Duncan: ‘Where everyone takes in his neighbour’s washing’

It’s always interesting and illuminating to turn the telescope around and to see ourselves through others’ eyes.

It’s always interesting and illuminating — perhaps even disconcerting — to turn the telescope around and to see ourselves through others’ eyes.

Duncan citizens were given that opportunity, unsolicited, in 1921 when an anonymous visitor from the Old Country (as he identified and signed himself) filled almost two columns in the Cowichan Leader with his observations of Duncan, home to so many “fellow countrymen in such different environment and living under such different conditions”.

His visit to Canada had been inspired during the Great War and hundreds of Canadians whom he’d met serving overseas. Duncan, B.C., he’d been told in a chance conversation, was the home of egalitarianism: “the place where everyone takes in his neighbours’s washing”.

After several weeks here, Visitor wholeheartedly agreed: “Surely what my informant meant was, that the great god ‘Money,’ or rather the superabundance of it, held no sway [here], for I [found] a most excellent community, composed of all sorts, everybody or nearly everybody, doing some sort of work, no one ashamed of any work he can find to do, no loss of caste, in fact the absence of snobbery.”

Visitor, who obviously opposed class-consciousness, was impressed: “…To one who has spent many years in trying to impress on his neighbours that no honest labour should be looked down upon, that all snobbery should be, once and for all, abolished from the face of the earth,” Duncan and environs proved to be a “truly refreshing experience”.

Now, he couldn’t say with absolute certainty that the evil of snobbery didn’t exist here, he simply hadn’t encountered it. Most outstanding of local virtues, he thought, was residents’ willingness to help each other (to take in their neighbour’s washing), “general unconventionality” and lack of formality that quickly put a visitor at ease.

Not to mention the Valley’s great outdoors which he experienced through trout fishing and living in a tent for a month. Despite a damp summer, he particularly liked Maple Bay although he thought it needed a hotel to accommodate those who didn’t have their own or rented cabin. In fact, “There seems to be little or no accommodation for the would-be visitor…and I am quite sure there are few spots that can show more attractions or more natural beauty.”

Getting back to Cowichan society, he noted: “Undoubtedly [frontier] life is much harder for the women folk than for the men; there is more monotony, less variation of occupation, less fresh air in their life. For the women of some houses that I became intimate with (sic), I felt very sorry. Their work seems to be so incessant, but I think this is partly due to lack of system, for with more method the work could be done quicker and so much more free time obtained.

“There is no doubt, however, that it is a hard life for the women, and I admire them for their general cheerfulness, and for being happy and contented in it all.”)

(It would be interesting to know how some of the homemakers he alluded to received his efficiency advice and surmise of their state of humour.)

At least they weren’t slaves to fashion as were the women of larger, more cosmopolitan communities: “Clothes on Vancouver Island seem to be very expensive, and the purchase of only what is a necessity must help to encourage the simplicity of Duncan life and fashion.”

Commodity prices generally, he thought to be slightly over-priced and on a par with those in England thanks to the CPR’s “unreasonable” freight rates.

But he wasn’t done even though it meant possibly offending his former hosts. He thought Canadians in general to be untidy, their houses surrounded by uncut grass and weeds. But Duncan! “There are some very nice gardens, with good plots of turf kept mown, but they are very few; more often than not, the place is hideously untidy and overgrown. This gives the traveller, landing in Duncan and taking a walk around, a bad impression. It is not what he expects of a colony of many English people.”

Yes, life and working conditions were hard here but, surely, residents could do better with their yards and around their homes — it was just a matter of priorities! So wrote our efficiency expert who would hear no excuses: “No, I cannot forgive you for all this; it spoils the general outlook and…gives the traveller a bad impression: the impression that so many Britishers have left pride of home and garden behind them.”

Overall, however, his memories of the Cowichan Valley were of “delightful freedom, the absence of so many conventions, and the simple life and the friendliness of the inhabitants…” He would, he concluded, be back; next time for a longer stay.


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

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 two patients, a man and a woman likely acquired the virus in the hospital

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and Attorney General David Eby attend opening of the first government-run B.C. Cannabis Store, Kamloops, Oct. 19, 2018. (B.C. government)
B.C. government to allow home cannabis delivery starting July 15

Added convenience expected to persuade buyers to ‘go legal’

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

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

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy patbaywebcam.com.
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum speaks at a press conference in August 2019 about provincial government approval of the city’s change to a municipal force, joined by councillors (from left) Mandeep Nagra, Allison Patton and Doug Elford. Members of the National Police Federation claim there is still no transition plan in place although Surrey RCMP’s contract with the city is due to end March 31.(File photo)
Elections BC approves petition application for referendum on Surrey policing transition

Application was filed under Recall and Initiative Act by the widow of a Surrey murder victim

Most Read