T.W. Paterson: Cowichan’s Quamichan Inn originally ‘on the outskirts of civilization’

With the inn’s total and tragic loss in Friday night’s fire, Mrs. Adams can finally hang up her apron.

With the inn’s total and tragic loss in Friday night’s fire, Mrs. Adams can finally hang up her apron.

For more than half a century, besides fine food and atmosphere, guests were served some real history at this tudor-style restaurant, bed-and-breakfast, and landmark, it being situated on part of 279 acres Thomas L. Skinner took up in 1859 after retiring from the Hudson’s Bay Co. The Skinner home, originally a log cabin, stood almost opposite today’s Inn, on land that, in 1864, the Victoria Colonist described as being “distant and lonely…on the outskirts of civilization”.

A native of Essex, Skinner came to Vancouver Island as an officer of the Puget Sound Agricultural Association, a subsidiary of the HBCo., after serving the fabled East Indian Co. As ‘bailiff’ (meaning that he was a manager not an officer of the court), Skinner established Constance Cove Farm on the site of today’s CFB Esquimalt. He, wife Mary, five children and three servants arrived in Fort Victoria on Jan. 15, 1853, to be assigned a one-room shack instead of the house that they’d been promised. So crude were these quarters that their maid left them the same night, by marrying the cook of the ship on which they’d arrived!

It was in these humble surroundings, a month later, that Mary gave birth to their sixth child, Constance, who, 21 years later, would marry Alexander E.B. Davie, Cowichan farmer, lawyer and future B.C. premier.

Although Constance Farm, under Skinner’s management, was a success, the two other PSAA farms were not and all three bailiffs were dismissed. After serving a single term as an ‘independent’ (non-HBCo. employee) in Vancouver Island’s first legislative assembly, he moved his family to Cowichan. With no roads, they had to hike a rough trail from Cowichan Bay to Maple Bay and on to the northeastern shore of Quamichan Lake, their building materials, households effects and two tents following on packhorses. On what, today, is Maple Bay Road, they built a log cabin, the start of Farleigh Farm.

Once settled in, Skinner served as justice of the peace. He died, aged about 67, in the spring of 1889.

Mary lived on at Farleigh until her own death, aged 80.

Previously, in 1859, Capt. George Richards, RN, had named Skinner Bluff and Skinner Point for a pioneer who was described by a colleague as a “genial gentleman”. Ironically, Skinner’s Cove and Skinner’s Bottom, Esquimalt landmarks from his time there as bailiff of Constance Cove Farm, have disappeared from the landscape and the maps.

The house that long served as the Quamichan Inn was built by Herbert Cunningham Clogstoun on 79 acres purchased from the Skinners in 1911.

He was followed by the Paitsons who christened the house ‘Farleigh,’ the name originally given the Skinner home, then by Ernest and ‘Mrs.’ Adams, in 1938. It’s been the Quamichan Inn since Archie and Sheila Owen converted it to a restaurant in 1969. For 20 years the Cunninghams, Capt. Clive Glencairn and wife Pam, were the proprietors and it showed, the olde English decor sharing space with maritime objects, the latter an acknowledgement of Clive’s seafaring career.

The Quamichan has been in the news in recent years for its reputed ghost, thought to be Mrs. Adams who apparently didn’t like change and who sometimes flicked the lights, returned moved furniture to its original place, rattled the dishes and locked the doors. She also ‘helped’ with the table settings, her favourite haunts being the kitchen, dining room and staircase.

Her first name is something of a mystery although she and her husband owned the inn for several years before the Owens. Apparently hers was a sporadic and benign presence, neither friendly nor mischievous, and not always invisible.

Just uncomfortable to have around — especially when employees were working late by themselves.

With the inn’s total and tragic loss in Friday’s fire, Mrs. Adams can finally hang up her apron.