan Bay native (A-Chee-Wun) hanged for murder of settler.

1858: Gold discovered in Fraser River. Samuel Harris arrives in Cowichan Bay

1859: Hudson’s Bay Company starts selling land in Cowichan Bay. Samuel Harris builds small inn at Cowichan Bay.

1861: First wagon road from Victoria hacked through the brush. Impossible to travel until nearly 1863. US Civil War starts.

1862: HMS Hecate arrives with 78 settlers, most go to other areas. Cowichan Bay seems too rough.

1863: Harris sells out to Giovanni Ordano and moves to Victoria in poor health. Slavery abolished the same year (no coincidence…) Ordano builds the Columbia Hotel (now The Masthead)

1866: New Westminster chosen as Capital of British Columbia.

1867: Capital moved to Victoria from New Westminster.

1870: Stone Church (a.k.a. Butter Church) built.

1871: British Columbia becomes a Province of the Dominion of Canada.

1873: San Francisco Cable cars opened for business.

1876: Custer’s Last Stand (here for historical value).

1879: Telegraph lines arrive in Cowichan Bay.

1882: Original Bench School opens.

1884: System of standard time zones adopted. Potlatches banned.

1886: E&N Railway completed. Sir John A. MacDonald drives spike near Shawnigan Lake

1888: South Cowichan Lawn Tennis Club formed.

1893: Chicago "World Exposition" opens

1896: Start of the Klondike Gold Rush.

1897: Robert W. Service leaves for "greener pastures".

1898: First Empress Hotel in Victoria opens its doors. Parliament Buildings as we know them completed.

1903: Wright brother’s first air flight.

1911: Malahat Highway completed

1914: WW 1 breaks out. British Columbia buys two submarines, forces government into providing coastal defenses.

1914: Panama Canal opens.

1917: Prohibition established in British Columbia.

1918: Daylight Saving Time adopted.

1925: First driver’s licenses issued, cost $1 for life.

1929: Hydro lines reach Cowichan Bay.

1934: Roger’s Lake officially renamed Dougan’s Lake.

1939: Hitler invades Poland, said to be the official start of World War 2.

1941: Pearl Harbour invaded.

1942: Japanese submarine shells Vancouver Island (near the Estivan lighthouse).

1947: Maxwell House Hotel burns. Official start of the Volunteer Fire Department.

1955: Provincial docks transferred to Federal Govt.


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For comments or further information contact the author at thomas.wagner@shaw.ca (send me an email and I will add you to the update information list).