By North Cowichan bylaw “Only those persons and their spouses residing in the Cowichan Valley prior to 1900, and their direct descendants and spouses,” may be interred in Pioneer Cemetery.
Some of Cowichan’s earliest pioneers, the Morleys, the Fletts, the Aitkens, among others, take their rest here, at the end of appropriately named Pioneer Road.
Visitors will observe the striking cross-and-crown logo on the headstone of Janet Flett, January 1, 1823 – June 7, 1909. At that time, the Cowichan Leader reported, “Another gap was made in the ranks of the pioneers of the Cowichan Valley when the death occurred on Monday last of Mrs. Flett [sic], widow of the late John Flett at the residence of her son, at Maple Bay. The deceased, who was 86 years of age at the time of her death, came to this district 53 years ago.” Among her pallbearers were John Watson and R.D. Symons, who have since followed her to Pioneer Cemetery.
Peter Flett, November 26, 1861 – December 30, 1919, who lies with his wife Mary Flett, September 9, 1870 – May 23, 1940, had been in failing health for the last two years of his life. A farmer like his parents, he was said to be “of a retiring disposition [who] did not enter much into public life” other than his involvement with the Methodist Church. Widow Fanny was an active church woman, Sunday school teacher and member of the Women’s Auxiliary.
The youngest of this pioneer family is Arthur W. Flett, who died when only 24, in October 1915. Born at Somenos, his father had for a time been stationmaster. (An exception to the Flett preference for the Maple Bay cemetery is James Flett who was thought to be “Vancouver Island’s oldest native son” at the time of his interment in Mountain View Cemetery in May 1948.)
In 1991, Alfred Flett, then an alderman in Nanaimo, recalled how Grandfather Flett arrived in Nanaimo from the Orkney Islands in 1849. A cooper, or barrel maker, by trade, he accompanied the first miners imported by the Hudson’s Bay Co. to work in the Fort Rupert coal mine and was working in the San Juan Islands at the time of the famous ‘Pig War.’
After a stint as a fur trader he began farming at Maple Bay. Another family history tells us that John worked for the HBCo. for 20 years, returning to the Old Country at the end of his final five-year contract to marry his first cousin Janet; he was 27, she was 33. When they reached Victoria, April 1, 1855, it was after John’s third rounding of Cape Horn under sail. For Janet, it had been even more daunting as she was newly pregnant; she gave birth to John William Jr. nine months after their arrival. John Sr. continued in the employment of the company, in Victoria and on San Juan Island, as a cooper and as a fur-grader until, aged 43, he traded his house in Victoria for a house and pre-emptive rights to 100 acres of Crown land at Maple Bay. Before long, he acquired a grant for a further 50 acres.
Continuing the senior Fletts’ story by descendant Victor E. Jaynes: “With their four sons ranging in age from 14 down to eight, John and Janet arrived by ship at Maple Bay on 5 March, 1870. A large cart and two oxen were borrowed to move their possessions to the farm over a rough road. When one of the cart’s wheels gave way a tree was felled and from it a makeshift wheel was cut and fitted. Any pleasure they might have felt on entering their new home would have been dampened by news on arrival of the burial of a nearby settler, murdered, it was suspected, by an Indian.
“John’s decision to settle at Maple Bay owes much if not all to the precedent set by his younger brother James who some three years earlier had commenced farming a 100-acre block adjoining John’s new farm. This too was Crown land for which James obtained the freehold on 12 June, 1871, having paid 100 [pounds], probably in installments of 25 [pounds] a year. James had left Stromness at some time after 1851 and was on the west coast in time to take part in the Cariboo gold rush of 1858 [sic]… There is nothing to suggest James was one of the lucky few. Late in life he became the fourth husband of Charlotte Jane (Lottie) Reeves. There were no children of the marriage, a circumstance which helps explain why so little is known about James’s life story.” (James, as noted, is in Mountain View Cemetery.)
John, who helped to build the Maple Bay church and who served a term on North Cowichan Council, died, aged 58, after an injury to his left leg became infected. By the time he reached medical assistance in Victoria, the gangrenous limb had to be amputated and he succumbed, February 4, 1886.
Keeping company with the Fletts are in-laws John Watson (1843 – 1910), who “fought a good fight…finished the course [and] kept the faith,” and his wife Emma Watson, February 10, 1840 – February 17, 1912.
Right of centre are three headstones, side by side, for Richard D. Symons, June 20, 1827 – February 18, 1883 and wife Harriet Symons, May 3, 1828 – September 21, 1915, who “died at Duncans, B.C.” (The plural isn’t a typo; for years Duncan was known as Duncans from a previous iteration as Duncan’s Crossing.) A single headstone lists son and namesake Richard D. Symons, 1857 – 1912, wife Flossie Symons, 1894 – 1949, and daughter Agelina Symons, 1903 – 1939.
Between the Aitkens and the Fletts, a distinctive rough granite headstone marks the graves of Baby Jane, 190l, and Baby John, 1907. Even more striking is the pinkish-orange heart for Alexander Strachan Aitken, 1919 – 1931.
(To be continued)