At Woodside by the Sea

“Some homes are destined for happy occasions, for large house parties and banquets, and any excuse at all for social entertainment with every guest entering into the festive spirit to ensure a jolly good time for all concerned”. Follow Rev. Connell to the historic farmhouse in Sooke, thus described by a contemporary writer, and thru the farm down to the adjoining shoreline in the spring of 1940.

From the Victoria Daily Colonist, May 19, 1940-

I delight in old farmhouses. We have still a good many old farms about Victoria, on the Saanich Peninsula, at Metchosin and at Sooke. But these reminders of the pioneering days are disappearing with the rapid spread of population and the increased value of land. Soon the picturesque farm buildings will be a thing of the past. Here and there a farmhouse lingers amidst the crowding of the new world. The other afternoon I spent an hour at the old Captain McNeill farmhouse at Shoal [McNeill] Bay by the kind invitation of Mrs. Edwards. Out of sight among the old orchard trees and the bright young bungalows the old house stands strong and hearty. To cross its threshold is to step back in time to the early days of our occupation of this corner of the Island. The low ceilings with their dark beams, the old-fashioned fireplace, the stepped passage, all tell of the past when the captain made himself at home by the pretty little bay. Outside is a great cherry tree, probably coeval with the house, raising its twin trunks from the foundation of the wall as if to defend with its life the old house with its memories.

Woodside Farm

Woodside Farm c1910s. BCA image.

Out at Sooke on a clearing facing the east shore of Sooke Bay stands the farmhouse of Woodside. It is by no means one of the oldest of buildings [although the farm itself is indeed one of the oldest] , but it’s plain and unpretentious but solid style suggests a time of erection far removed from our modern days. Like some ancient fortress it stands four square to sun and wind and rain, more isolated than it was, I suppose, when the older barns were still standing. It is well known to Victorians today because, under the management of Mr. and Mrs. Glintz, it has become a popular place for a quiet holiday or for a capital meal of farm grown poultry and fixings. An excellent Swiss cheese is also made on the farm. There by the kindness of friends I spent a few pleasant hours the other day, and while my experience of the kitchen went no further than an exit by way of it on leaving in the rain, I can testify to the excellence of its products as well as to the Old World cosiness of the house and surroundings.

Mr. and Mrs. Glintz are from Switzerland and I noticed on the sitting room wall an Alpine scene, chalet in the foreground and snowy Alps beyond, and I thought how their home here combines both likeness and difference to the little Land of Tell. Away to the south rise the alpine summits of the Olympics, never in their central region free from snow, while around the farm and on it are the dark conifers that answer to those of the Swiss mountains- spruce and fir and pine. Only here the sea stretches between the little farm and the distant snow-clad heights, and there are no war-threatening nations to make neighbourliness a byword.

The ocean beach front at Woodside. BCA image.

By the Wood’s Edge

The old orchard trees, pleasant fields, the patches of native shrubbery, the yellow broom and the quiet, watchful woods all combined to please the eye somewhat wearied with city streets and traffic. A rude road runs toward the sea and three of us follow its rustic course. Groups of wild cherry trees display their graceful and rather birch like trunks with small clusters of white flowers among their bright green leaves. The osoberry is already forming it’s oval fruits while its leaves, much larger than those of the cherry and of a peculiar yellowish green, mark it out distinctively from other shrubs as clearly as its precocity does in the seasonal timetable. Here, too, are the drooping snow white clusters of the Saskatoon. Protected by the low shrubbery the Siberian Montia or spring beauty is really a thing of beauty when, as here, it’s flowers are a deep magenta pink. Often, however, they are white or almost so, less attractive and yet welcome as they star the ground where and when other flowers are rare. In wet places the golden yellow flowers of the creeping buttercup are plentiful, their cups within shining, but without quite dull. This is the king cup, gold cup, or gold ball of England, though the name has been sometimes applied to other buttercups. The yellow flowered Menzies sanicle is just coming into bloom, more conspicuous by its palmately lobed leaves with their bristly teeth than buy its small yellow flowers. A single blue violet is a welcome sight, though the yellow shining-leaved one was fairly common, and the fringe cup [Tellima grandiflora], as always, is highly decorative.

Along the edge of the woods we wander freely among the trees and wonder at the quaint shapes and growths about us. In Europe, with its ghostly myths and legends, such a woodland might well alarm the superstitious when the shadows of evening were falling or the moonlight lit up the arched recesses and threw weird shadows below trunk and root. Most of the trees along this forest fringe are spruce and some of them are several feet in diameter at the base. The bark with its roundish scales and the prickly needles with which their foliage is armed easily distinguish them, to say nothing of the evidence given by the numerous cones that strew the ground, notable for their thin and roundly triangular scales loosely but symmetrically arranged. Some of these spruce are distinguished by very remarkable root formations and by a mode of growth in which as many as half a dozen trees appear to spring from a single horizontal source or root stock. The explanation may be that spruce germinates with difficulty on mineral soil or plain earth. It prefers, if it does not strictly require, a bed of rotting forest refuse, its native humus. So when a tree falls and rots, young trees tend to spring up along the line of decaying timber. In places the surface soil has disappeared and shows the intricacies of the shallow roots. In some trees remarkable contortions of the trunk attract our attention. But the most extraordinary spectacle is that of a spruce which in its infancy has grown on the stump of an alder tree into which it has sent down its young roots. It has flourished in this congenial soil until its roots have reached far down to the soil. Meanwhile slow decay has gradually reduced the stump to a mass of rotten wood and, this beginning to disintegrate and fall away, the hidden roots running vertically downwards are now at last displayed for several feet of their length while overhead rises the tree some 18 inches or more in diameter.

Along the Beach

“On the Shore at Woodside Farm, Sooke” by Robert Connell, May 4th, 1940.

As we approach the long bouldery bay built up by the waves as a boundary to the land, we get sight of a blue heron rising ponderously from a little piece of shallow water among the trees, while overhead passes an eagle, one of the chief scavengers of the coast. We pass out through the broom bushes and over a tangle of bleached driftwood descend to the beach. It is, I suppose, near high tide; at any rate there is only a narrow belt of pebbly shore to follow, a few feet of which is wet with the alternately retreating and advancing sea- I can hardly say “waves” for the water is very placid and hardly more than ripples against the sloping shore. It is a dark grey beach because the shingle of which it is composed, large and small, is made up of fragments of darker rocks. Volcanics are very common, many of them from the neighboring Metchosin basalts, and showing very well the different types of porphyritic inclusions and of amygdaloidal structure. Mingled with these are dark diorites, but I recognize no specimens of the local coarse-grained gabbros. Cobbles and pebbles of hornblende granite and of beautifully banded siliceous rocks from the Mount Sicker group are other varieties. We look in vain for agates, yet we do find one or two partly chalcedonic pebbles and well-marked red jaspers. Milky quartz and pebbles of yellowish green epidote add further variety, and I bring away a piece of a rounded cobble of a comparatively recent lava, black and spongy in structure. Away ahead of us stands out a bold headland of tough glacial till. On this side it presents towards us an open slope crowned with conifers fringing the upper edge and spilling down the point to mingle with the bright green of alders. In the distance we see, as if but a mile away, the blue hills of Washington [State]. To the west is the deeply indented coastline of Sooke Bay as it terminates in Otter Point, and we get a glimpse of the new highway near the shore before reaching the forest behind the rocky west shore of the bay. There is a striking contrast between the two portions of the coastline. Here in the east we see the glacial deposits and their more recent soils cut back in an unbroken line from the point before us to the head of the bay, while from there to Otter Point the shore is cut in the tough basaltic rocks, thus presenting many little capes and coves. (I had almost added “to wander round”, but I remember the long barrier of wire fence that bounds the highway and restrains the traveler from the sea. Before the construction of the road all was as free as the air we breathe.)

Lakelet and Birds

Instead of returning along the beach we climb over the shingle and driftwood and find ourselves looking down a little shallow stretch of water from which no doubt comes a little stream we have seen pouring down over the shore to the sea. It was at the other end of this pond we saw the heron rise. Down through the broom bushes we find a trail to the edge where, to judge by the empty cartridge cases, someone has been after wild fowl. It seems an ideal spot for a summers day when, stretched on the turf book in hand, you can wander from the printed page to the dragonfly and the swallow and find yourself in the land of day dreams while the broom pods snap overhead in the hot sun. Beyond the water the forest makes a dark green wall broken by patches of brighter color where the alders and willows grow. Later on, however, I suppose the place will be comparatively dry, retaining only enough of the swamp to attract the snipe and the plover.

We thread our way among the heavily scented broom and at last come to our homeward path. Here among the spruces and willows we find things changed in the short time of our absence. Everywhere above and around us we can hear the faint songs of birds. High overhead we see scores of little winged creatures among the spruce branches, flying from one to another and from tree to tree with a persistent restlessness. We do the proper thing; we stand still and wait. In a few minutes there are birds about us on our level and on the ground. White-crowned sparrows pop in and out among the grass and the low bushes. Goldfinches in yellow and black flit past. Kinglets and chickadees with merry restlessness are all about us. They seem not so much devoid of fear as unconscious of our presence.

As we move away and re-enter the fringe of spruce we hear a sound of wings and a flock of wild pigeons flies noisily away among the trees. They are not desirable birds at this time of year, when the gardener is planting and the peas are sprouting. But they are cheerful birds to meet with as they fly in and out of the alder woods along the lonely stretches of shore to the west. Nearer the farm buildings we see both the barn swallow with its chestnut breast and the white breasted violet-green one. They fly low, prophesying the rain that comes later, and their flights intermingle. Some we see sitting side by side on the telephone wire. Above the raucous cries of the turkeys we can hear the songs of birds coming from the orchard and from the wild cherry trees. How many generations of them have gathered annually about the old farm and made its kindly hospitalities theirs?

An 1880 drawing of Woodside farm, Sooke- BC Archives.

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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