Craigflower Farm. Times Colonist Islander, September 5, 1993
By John Adams
Craigflower Farm was founded in 1853 and once spanned almost 900 acres in Saanich, Esquimalt and View Royal. If you take the time to look, it’s surprising that there are quite a few relics and reminders of the old farm to be seen.
The site was accessible by boat from Fort Victoria up Victoria Arm and through the narrows known as Camossung, then along the Gorge to where it widens into Portage Inlet. On the north side of the water was a bend in the Gorge which the new colonists called Maple Point because of the abundance of broadleaf maples. On the south shore Kenneth McKenzie and his group of Scottish colonists decided to lay out their main settlement.
What emerges from the copious material held by the B.C. Archives and Records Service is a unique community with a decidedly Scottish flavor. Front Street was laid out parallel to the Gorge, running almost exactly where the main driveway into Craigflower Motel is now. On both sides of the dirt road were built small frame duplexes with stout brick chimneys. These were the lodgings for the laborers with families. At the eastern end of the present motel property a large bunkhouse was built for the single men. Within this area were also the grist mill, bake house and blacksmith’s shop. All of this village’s well still remains tucked around the corner from the motel office.
Admirals Road ran the length of Craigflower farm. It was cut through the forest early in the farm’s existence to connect it with its nearest neighbor, Constance Cove Farm where the Drydock is now, and the Royal Nay’s base at Esquimalt. By taking the following imaginary ride along Admirals you can get an idea of the size and diversity of Craigflower farm:
Travelling northward you cross the Esquimalt township line. This used to be the southern edge of the Farm. Today it’s the southern edge of the New Songhees Indian Reserve. This land was purchased by the provincial government from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1911 to provide a reserve in exchange for the Old Songhees reserve next to Victoria’s Inner harbor.
At the end of Maplebank Road – which runs to the left of Admirals and down to Esquimalt Harbor – Kenneth McKenzie built the stately mansion Maplebank in the 1850s. It later became known as Admiral’s House after being rented to a succession of Royal Navy admirals.
Craigflower farm occupied the traditional lands of the Esquimalt Nation, but in the Treaties of 1850 Esquimalt aboriginals agreed to share this land with the Hudson’s Bay Company in exchange for money and trade goods on condition they would retain exclusive use of their village sites, hunting grounds and burial fields.
When Craigflower farm was being laid out in 1853 its boundaries went around the small Esquimalt village which faced the harbor. But in 1884 the first stake of the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway was driven near the village and the tracks sliced right through it.
As you continue northwards along Admirals you have the New Songhees Indian Reserve on you right all the way to the Craigflower Road corner. Most of this land is now used for rental housing. It was part of a planned residential subdivision in 1875 which never materialized. A mission church school and Songhees dwellings were built after 1911. The school structure still stands and now serves as the Songhees Band office.
Crossing Craigflower Road in the 1850s the main farm settlement would have been on the right (where the Craigflower Motel is now) and Craigflower farmhouse, the home built for the McKenzie family on the left. Kenneth McKenzie was the bailiff or manager of Craigflower Farmhouse, the home is the only one still standing and is now operated by the province as an historic site.
Craigflower Bridge closely resembles one built at the same spot in 1855 by French Canadian HBC employees. As you cross the bridge today the old Craigflower Schoolhouse can be seen on the right. Near the end of the bridge is a row of old Douglas firs. They may well be British Columbia’s oldest standing Christmas trees. They were planted along the edge of the schoolhouse front yard around Christmas, 1880, by students in a class taught by John Cowper Newbury.
Farther over into the schoolyard is a sturdy old broadleaf maple that was probably growing on the spot when the school opened in 1855. It served for decades as the backdrop for class photos.
Beside the east end of the schoolhouse is a white painted bell tower. Hanging at its top is the bell which has summoned classes since March 8, 1855. It was originally used on a ship, — the Major Tompkins – which made regular runs into Puget Sound before running aground off Macauley Point. The bell was salvaged and bough for the school for £10.
Behind the school is the schoolmaster’s garden – a necessity in days when his salary was £50 a year.
The schoolhouse site and the area around it was once the site of Kosapsom, an ancestral village of the Esquimalt Nation. Grant Keddie of the Royal B.C. Museum says the Kosapsom people had a large amphitheatre here that was used for ceremonial occasions like the installation of a new chief. The soil taken from this location was used to build a lookout mound nearby.
Craigflower farm extended northwards to the edge of where Spectrum Secondary’s grounds are today on Burnside Road West. Admirals ran to this point to serve independent settlers like Matthias Rowland.
After 1858 most of Craigflower farm north of the Gorge was apportioned to men who’d served five-year indentures at the farm. The land grants and an annual stipend of £17 had been part of the inducement that had brought them from Scotland. The parcels of land were created as long, narrow strips fronting the Gorge and stretching northwards. The grants were reminiscent of the Seigniorial Tenure along the banks of the St. Lawrence.
When this area was subdivided prior to the First World war, streets were surveyed parallel to these elongated property lines. The names of the Craigflower families who took up land here in the 1850s were Stewart, Veitch, Melrose, White, Liddle, and Russell.
Just as Admirals ran the entire north-south axis of the farm, Craigflower Road ran the entire east-west axis. It originated ass a trail on the banks of the Inner harbor opposite Fort Victoria then straggled westward close to the south bank of the Gorge. The eastern boundary of the Farm coincided with Garthland Road in the vicinity of the Kinsman Gorge Park.
Further west on the south side of Craigflower Road all the New Songhees Indian Reserve now occupied by trailer parks and townhouses was part of Craigflower farm before 1911; an Indian Shaker Church was a landmark for many years on the south side of the road here before the housing developments were built. In the late 1850s and 1860s Craigflower farm had an orchard near here.
The western boundary of the Farm was slightly west of where the railway bridge crosses the Old Island Highway at the bottom of Four Mile Hill today. All of Christie Point and most of Portage Park were part of the Farm. The area at the base of Four Mile Hill was, in fact, the portage used by natives to link Portage Inlet and Esquimalt Harbor. White settlers proposed blasting a canel through the gap as early as 1858.
Just beyond the farm lay perter Calvert’s Four Mile House. It still stands, another reminder of the early days of white settlement in the Victoria