Promoting the Cowichan Valley to the world a century ago

At the dawn of each new year many of us reflect upon the year just past and our hopes, plans and prospects for the future.

(Part 1)

“…It is true that the population of the Cowichan district is largely made up of people of means to whom it is not altogether necessary to work for a living…”—Cowichan Leader, 1912.

At the dawn of each new year many of us reflect upon the year just past and our hopes, plans and prospects for the future. It was in this optimistic vein, 104 years ago, that the Cowichan Leader published a special edition intended to inform and to entice potential newcomers from afar (not just Canadian but those of other nationalities) by promoting the Valley as a place where one could live, comfortably and prosperously.

It’s necessary for us to understand that, in 1912, the province was just coming out of a decade-long boom, its greatest economic ride since the Cariboo gold rush. And that the Cowichan Valley had been predominantly settled by gentrified Britons with pensions.

That all this was about to violently end with a world war was as yet unforeseen and partially explains the Leader’s gilded promotion of a way of life that was really achievable only by those who came with adequate financial means.

Readers will note the dramatic changes which have occurred in a century. But, before getting down to the sales pitch for Cowichan, the Duncan newspaper thought it necessary to put to rest popular “misconceptions” about this westernmost Canadian paradise…

“In the year 1912 it is hard to realize that it is only a very few years ago that a leading English daily paper referred to Vancouver Island as ‘an island on the west coast of South America’.That was during the period of abysmal ignorance of the average Englishman with regard to the British Empire

Then came the period of which one may call ‘The lady of the snows’ period. At this time the Old Country was beginning to know the whereabouts of the various portions of the Empire, but had but a very vague idea of the conditions prevailing in them. It is only within the last five years that the outlying portions of the British Empire have been appraised at their true worth by the man in the street in the United Kingdom.

On a smaller scale the same ignorance prevailed in the East of Canada about the west until a few years ago. The boys of the family who ‘went west’ were considered bold adventurers indeed. The west was regarded almost as a different country to the east, and as for British Columbia, since it was necessary to pass the Rocky Mountains to get there, it was considered almost in another hemisphere.

Within a decade a marvellous change has taken place. The world ha[s] grown smaller — the distance from east to west of this continent has contracted. The transformation has been brought about by the building of railways east and west and north and south, until the country has no less than three transcontinental systems — one of which has spanned the continent for 25 years and more, while the other two [then under construction and doomed to bankruptcy—Ed.] will join Atlantic to Pacific within a couple of years; and by the enormous advances which have been made in the field of engineering science, making it possible to build mighty liners which can cross the Atlantic Ocean in less than a week.

Under modern conditions, the ignorance to conditions of life in Canada has been rapidly giving way to a fuller understanding of the vast possibilities of this mighty land.

British Columbia, for some years, seemed to lag somewhat behind the other provinces of Canada, in the matter of the attracting attention of Great Britain and Europe.

Today, British Columbia attracts more attention than any province in Canada. It was, until lately, the largest province in the Dominion, and it is acknowledged to [be] the richest in potential wealth of all the provinces. British Columbia is famed the world over for its enormous potential wealth, its minerals, its forests, waterpower and fisheries; for the awe-inspiring grandeur of its mountain peaks and valleys; for the splendid opportunities for sport of all kinds which it affords, such as mountaineering, big game shooting and fishing, and last, but no means least, it is famous for its mild and equable climate.

Vancouver Island has its full share of these attractions. It has come to be called ‘The playground of Canada’ from the fact that the conditions of life on this island are as near ideal as a man could desire…”

Finally, the editor begins to get to down to business: “In all Vancouver Island there is no more attractive centre than the Cowichan district. This district, which comprises some 300 square miles, in all, is situated 40 miles north of the city of Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, by rail, and 41 by road…”

(To be continued)