A passage from the book “Those Lake People” by Lynne Bowen

A thousand years ago there was only the lake and the native people who used its resources. A hundred years ago the scattering of recluses and A-frame loggers who chose to live along its shores in relative isolation made little impact on the abundance of trees and clear water. When the arrival of the railroads made it possible, industry grew, and the building of sawmills kept more of the benefits of the forest wealth at the lake. More people came to stay. But as the forest receded and the mills closed, the community’s children had to go elsewhere to find work. Now the tourists are returning and retirees have discovered a haven of low living costs and natural beauty. In the wake of trailer parks and new housing developments, environmentalists keep up their tireless refrain – remember the forest. 

 

The mountains that cradle Cowichan Lake are mostly covered with a thick coat of coniferous green. Here and there, bare patches reveal the source of the big logs that ride the trucks heading out along the highway. Another road, asphalt with some stretches of gravel, rings the lake, bringing the once isolated valleys and creek mouths within the range of anyone with a car. On a Sunday afternoon, the sound of boat motors is loud enough to impinge on the vastness of the lake and its surrounding mountains.

 

At the Jeanne S. Simpson Field Studies Resource Centre, the exotic species of rhododendrons have been moved to the University of Victoria in accordance with Mrs. Simpson’s wishes. The old log house still nestles into the slope in the clearing on the shore of the lake. Beyond the clearing, in the stand of old-growth trees that covers most of Lot 29, the forest floor is parklike, kept clear of undergrowth by a parasol of branches overhead. Nearer Marble Bay, however, the sunshine is able to sneak through, patterning the foliage that grows thick enough to obscure the path. Foxglove grows wild here, but the bamboo, grapevines and aged fruit trees that push their way through the undergrowth are the civilized relics of the Simpsons’ garden.

 

There is a strong perfume in the air. It comes from a rhododendron blossom growing on a long branch of a plant too large to have been moved. When the woman who sowed the seed that grew in the ancient plant was nearing the end of her life, she said she would return in spirit on some far-off day if she were able. Her spirit is very apparent here. And so as the spirits of all those other lake people who came to Cowichan Lake looking for solitude, sustenance or an easy fortune.

The Hundred Houses

From: Cowichan Lake Region Heritage Inventory: Richard Rajaia, 1992

When the Cowichan Lake forest industry expanded sharply immediately after WW II, one of the consequences was an acute housing shortage. In January 1946 the region's Member of Parliament visited Lake Cowichan with federal officials and announced that the new Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation would undertake the task of providing homes for veterans and their families. By the following March, Garner Brothers of Duncan had begun work on the project intended to create one hundred new houses on thirty-two acres of land adjacent to the school on the south side of the village. "It is hoped," reported the Victoria Daily Times, "that the veterans and others engaged in the large industrial plants in the vicinity will be able to secure, close to their work, and a modest rental, their ideal home in which to enjoy in full, the amenities of family life." The layout would "conform closely to that of a garden city," with areas reserved for parks and playgrounds.

In June of 1947, with a large crew clearing land and constructing houses, the village boundaries were expanded to include the new townsite. "Parkstone" was the name given to the development, after Hillcrest Lumber Company owner Carleton Stone, who was instrumental in launching and financing the project. Families began taking up residence in early 1948, and Parkstone was opened officially by federal and provincial officials on March 4th. 

The neighbourhood's official name never took. The large number of infants promted many Lake Cowichan residents to initially refer to the area as "Diaper Hill." Eventually it became known simply as "the Hundred Houses."

The Original Community Hall

exerpt from:

Cowichan Lake Region Heritage Inventory

Richard Rajaia, 1992

Lake Cowichan's first community hall was located at the corner of Renfrew Avenue and Coronation Street. The idea originated in 1929 with H.E. Gridley, a United Church missionary who approached several residents to discuss the erection of a building for social gatherings. In January 1930 a committee was formed and the site chosen. The next step was to raise funds. The Riverside Inn was the scene of a "grand masquerade ball" in February, and a later event at the Lakeside Hotel was reported to be the largest ever at the Lake. 

It was decided to organize under the Societies Act, leading to the incorporation of theh Lake Cowichan Community Club in March. The officers of the group were William Grosskleg, Fred Reed, Allan Castley, Merlin Douglas, S.L. Scholey, J. Morley, and H. Portentier. Two lots were purchased and by April volunteers were busy clearing the site. "Glowing fires lighting up the dusky evening sky assure observers that a clear space will soon be available for the foundations," noted the Leader's corerespondent. "A terrific, reverberating blast, ever and anon, proceeding from the same location, throwing huge three roots into the air, is a thunderous reminder to all public-spirited residents that now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the community hall project".

Merlin Douglas was put in charge of supervising the construction work of volunteers. By mid-summer the foundations were laid and a floor put down; this allowed open-air fund raising dances to be held at the site. The hall, measuring 40 feet by 60 feet, was sufficiently advanced to permit the community's 1930 Christmas concert to be held there. The official opening took place on March 7, 1931. British Columbia Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie came to Lake Cowichan ;that day to preside over the opening of the community hall, the new Riverside bridge, and the footbridge. 

The hall was enlarged over the following years, and in 1941 residents celebrate4d the burning of the mortgage. Condemned in 1959, the structure was closed the following year, sold to the School Board for use as a storage space, and subsequently demolished. 

The Old Lake Theatre

Story by Rolli Gunderson, 

Lake Cowichan Gazette

Sept 5, 2012

"...and in 1935 showed the first talkie called Red Hot Wheels. It was shown in Lake Cowichan's original community hall - now the site of the present day seniors' centre - and was filled to capacity at each showing"

Remittance Man

From: KAATZA: The Chronicles of Cowichan Lake, 1967

Author: John F.T. Saywell

By 1895 more settlers had moved in. A marrow winding road stretched to the North Arm on the flats. At this beautiful spot Robert Meade made his homestead. A small cabin, a nice barn and neatly fenced fields were evidence of his industry. But for a few alien trees and shrubs and a straggling orchard no trace of this industry survives. The present Mead Creek is named after him. Like many others in scattered parts of the British Empire he was "Remittance Man"*. He retained the manners and graces of a more cultured background. He was reported to be the only owner of a dress suit in his pioneer settlement. When very important visitors came to visit the hotel his services were often in demand to meet and help entertain these people. One can imagine his chagrin when after a lengthy interval on seeking to don his famous suit again to meet some titled relations he discovered it to be a ruin of moth holes and wrinkles. His house eventually burned down; he then resided in a very small cabin, so small in fact that he could cook his meals on the stove while sitting on his bed. Meade's favourite beverage appeared to be champagne. On receiving his remittance he often went on a bender. One Christmas he set out for Duncan to buy some presents. He did not return for a year. In the meantime his cattle had gone wild and his team of horses left in Duncan were sold to pay for their keep He finally sold out to Victoria interests who subdivided his land for a townsite. He died in King Daughters Hospital. Many years afterwards G.E. Starke took up residence on this spot.

The writer (John FT Saywell) very recently (1967?) has had the privilege of reading a letter from Lady Bromley to a friend in England describing her week's visit to the Lakeside in June, 1904. Lady Bromley was apparently a traveller and had visited many parts of the world. She was fascinated with the rich and varied growth and the beauty of the Lake. She had with her a group of younger people, some her own, but the others fro a friends's family in Victoria. Some excerpts from the letter and occasional comments are given below: June 18th "I took a six mile walk all alone yesterday, the forest is so fascinating! I came to a small clearing, a log hut and some out houses, by the side of the lake, with a lovely view and of course I felt I must find out who lived there!! So I went up to the door and said: "Is there any one here" and a voice answered and out came a tall handsome man with hair turning grey, in a ragged jersey. I soon saw he was an English gentleman and we had quite a long talk. He had lost all his money coffee planting in Ceylon....he ahad lived there (on the lake) all alone for 15 years, with his dog, cat, cows, and horses, sometime he does not see a soul for three months""I hear he is a younger son of Lord Clanwilliam and his holder brother sends him money" She mentions no name, she apparently got this last item of information at the hotel. This man undoubtedly was Robert Meade.

From: KAATZA: The Chronicles of Cowichan Lake, 1967

Author: John F.T. Saywell

First Main Road to the Lake

There may have been forerunners but the main credit for the first tangible effort to get a road into the 'Lake' must be given to William Forrest. In 1883 he arrived at Cowichan Bay and later bought land at Hilbank. In 1884, accompanied by James Tolmie, older brother of a later premier of British Columbia, Dr. S.F. Tolmie, they proceeded to the Lake guided by two Indians, the Ikilass brothers. It took them two days. Forrest cruised the lake and though it, "the most beautiful spot he had ever seen". He later went to Victoria and interviewed Premier William Smythe in regard to getting a road through to the Lake from 'Pop' Jordan's of Sahtlam. The premier's answer was that if ten or a dozen settlers were to move to the Lake, construction would begin. He assured the premier that there would be no difficulty in that regard and as a result was authorized to go ahead and blaze a trail from Jordan's to the Lake, a distance of 13 miles. In the spring of 1885, Forrest and a Charles Morrow guided by Indian Tom blazed a road to the Lake.

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