Along the Happy Valley Road

Connell heads for the hills once again, this time to visit the picturesque Happy Valley in Colwood and Metchosin. He investigates the geography and the place names of the area and considers a peculiar local legend.

From the Victoria Colonist, December 1st, 1940 –

The road to Metchosin after skirting the broad gravelly plains of Colwood and Langford runs along the foot of what is now Triangular [Triangle] Mountain. This is a block of basaltic hills marked by prominent ledges as we see them rising above the fringe of forest, charming spots in spring and early summer when they are carpeted with wildflowers. Glen Lake is hidden on the right as we approach Luxton, where we swing to the left around the hills and enter Happy Valley. To what or to whom this approach to Metchosin owes its name I do not know. Perhaps as in other Happy Valleys the name was an expression of optimism on the part of some pioneer farmer pleased with the wide flats and dark soil, and with the manner in which it nestles among the surrounding hills.** However that may be, Happy Valley is a pleasant place with interesting features of its own.

** [It appears that Connell is not far off with his surmising here. According to Helen Akrigg in “British Columbia Place Names” (Sono Nis Press, 1986): “Around 1860 some blacks who had emigrated from the United States settled here. According to some accounts, their singing gave the place its name. However, I.G. Walker, postmaster at Happy Valley in 1905, reported that it was one of the blacks, Isaac Mull (who lived to be more than 100), who gave Happy Valley its name, possibly with reference to joy at becoming a free man under the British flag.”]

A pioneer farm at Happy Valley, Colwood, c1880s. Rhode family private collection.

The wide flats referred to are the south western extension of the plains of Colwood and Langford with their lakes, and it is evident that at one time this area from about a half mile east of Goldstream Crossroad’s junction with the Sooke Road right down Happy Valley was under water, a shallow lake or swamp now filled in but then connected with the Langford, Glen and Florence Lake areas. A small pond on the north side of Sooke Road just west of the Luxton crossing and set in a marshy fringe is a good example of the last stage of one of these lakes.

Happy Valley’s Petrified Man

To the right we see across the flats the Humpback block, including Table Hill, and to the south is the northern end of the Cattle Hills, another piece of rocky terrane whose bold precipices are so familiar a sight to pedestrians on the Sooke Road.

Somewhere along the juncture of the base of the Cattle Hills with Happy Valley flats is the scene of a strange finding. The story was told me many years ago and I tell it as I remember it. It was probably sometime in the [eighteen] seventies when the “discovery” was made, I should say, for at that period in the nineteenth century a good deal of excitement had been caused by the discovery of certain human remains in the gold-bearing gravels of Calaveras County, California, and the relations between Victoria and California were were very close then. One day, so the story went, two men – Americans I believe – came into Victoria and told that while digging a well or a ditch in Happy Valley they had come upon a petrified human body. The man of stone was brought into the city and duly exhibited to curious crowds. The human form was unmistakable. Unfortunately someone of a turn of mind more skeptically inquisitive than the average discovered that the stone was actually Portland cement and then the truth came out. The astute finders had actually secured a human cast and planted it under the lee of the hills. Had the two gentlemen of enterprise not left Vancouver Island hurriedly the fragments of the Happy Valley petrified man might have too easily found targets.

From the Victoria Daily Colonist, August 5th, 1885.

Railway Built on Pillows

The valley narrows after we cross Bilston Creek. This is the little stream which comes down from the Goldstream Crossroad, the main stream starting in the valley below Humpback Reservoir and taking in at the bridge a tributary flowing down the Sooke Road Valley from the divide about a mile south west. After crossing the bridge we are soon among the rocks with Centre Mountain as the maps have it on our right. If we were walking instead of riding in the Veterans’ stage we should have leisure to stop and examine the curious rock formation which rises above the road just past where the old church (now in course of demolition) stood. Well worth scrutiny they are. It is true that there are many other exposures of similar rocks among the basalts of Metchosin and Sooke but they are none the less remarkable, and if we travelled across the continent from Vancouver east we should not see their like until we reached some of the very old volcanic rocks of Northern Ontario, and then the structure would lack the freshness of ours.

From Table Hill near Luxton by Robert Connell, 1929.

The noticeable thing is that the rock is made up of masses with a shape like that of cushions or pillows, for which reason lavas with this structure are commonly called “pillow-lavas“. Most of them about here are of comparatively small size, a foot or two long that is to say. A loose one can be handled much as a small boulder can. Advantage was taken of this and their easy separation when the Canadian National grade was being made through this part of Happy Valley, and instead of being built up of rock fragments we find it made out of lava pillows. In some outcrops, however, the pillows are of very large size, the longer diameter being several feet, but whatever the size – and you can sometimes find one no bigger than a good-sized fist – the general form suggesting cooling while still plastic remains.

The pillow-lavas are related closely to the pahoehoe lavas of the Hawaiian volcanoes and in places here the same ropy and wrinkled surface can be seen on our basalts. The pillows, however, are the result of the basaltic lava pouring into water, breaking into detached fragments, swelling up with steam, and then piling up upon each other. This process has actually been seen in process in the Hawaiian Islands, where the lava enters the sea, and that our pillow-lavas were similarly formed is shown by the sedimentary matter that is so often found filling the openings between adjacent pillows.

Pahoehoe basaltic lava flows in Hawaii.

I need hardly say that all this shows that a very large proportion and probably all of our Metchosin and Sooke lavas were extruded near the sea, if not actually below it. Nevertheless, much that was marine in origin does not show this structure. In the Cattle Hills, of which Centre Mountain is the most eastern shoulder, you will find on the Sooke Road cliff beds of basalt alternating with beds of volcanic dust and fragments that show every mark of being laid down in water.

The contrast between those far-off days with their steaming seas and occasional flash and roar of some exploding root of lava above the inward heat, and our quiet countryside is accentuated today by the small patches of snow that lie here and there among the salal and blackberry thickets under the shadow of ancient firs.

Streams New and Old

The Bilston receives just south of Centre Mountain a small stream that rises in a hollow of the Cattle Hills. It is one of those intermittent brooks that have little or no summer existence, depending entirely on the winter rains or such melting snow as the district affords. The Bilston on the contrary runs all the year though it too has its really active time in winter. Then it has been known to flood parts of Happy Valley and even occasionally the road itself.

Flooding in Langford in November, 2021.

It is a pretty little stream with a good many twists and turns in this part of its course as it wanders in and out among the willows and other shrubbery. After long stretches of road, with nothing more suggestive of water than a straight hand-made wayside ditch, it is a great relief to look down on a brook broken by little spurts of foam where it breaks through some slight obstacle of fallen timber or dashes down a very diminutive fall. Sometimes near a farmhouse a group of domestic ducks give life to it, or it is bordered by a small pasture-field where a team of horses or a few cows gaze wonderingly at the passers-by.

More Rough Country

After the second crossing of the CNR the valley widens out again for a short distance. Here we get a view of the Cattle Hills near their southern end, not at their highest point indeed, for the cliffs and summits are hidden behind the long ledges of the nearer hills that rise just above the Cosh farm. It is a very prettily-situated place with level fields running down to the railway. The rough country behind is continued further south, where we can see the bare sides of Mount Blinkhorn rising in the valley along which runs the Kangaroo Road. It is a region of bare basaltic heights broken by sheer precipices and steep slopes where a short grass provides a wholesome pasturage for sheep. The sheep in turn have worn a very good set of paths about the hillsides. Except for the absence of anything resembling heath or heather it might well be in some remote and barren section of the Scottish Highlands. As regards heath perhaps one exception should be made: the manzanita that crowns most of the hilltops. It is a true heath, though the resemblance is in the its flowers rather than in habit or foliage. To add to the aloofness of the scene you may here come across a turkey buzzard, the vulture of the north; perhaps too you may, as a friend and I once did, happen on a group of dead sheep fallen over one of the cliffs, probably after pursuit by dogs.

Nearer at hand on the hillside above the Cosh farmhouse are hidden two find glacier erratics standing side by side like guardians of the entrance to the hills. They are about ten feet high and about the same number of feet apart. Perched there upon the slope among the light forest they look almost as it the native tribes had erected them for some religious or symbolic purpose. At any rate they give mute testimony to the gigantic movement of ice that carried them there from their proper home and left them high perched above the neighboring valley.

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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