Recreation in early Cowichan Bay

Early settlers in the general area known as the Cowichan Valley were from Britain. Due mainly to the fact that the biggest company of the time was the Hudson's Bay Company, also known as the “Company of Adventurers”. In later times gold fueled people passing through our area, but the big attraction for most was the available land for farms and settlement. And a great promotion was done by the HBC. In later years the railway also promoted settlers, but the early ones were simply farmers. There were also a few “Brits” referred to as Remittance Men. Usually men that had embarrased their family, so they were banished to the New World under promise that they would get an allowance as long as they stayed away from Britain. We had a few of them on “the islands”.

Naturally all wanted the same recreation that they had in the home country. So one of the most popular activities that happened was polo. All you needed was field and a horse. Original polo ground was where the corn field is between Cowichan Road and The Bay. It was often played late into the evening the field being illuminated by headlights of the newly invented automobile. Another interesting fellow, Arthur Lane had a farm and horses on what is now Lanes Road. He was a rather prosperous fellow, his farm had staff, even a gate house. And a polo field. He eventually built the Wilcoma, which eventually became a fishing lodge, another popular form of entertainment.

On the subject of fishing Cowichan Bay was the first and foremost on Vancouver Island. Salmon were plentiful and the rich and famous were all here. Dunsmuir, one of the founders of the mining industry and a prominent member of the BC legislature died of a heart attack while fishing in Cowichan Bay.

Water sports were popular. Not power boats but lots of sailboats and row boats. Dominion Day saw folk, and cruise boats, converging on The Bay. That celebration was the focus of the summer. Cruise boats and CPR boats came from the mainland even.

And we cannot forget tennis. The Cowichan Bay Lawn Tennis Club was formed in 1887 and is still one of the oldest grass tennis courts outside Whimbleton. For many years it was the only other one, but a few places have now put in grass. But Cowichan's was there long ago. They were given the land by the farm that owned the property on the condition that if it ever closed the land would revert back to the farm. Something that has continued for over 122 years.

However, some sporting activities never became popular. We still play tennis, have a Regatta; polo is now gone, but we never seemed have had cricket and lawn bowling. They never seemed to have ever caught on.

Thomas Wagner is a historical researcher, writer and photographer living in Cowichan Bay