Life in the 1800's in the Cowichan Valley.
Life in most of Vancouver Island in the 1800's was dictated by life in Victoria. Victoria was founded in 1843 as an outpost of the Hudson's Bay Company. At that time the headquarters for that company was in Vancouver Washington. In 1855 a survey map for S.E. Vancouver Island was issued. It is interesting how the town was centred pretty much around what is now downtown. The James Bay area was the first real residential area.
A lot of people there were passing through to points up island. They were farmers and miners. Of this group, the miners were probably the largest group. The biggest problem to movement up the island was the Malahat Mountain. So the boat was the main means of transportation. The first stop on the way was Cowichan Bay where the Company had established a trading post. No dock existed at first, boats anchored in the shallow flats near the top of the bay and materials and people were transported to shore by row boats.
The first dock was built where the present Government Dock sits. Naturally this became the centre of the town we would eventually call Cowichan Bay. From there a road was driven up the island to Nanaimo where the coal fields were. But the folk who came to our area to stay were mainly farmers. The land was plentiful and the trees provided materials for houses. The natives were peaceful (except for a few rare incidents). They controlled the land and the cost of purchase was two Hudson's Bay blankets. Of the folk that migrated to the area, very few stayed in the area of Cowichan Bay. It was a pretty typical frontier town, a little rough around the edges. Right next to the dock was the John Bull Inn. Basically a bar and a jail. The proprietor was a sort of self appointed sheriff and it is told he was his own best patron of both. However he was still a religious man and Sunday church services were held in the bar.
Settlers spread throughout the valley. Mainly farmers they worked the land and cleared trees for houses. The first industry in the area was a sawmill. Folks needed wood. The sawmill needed wood, so next came the loggers. towns sprung up around farm communities or the sawmills. The railway played a large part in where the towns were located too. The actual decision had not been made as to where a train station would be. When the railway opened Sir John A. MacDonald rode from the Shawnigan Lake, where he drove the last spike, back to Nanaimo. The locals stopped the train at Duncan's crossing, the road to Duncan's farm, Alderlea. The area school children did a presentation and everyone showed up with signs and banners. He was convinced and that is where the station would be built. Duncan's son Kenneth went on to become the first mayor of the town that sprung up. Kenneth Street is named for him.
The railway changed the whole face of the area. Now we could trade with Victoria. More folk came north and towns grew with the associated commerce. Now we were merchants as well as loggers and farmers. The die was set and the rest as they say was history.