Hotels in Cowichan Bay burn down

Like a lot of old towns, fire was the curse of a lot of the old wooden buildings. Cowichan Bay had two that were memorable.

First is the story of the Buena Vista Hotel. Located on the hill above the bay, where the big apartment is, was popular with Hollywood celebrities who came here for the fishing. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and John Wayne to name just a few could be found in the bar there. The bar was loaded with trophies not just for fishing but for hunting too. There were cottages that could be rented as well. The view was as they say “to die for”. But sport fishing closed and eventually clients moved north to Campbell River. Needless to say the hotel began to suffer a bit. Its demise was very suspicious. The story as told tells of an individual who tried to rent a room. Only to be told the place was booked solid. It was really strange, as it burned down almost the next day. No one was injured as the place was totally empty! What made the whole thing interesting is the owner was seen removing the cash register just before the fire broke out. Needless to say, it was a clear case of arson.

The next one was a lot more tragic. Where the marine store and coffee shop are now was the site of the Maxwell House Hotel (no relation to the coffee). A more working man's hotel it had a very nice coffee shop and dining room. Rooms were available on the upper floor and a lot of folk lived there more as a boarding house than a hotel. When it caught fire we recorded out first fatality. Little Butchie died that night, he was only 7 years old.

It wasn't just hotels that caught fire. The major general store in town also suffered a fire. Unlike the hotels however it was rebuilt.

The whole series of unfortunate events did convince the town that a volunteer fire department was needed. A fire siren was installed high up a power pole outside the store. To prevent false alarms the switch was placed high on the pole. That meant when they wanted to sound it they had to grab a ladder to reach the switch. That siren lives to this day I am told. When they built the official fire hall it went into service there. When the present hall was built it was retired. It seems there was a chicken farmer next door who threated lawsuits if it was used. It was that loud. The first fire truck was a real novelty. It was kept on Botwood Land, half way up the hill. An old, not too reliable used truck. To start it they pushed it to the slope of Cowichan Bay Road. The kids loved fire drills, they were actually allowed to catch rides!

Thomas Wagner is a photographer, writer and boater living in Cowichan Bay. For more information on Cowichan Bay