Jaunts by Highways and Byways

Reverend Connell hits the road via automobile, visiting Elk and Beaver Lakes and Cordova Bay beach with plenty of stops along the way. Read about “guddling” fish, magnetite at the beach, and what sounds to have been one amazing arbutus tree!

From the Victoria Daily Colonist, March 16th, 1941.

The first of March came in with a thoroughly spring mixture of grey skies and irregular showers broken by very light rain, just enough to adorn the bare branches and bushes with pearly drops and to make the gardens brighter than ever. As my good friend Goodlake’s car sped along the suburban streets we got glimpses of crocuses and daffodils, forsythia and flowering plum, arabis and aubretia, and the swelling buds of horse chestnut.

Along the Burnside Road beyond Tillicum the scene is delightfully rural. The rolling country exhibits open fields with patches of fir-woods and the little Colquitz running in its valley-bottom among the natural hedges of wild rose and willow. We slip past the site of the old Burnside Hotel and its few remaining outbuildings, and then modern bungalows appear among the woods and rocks until we came to the Wilkinson Road corner, where the great oaks still mark the site of the old-time farmhouse they have survived. They were already centuries old when its foundations were laid, and if man and weather are merciful they will stand and see still stranger changes. As we climb up Wilkinson Road we pass the site of the old lime kiln and quarry on the side of Knockan Hill. These old things are all disappearing, all except the hill whose name recalls the Highland homes of so many of the pioneers of Vancouver Island.

The Burnside Hotel c1898. Saanich Archives Image,

Next we are following the old B.C. Electric Interurban railway track. I remember the making of the grade and the laying of the steel, and something of the high hopes entertained. Many a time during the road’s short duration I travelled from one point to another along its course as far as it’s terminus at Deep Cove. The automobile’s popularity was the undoing of the electric car and after a short while the cars were withdrawn, the steel taken up, and the road relapsed to primitive conditions so far as such a road can. Then parts of it were converted into ordinary roads and along one of these sections we are now traveling.

Trout and Tickler Both Surprised

As we go I am reminded of walks taken along the right of way in the past and of my companions. One incident stands out particularly. Two of my sons were with me on this occasion. It was a spring day and the wayside runners were well filled with water, so that the attentive ear could without difficulty catch their soft murmur. As we strolled along our conversation had somehow arrived at fishing, and I told them how in Scotland boys caught trout in the streams by the process known as “guddling”, which I described much as the dictionaries do as putting your hand in the water under an overhanging bank or edge and feeling for a fish, whereupon you tickled him by gently moving your fingers under his belly and then lifted him out. Simultaneously with our arrival at this interesting point we came to a little stream left about 18 inches wide which ran under the grade by a box culvert. The water had undercut the low straight spade-made banks and suggested an ocular demonstration. With one foot on each side of the water I passed my hand under the little bank on the left and immediately detected a fish. A moment or two of gentle titillation and then- but here I must stop to say that it was actually my first experience of guddling; I knew of it by the ear and buy books, but never had I tried this gentlest of piscatorial devices. So you can imagine my excitement, akin to that of the big game hunter when he comes into the immediate neighbourhood of his quarry. And when I brought it up out of the water, close held in my right hand, a lovely trout about 8 inches long, of course my triumph was complete and my veracity was vindicated as the anecdotes of age unfortunately cannot usually be.

Wild Life at Beaver Lake

Beaver Lake in 1913.

We are by now in the hill country west of Royal Oak, a rough region of scattered timber, but with a sprinkling of homes. Off the old railway the roads are liable to become waggon trails and end, as one we traversed did, on the top of a hill and in an outcrop of rock. But eventually we work our way through to the West Saanich Rd. and from it take the old road to Beaver Lake. There is not much travel this way as two gates, relics of Elk Lake’s more important days, testify. Then we come on old buildings and the gray ruins of the reservoirs, looking like the baths of some ancient civilization; as a matter of fact they were not so very long ago swimming pools when their household utility was no more.

The road runs through very pleasant woods with some fine old Douglas firs and shortly we are by a picnic place near the edge of the lake. It is raining a little, but not enough to obscure the opposite shore. Both sides are filled with wild fowl and to get a better view of them we go down to the water’s edge. Here the coots or mud hens are in force, swimming along with that peculiar jerky back and forward movement of head and neck that makes them recognizable a long way off. There are a number of our old friends the Canada geese, or “honkers”, whose sight brings back vividly autumn days on the prairies when they visited the wheatfields and the stooks made accommodating “hides. Across the lake and parallel to the shore a number of ducks are moving out towards the wider water. While they can be seen in the rain it requires the use of glasses to make out the green heads of the drakes and identify them positively as mallards. Then around the corner on our side we see a number of white and fawny grey ducks of a kind unknown to us; large birds of some exotic breed, I suppose.

A picnic site at Elk Lake in the 1950s.

Over the Ridge to Cordova

We touch the corner of Elk Lake, where a few wild fowl are about the feeding enclosure and then turn up the Cordova Bay Road, crossing the long sand and gravel ridge that runs from Mount Newton to the Rithet farm. Gravel pits cut in these into glacial deposit give excellent views of the composition and character of the long ridges of sedimentary materials, conspicuous features of the south Saanich and Gordon Head-Mount Tolmie country. Then we drop down on the southern extension of the Saanich valley, here cut diagonally by the coast line. The road by the sea is fringed with cottages and on the other side are good gardens on the moist bottom-land.

The gray water is very sparsely dotted with seabirds. The ubiquitous scoter is the most numerous, and off to the south is seen in the distance a long, low reef ornamented with a black fringe of cormorants. And occasional small green and a Bufflehead complete the list of recognizable birds. Even gulls seem to have deserted the shore for the time being. This is hardly to be wondered that, for as we stroll along the sand we see very little washed up debris to tempt a hungry gull. A few bits of red seaweed are all that mark the highest reach of the tide for the day.

Cordova Bay below Mt. Doug in the early 1900s. Saanich Archives image.

The low bank above the shore is lined with trees- maples and alders with a few firs. The alder catkins have opened and the red colour of bursting Spring has now become a dull yellow, very pleasing to the eye as it stands out from the purpleish greys of the leafless softwoods and the dark blueish tints of the conifers.

Our stroll along the shore is not without an object. Along this part of Cordova Bay shore there is an interesting mineral occurence- a narrow band of magnetite along a contact of limestone with igneous rock which has shattered it and penetrated it with dykes. Magnetite is a very familiar ingredient of our beach sands and mixed with tiny garnets constitutes the black sands found in places in our ridges, as for example near the high school on Spring Ridge. Magnetite is also abundant in the basalts of Metchosin. Massive magnetite or magnetic iron or is, of course, not so widely dispersed and is found near these contacts of limestone with igneous rocks. The Cordova Bay exposure is quite small, a few yards long, but a much larger one has been found in the hills beyond Tod Inlet as described in Clapps report. However, today we drew a blank at Cordova Bay. It is a good many years since I have been at this location and the changes that have taken place rather bewilder one, but I think we did not go far enough, further progress being stopped by a tide-filled gully in the rocks.

The Leaning Arbutus

We come back along the coast, past Blenkinsop Road, which it seems but yesterday we called the New Road- and leave the old way just before reaching the ancient arbutus that still leans seaward across the road. This tree is in more than one sense a bit of Old Victoria. It has not only been a permanent feature of the landscape ever since the settlement of Vancouver Island, but it was here long before the Spanish ships sailed along the coast in their voyage of discovery. The shore road was one of the favourite drives in the vicinity of Victoria in horse and buggy days and probably some of my readers will recall passing under the leaning arbutus not once only, but many times. Perhaps if our local poets had worked on old-fashioned lines we should have had it figuring in love lyrics. The old arbutus did at least figure in water-colour drawings and in photographs, being rather a favourite subject for lovers of the picturesque. The roadway beneath it is now barricaded, but there is nothing to hinder the traveller on foot passing under the slanting trunk as often as he or she may wish.

A large arbutus tree at Saxe Point, Esquimalt, in the 1930s. BCA Image.

Things Old and New

The rain has passed over as we continue along the coast road and then turn across to the Gordon Head- Mount Tolmie ridge and the Finnerty Road, and then along Cedar Hill Crossroad to the Uplands. What a mixture of things new and old we see as we traverse this maze of roads! Alongside of new houses and temporary military cantonments we encounter old farms and their buildings. Some of the old farmhouses have fallen on evil days, while others have been re-stored and renovated. Bits of the old roads, especially where they run through forest, look exactly as they did forty years ago; even the old fences still stand, all moss-grown and lichened as they are. Here is the place where I saw my first trilliums in flower in the Spring of 1902. And here is where I once went pheasant shooting with my old friend Graham and stood bewildered by the strange contrast the dark woods made with the vast open spaces of the prairies. Once these roads saw little more than an occasional wagon or buggy, except the herds of cows that daily wandered to and fro when the wayside grass was thick and green. And today you have but to step into these roadside woods to be out of the noise and bustle. A few yards and the sounds of the cars dies away and you seem to drop back through time to a quieter world and to the root of things.

Photo by Ben C. Baker

Along the Uplands streets with their lovely homes and gardens we still see the contrast of new and old. Still are there acres where nothing but a bridle-path at most marks the ancient sod. The oaks still exist unchanged- “exist”, for they seem to have given up growing a long, long time ago. Here and there as we pass from the Uplands proper we see other vestiges of the past: clumps of exotic trees now “on their own”, as we say, and in one part we come on what looks like a bit of an old nursery garden; rows of tree, some in full flower, other evergreens. This persistent up-cropping of the old among the new suggests those ancient manuscripts known as “palimpsests”. When writing material was expensive a scribe sometimes cleaned as best he could an old papyrus or parchment and wrote the new above the old. Some of the most fascinating finds of the past century have been those of only partially concealed classics persisting thus beneath newer documents.

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.

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