The New Mount Douglas Road

Follow Rev. Connell along Shelbourne Street and up the unfinished “new” road to the summit of Pkols/Mount Douglas. Take in some of the flora, geology and history of the valley, with a little turkey trivia for good measure!

From the Victoria Daily Colonist, January 1st, 1939.

After a night of frost a brilliantly sunny morning looks out on a landscape where leafless oaks make a dun-colored mist along the flanks of Mount Tolmie and Oak Hill, and in the shade of buildings and fences lie patches of rime like spilt salt. From the north-east comes a gentle breeze with just enough nip in it to bring Nature’s cosmetic to the cheeks with a pleasant tingling of the skin. In the distance rises Mount Douglas with its satellite, grey in the distance. Against the blue sky white gulls moving slowly are illuminated brilliantly.

The Shelbourne Valley in 1944. BCA Image.

Shelbourne Street’s broad valley is full of color. The newly turned soil lies brown, purple, grey, silver, strongly shadowed in the open furrows, and a field of celery is a vivid golden green. The first part of the footpath is soft enough to take the impression of pedestrian footwear, and various types of soles and sizes of heels are recorded as in wax. It recalls, in spite of some dissimilarity, the clog marks on an old-time Lancashire or Yorkshire road, and sets you thinking how great the change from that checker-work of uniform patterns to this little bit of the Western world with its individual diversity. We are, after all, not quite so stereotyped as we sometimes fancy ourselves.

The air is full of familiar sounds softened somewhat by the light wind. Every now and then the voice of a distant chanticleer comes over all. But the main body of calls and cries proceeds from a group of buildings, barns and what not, where birds wild and domestic mingle in general familiarity and particular aloofness like people who love humanity in the mass but find it difficult to get on with their neighbors. Here is the Western crow, the bold, black swaggerer whose very suspiciousness suggests self-consciousness of his antique lineage. Behind that wise, observant eye lies wisdom aboriginal, limited perhaps but self-sufficing. In and out among their sleekly black-coated rivals go the gulls in their blue-grey and white attire, always a little out of place and awkward on land, shrill in voice and inclined to be quarrelsome. In contrast are the turkeys whose ancestral wildness remains only in a tendency to wander and to choose their own nesting places. It is just over four centuries since the first birds of their race reached Great Britain, and their wild relatives are still hunted in the Eastern half of this continent, though their numbers are greatly reduced and in some sections where they were once greatly plentiful they are now extinct. A more beautiful though smaller species is found in Central America, the ocellated turkey, so called because of the peacock-like “eyes” on its plumage. So far as I know never domesticated. It lacks the dew-lap of our birds and has a blue head with orange knobs; altogether a striking bird. And with the turkeys are our domestic fowl in two or three varieties. The turkey was so called because in the days of its first arrival in Europe from the American continent geography was hazy and the error that gave us the “West Indies” also bestowed on this bird a name that implied an Asiatic origin, turkey being a blanket term for Kipling’s “east of Suez”. It was even attributed to Guinea, so that Africa also was joined in the attempt to wrest from the new continent the honor of the largest of game birds in the world. But the barnyard cock and hen are true Asiatics derived through centuries from wild species and branching into a multitude of varieties. Here in the precincts of the farm buildings wild and domestic meet on common ground and mingle their voices on the caller air. I had almost forgotten the geese; what would the chorus be without them? These great ashy grey and brown birds are descendants from the European graylag, lag goose, fen goose, or stubble goose- among the English names for Anser cinereus. Long domestication has not made it particularly amiable. Its manners compare ill with those of our Canada goose when it grows up in captivity.

Great Generals   

But Shelbourne Street is slipping past and here we are at the two historic trees marked each by an iron railing and a lettered plate. One tells us that “this tree was planted by General Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre, Marshal of France”, the other, across the road, that “this tree was planted by Lord Byng of Vimy”, five months between them in the year 1922. But these are not the only bits of history to be seen. There are historic pioneer farm buildings still standing, such as the old Pollock and Tod homesteads. But they are fast falling into the sere and yellow leaf. What may outlast them as memorials are the trees they planted and those they spared.

Cedar Hill Road below Mount Doug in the old days. CVA Image.

Where the street meets Old Cedar Hill Road the new highway up Mount Douglas begins. Part of the earlier road is in use by the construction trucks, and along side of it is being built the foundation of its successor, with a pavement of stone to ensure its stability and solidity. On the right the ground is low with thickets, but on the left the lower flanks of Mount Douglas rise with ledges of grey rock, open woods and scattered ferns. Douglas fir, grand or balsam fir, yew, maple, alder, dogwood, cherry are among the trees that look down upon the builders busy with pick and shovel and axe, wheelbarrow and truck. The roadbed rises steadily and passes over a shoulder of the hill until it ends at a place where the rock is being blasted away. Here we can see the raw material of the mountain exposed frost and glittering in the light of day. This is the geologist’s delight to see the superficial crust of weathering with its coating of lichen and moss removed and the very heart of the ancient rock laid bare. With his hammer he can do something, but on no scale comparable with that of the shattering powder.

A road crew at work constructing Shelbourne Road in 1915. Saanich Archives Image.

The Mountain Material

What is this rock here exposed? A typical piece shows an intimate combination of two minerals, one black and shining, the other white with gleaming pearly surfaces. The first is horn-blende, the second felspar. They are arranged in a somewhat symmetrical fashion exhibiting a somewhat parallel streakiness most noticeable in the horn-blende. This is the characteristic structure of the rock known as “gneiss’, an old German mining term originally referring to the sparkling of mica in granite gneisses. Our gneiss is a diorite gneiss and is the speckled rock seen so commonly in rock cuttings in Victoria, but the gneissic structure is not always as distinctly seen as in this Mount Douglas outcrop. The diorite is part of the once molten mineral paste that intruded the Western coastal belt of the two Americas in Jurassic times to form the backbone of the mountain ranges, owing its structure to the conditions of stress involved in their building. The word “diorite” is descriptive of the distinctness of the two fundamental minerals- felspar and horn-blende, as seen by the naked eye in the coarser kinds, but many diorites are by no means so easily read. I first became acquainted with diorite through observing a trainload of it standing in a California siding while awaiting unloading for road construction. I found it came from the south end of the Santa Cruz mountains and shortly afterwards I had the opportunity of seeing the diorite backbone of the range exposed in the valley of the Pajaro River.

Cutting the diorite are some dykes of a very pale fine-grained rock which has a particular interest as having led to a number of gold prospecting projects. It is composed of felspar and quartz and is technically known as “alpite”. On the west side of Mount Douglas will be found a prospector’s tunnel driven some distance into the rock. When I first knew the hill the miner’s cabin was there with his claim notice displayed. Another prospect was just off Old Cedar Hill Road where Glendinning Road now is, and I well remember the shaft being sunk. A third one was much further away, off Dallas Road on one of the rocky headlands near Beacon Hill Park and just above high tide mark. These all were attempts to follow up supposed quartz veins which, according to Dr. Clapp, were in truth aplite dykes stained with the weathered iron pyrites they contain. Veins of quartz also occur, however, but are relatively small.

At the top of the rise where the most extensive blasting is being carried on there is an open space commanding what I think is one of the finest views in the park. Standing here you look across the swelling ridge if San Juan Island to the snowy peak of Mount Baker. On either side its supporting ranges extend their greatly lower but yet white serrated tops. At the foot of San Juan the little settlement of Roche Harbor stands out brightly above the sea with the whiteness befitting a limestone region. To the south the islands of the archipelago melt away in tones of soft blue. Then immediately below on the right is the bold sweep of Cordova Bay’s southern extremity like the horn of a new moon, its tip being Cormorant Point. Its near cliffs are chiefly in shadow, but the shadow is broken by shafts of light passing through the trees that fringe the sloping ridge, while near the point the curve of the shore brings the background into full light except for one or two dark gullies. The sea is scarcely ruffled by the light wind, and its surface melts away into the distant islands and the far horizon.

The road, or rather the projected road, now begins to turn the mountainside. Clambering over the rocks I follow the course laid out by the surveyors, marked by stakes and in places by the earlier blazes. It is rough going, almost too much so for careful observation of the plants. My old friend, the false box, Pachystima myrsinites, one of our prettiest evergreen shrubs, with its light green slenderly ovate leaves and brown stems, is one of the very noticeable things at this season of the year. I say “old friend” because almost everywhere throughout the province where I have been able to enjoy the pleasure of a hillside ramble I have found this shrub at home; from the slopes of the Rockies and the wooded shores of the Arrow Lakes to the Coast Mountains, our own Island and the highlands of Washington. Its tiny little red flowers are extremely modest but none the less interesting with their four pointed petals, their four rounded sepals peeping out at the outer angles and the four stamens occupying the inner ones. You get a good idea of the difficulties of the coming road as you scramble round the rugged outcrops of rock and over the detached blocks half or wholly concealed by the thick cover of mosses. Miniature forests of licorice fern extend everywhere it is possible for their creeping root stocks to find a foothold. The generic name of the fern, Polypody, or “many-footed”, seems eminently descriptive of its dispersal over the tops and down the perpendicular sides of its rocky habitat. At last a great gully is reached into which the stakes disappear, and one of the old trails presenting itself I pass by it upwards to the summit.

Paxistima myrsinites (Oregon boxwood or false box)

The main features [from the summit] are, of course, unchanged since I first climbed this very height just thirty-seven years ago. Newly arrived, I had walked out to Little Cordova Bay one afternoon, and returning was seized with an overwhelming desire to scale what was then known as Cedar Hill. The Winter afternoon was fast drawing to an end, so I hastily clambered up the south face and looked out on what was to me, fresh from the prairies, a truly amazing spectacle. It was one of those magnificently clear days when the distant mountains seem almost at our doors. But already the tints of evening were coloring the sky, sea and landscape, and I made an even more hurried descent, for the shadows were falling and there was no trail to follow except those made by cattle or sheep, and the rock debris was full of pitfalls for a novice. But while, as I have said, the general landscape is unchanged, the spread of population is evident today in the innumerable buildings where at that time thee were great farms with their clusters of grey buildings. As I looked out over the landscape the other day and saw the waters of Lost [Blenkinsop] Lake and the pools in some of the fields, they seemed no larger than the broad expanses of greenhouse glass that glistened in the rays of the Winter sun.

The summit was white in the shade with hoar-frost, but in the hollows there was a rich greenery of vegetation, the perennial wild plants still making not hay but food in the sunshine. Cranesbill and sheep sorrel, chickweed and vetch, composed the greater part, while along the edge the leaves of the woolly sunflower still maintained some semblance of Summer. The rocks, split and gashed by the forces of mountain-top weather, hid in their crevices the pretty gold -back fern, among whose matured fronds of Summer freshly green young ones were showing themselves. Over the surfaces of the rocks mosses and selaginella formed mats and trailing masses. The variety of the former is extraordinary when you begin to notice them with some degree of particularity. Varying in color from a pale straw to the richest green, they differ also in their structure and texture. Some of them form low mats or creep along the rough stone surface, while others grow upright, their individual branches like little evergreen trees in a dense forest. Already some of them showed their dainty fruiting cups. Looking across the country towards the Sooke Hills, a light smokiness the atmosphere made every ridge stand out above the intervening hollows.

Photo by Ben Clinton-Baker, 2013


Published by Ben C. Baker

The best stories, I think, are those that connect us to place, and as an historian this is the focus of my interest and work here in Victoria, BC, Canada.

3 thoughts on “The New Mount Douglas Road

  1. What a lovely read! I appreciate the reference to the First Nation name for Mt Doug as well. As a resident in the Mt Foug / Gordon Head area for about 30 years. I loved this historical perspective and the old photos. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this. I love the historical description and really appreciate the 1944 photo of the now Horner Park area, especially as it shows my house, built in 1938. It is the earliest photo I know of it!
    Penny Stevens

    Liked by 1 person

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