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.