‘Big Frank’ Verdier helped lay out Malahat, part 1

Some years ago I received a letter from a lady who wrote that her grandfather,

Francis Edward "Big Frank" Verdier’s contribution to the laying out of the Malahat Highway has been all but overlooked by historians, myself in particular.

In fact, Edna Slater flat out said I hadn’t been "fair to the old boy – his descendants protest!" She was sure that, as "a respected historian," I’d read the attached photocopies. Which, of course, I did, and they convincingly supported her claim that I’d attached too much glory to Mill Bay’s Maj. J.F.L. MacFarlane.

The eccentric major had indeed played a key role in the selection of a direct link to Victoria via the Malahat in place of the existing and circuitous route via Sooke. He’d badgered a reluctant provincial government into finally adapting the route he’d "surveyed" with just an aneroid barometer for a transit level.

Which is where Big Frank Verdier enters the story. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

His saga begins in 1849 with brothers Alphonse and Etienne Verdier of Toulon, France joining in the great gold rush to California. Not striking it rich, Etienne travelled overland to B.C. and arrived in Fort Victoria in 1852 to find work driving a water cart for George Stelly, another pioneer name wellknown in Saanich. Within two years, Etienne owned the business of supplying potable water to city residents and he married Honorah Kilroy, an Irish lass who’d arrived by bride ship.

When he became tired of delivering water with wagon and bucket, Etienne and Honorah moved to Bazan Bay and settled on land near that of Alphonse who’d also found his way to the Saanich Peninsula by then.

Son Frank, the first of four children, was born in 1865 and became adept with a bow an arrow, the neighbouring natives who were his playmates also teaching him how to hunt deer, to trap bear, to mimic bird calls, to spear fish.

He was also invited to attend the secret dances and rituals of the medicine men that, once, included the tearing apart by human teeth of a small dog – much to the six-year-old’s horror.

He grew, as his nickname suggests, to be a "big man" despite a childhood bout with smallpox. His size and strength would serve him well as a logger. An article in a 1931 MacLean’s Magazine recounted how he "cut the big trees on Granville and Hastings Streets, when the great city of Vancouver was in its birth throes". Vancouver hadn’t even been thought of then, he said. "There were only a few shanties along the sea front, a sawmill and a saloon. It looked a big business to clear that forest, but we had it cleared off in a season."

Later, with 12 team of oxen, he helped to clear the Sooke Road; in the off-season he and his oxen cleared his 180 acres of equally stout timber in Saanich and, on a northern ramble, almost singlehandedly, he cut the first trail from Forbes Landing to Campbell Lake and beyond.

In 1931 Frank Verdier was said to be the oldest timber cruiser on the B.C. coast, an accompanying photo showing him with a thatch of white hair and a walrus-style moustache. Then living on busy Verdier Avenue in Brentwood ferry area, he recalled when "there were no roads at all…except the Indian trails, when he had no neighbours between him and old Fort Victoria except the Tsautup Indian [sic] tribe…"

Despite his years he remained an erect six-feet-two, 250 pounds, broad and strong, his shoulders "as massive as a wall". He had the easy stride of the outdoorsman, a "handsome leonine" head, eyes crinkling with a ready smile, and a ready and infectious laugh. Even in retirement he continued to work hard with his orchard, cattle and poultry.

This was the remarkable man who was asked to verify Maj. MacFarlane’s proposed route for a road over the Malahat.

www.twpaterson.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Minister and Halalt First Nation chief consult on effects of recent flooding

Community heavily impacted with many damaged and uninhabitable homes

Drivesmart column: Regulatory vs advisory road signs

The regulatory sign must be obeyed exactly as it is read.

Alistair MacGregor column: Responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 global pandemic

This crisis has shown us just how many Canadians struggle every day to pay the bills

Second vehicle from Crofton Geo-Tech theft recovered

Supervisor at Crofton operation finds it parked at Chemainus campground

List of cancelled Cowichan Valley community events

An ongoing list of events that have been cancelled in the Cowichan Valley due to COVID-19

Evening world update: U.S. restrictions extended 30 days; NY deaths near 1,000

Comprehensive world update, with the latest developments in the COVID-19 crisis

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

Canada will make sure masks sent by China meet quality standards: Trudeau

Chinese Embassy tweeted that China was sending 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles

B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Hand sanitizer and markers to keep lines two metres are apart are needed, province says

No plans to call in military right now to enforce COVID-19 quarantine: Trudeau

Trudeau unveils $7.5M for Kids Help Phone, $9M for vulnerable seniors amid COVID-19

QUIZ: How much do you know about the Olympics?

Put your knowledge to the test with these 12 questions

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Most Read