Chronicles: Falling of maple was spring’s death knell

As a solitary old Songhees watched mournfully, the senseless white axed and sawed Father Time into firewood.

As a solitary old Songhees watched mournfully, the senseless white axed and sawed Father Time into firewood.


Once it was the talk of the Pacific Northwest. The resident Songhees worshipped it, settlers journeyed miles to drink its cold, healing waters, lovers dreamed on its shady banks.

Even the austere Sir James Douglas was captivated by the Mystic Spring’s allure. In 1904 journalist D.W. Higgins, writing almost poetically, told how Douglas and his men, sent to establish Fort Victoria, landed at Cadboro Bay and were awed by the great firs and maple trees that “raised their heads on every side…and gigantic oaks [that] almost crushed the clouds with vernal crowns.

“They were a thousand years old if a day, and alas! were long since converted into firewood at two or three dollars a cord, instead of having been allowed to stand as objects of majestic grandeur and forest pride forever…”

As Douglas stepped ashore his attention was drawn to a gigantic maple. Higgins: “No historian has recorded the fact, but I feel sure that Sir James questioned the chiefs as to the magnificent monarch of the forest and applauded their forebearance in having preserved it from destruction, for it was very old, although it showed no signs of decay. At the foot of the tree, so near that some of the roots extended into the water, was a spring as clear as crystal. It was fed by a rill…and its waters [were] as cold as ice in the summer as in winter… The Indians were proud of the spring and used it freely. They also claimed that it was bewitched.”

If a woman looked into the pool when the moon was full she would see the face of the man who loved her. If a woman were childless, the spring water would fulfil her maternal desire. “The tree is a god,” Higgins was told. “It guards the spirit of the spring and as long as the tree stands the water will creep to its feet for protection and shade.”

But, “cut down the tree and the spring will be seen no more”.

When Cadboro Bay became the favourite weekend playground of Victorians, the great maple was christened ‘Father Time’ because of the moss hanging beard-like from its spreading limbs, and the spring, Undine, took its name from the pages of literature. A rough bench was installed for picnickers and young lovers rode miles to see their reflections beneath a full moon.

Not even when it became known that a young woman had almost drowned in the pool after she fainted while peering into its depths were visitors dissuaded. Nor did the news that she’d swooned because the face she’d seen in the water was that of a hideous monster discourage them. “It was fearful,” she said, upon being revived, “the most awful I ever saw. A low-browed, cunning face, deeply lined with wicked thoughts and evil designs, and such awful eyes. He raised his hand to catch me and I fainted. And he’s to be my future husband! No, I’d rather die than marry him.”

In fact, thanks to this notoriety, “the fame of Undine spread far and near. For a long time the locality was a favourite resort for bathing and picnic parties and lovesick youths of both sexes… I never learned with any degree of certainty that that presence [the monster] or any other presence ever again appeared at the spring. But the pretty Indian legend clung to it and girls and boys continued to direct their footsteps to the shrine for several years.”

The spring gained further notoriety when a young Victoria woman known to be emotionally disturbed committed suicide after visiting Undine by herself at night.

Still they came, particularly courting couples, for a further 20 years until “the vandal hand” of a settler seized the great maple tree.

As a solitary old Songhees watched mournfully, the senseless white axed and sawed Father Time into firewood. Concluded Higgins: When the desecration was complete, Mystic Spring, as the chief had warned Governor Douglas long before, disappeared and was seen no more.

Just Posted

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
Cowichan Valley MLA Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

BC Green Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

The city-owned lot at 361 St. Julien St., which has been home to a temporary homeless site for more than a year, will be sold and plans are to build a three-storey mixed-use development there, Peter de Verteuil, Duncan CAO explained at a recent council meeting. (File photo)
New development planned for homeless site in Duncan

Lot on St. Julien Street would see three-storey building

Historian and longtime Citizen columnist T.W. Paterson photographs the historical wreckage of a plane on Mount Benson. Paterson recently won an award from the British Columbia Historical Foundation. (Submitted)
Cowichan’s Tom W. Paterson wins award for historical writing

British Columbia Historical Federation hands Recognition Award to local writer

This electric school bus is the newest addition to the Cowichan Valley School District’s fleet. (Submitted)
Editorial: New electric school bus good place to start

Changing public transit like buses to electric really is important.

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read