For years, his streamer fly, the Ashdown Green, graced the backs of Sportsman cigarette packages.
It’s hard to imagine that today’s 140 Trans Canada Hwy. was once a bucolic spot beside the Cowichan River. It would have had to be to suit the likes of Ashdown Henry Green.
But that was long before construction of the new Island Highway in 1949-50, and what was a 10-acre, secluded riverside estate has been subdivided, hard-topped and commercially developed beyond recognition over the past 70 years.
The southern extremity of yesterday’s York Road is part of today’s Trans Canada Highway. Green’s handsome one and a-half storey house is still there. But you have to look for it as it has been incorporated into the modernistic Ramada Inn.
Built in 1893, ‘Kilninta’ was renovated as the Angler’s Tavern in 2002, taking its name from Green’s enduring fame as a fisherman and creator of the Ashdown Green ‘streamer’ fly for trout.
That was when he wasn’t tramping around in the bush as an engineer and surveyor, serving as warden of the provincial jail for seven years and as the second reeve (mayor) of North Cowichan in 1874. Interviewed in 1924, he boasted to a reporter that he’d “travelled over every inch” of British Columbia but for Barkerville. An obvious exaggeration, but one that he stuck to with his claim that he knew the province like a book.
Born in Grosvenor Square, London in 1840, and educated in England and Germany, he arrived in Victoria at age 22. Initially he’d hoped to practise his profession in India but, advised by a doctor to seek a cooler climate, he entered into partnership with F.W. Green, a Victoria surveyor whose surname he shared by coincidence not by family relationship. After exploring the rugged Selkirk Range for the Canadian government, Green did survey work for the CPR and the Department of Indian Affairs.
From his diaries, now in possession of the Provincial Archives, and from grandson Jack Green, we know that Green arrived in the Cowichan Valley in the late 1860s, bought property at Somenos Lake from the Rev. Alex Garrett “for use as a farm”. It’s there that he hosted the Cowichan Indian Agricultural Exhibition in 1870. At a public meeting in March 1871, he was one of 11 in attendance who approved a motion to found the Cowichan Lending Library and Literary Institute. Three years later, he attended an Anglican Synod in Victoria as the delegate for St. Peter’s, Quamichan and he was elected to the year-old North Cowichan Council for Quamichan Ward, serving as the municipality’s second warden (reeve). He also, in 1874, conducted a survey of Salt Spring Island and, in 1878, surveyed the Cowichan Indian Reserve.
He left the Cowichan Valley in 1879 after marrying Caroline Guillod, of Comox, and moved to Victoria where daughter Caroline and son Ashdown Thomas were born. Upon their mother’s death after just four years of marriage, the children were sent to England to be raised by relatives. Green later married Constance Clara Augusta Dumbleton (after courting her sister Ellen) and fathered Rupert, Arthur and Godfrey.
As a CPR divisional engineer he’d been away from home much of the time prior to 1880. His duties were not only challenging but dangerous, as some of his diary entries record in matter-of-fact fashion: “Made a portage over the ice…found the river blocked up…nearly shipwrecked…crossed the river on the ice. Some of us went through and were saved with difficulty.”
It must be remembered that Ashdown Green who so coolly accepted such risks and hardships in the B.C. wilderness was a long, long way from his sheltered upbringing in Grosvenor Square. Even on the job, his gentlemanly ways prevailed, it being said that he always “dressed to the nines”.
In 1886, as “one of 30 of the most prominent citizens in Victoria,” he signed a petition for the establishment of a provincial museum in Victoria and his collection of preserved fish ultimately became the nucleus of the museum’s piscatorial exhibits. He also served as president of the Victoria Natural History Society. An ardent angler, he wrote scientific articles on “the Salmonidae and the economic fishes of British Columbia,” “identified nine types of fish not previously seen in B.C. waters, and caught two types of fish, previously unknown, which were later named for him”: the Lake Chub (Couesius Plumbeus Greeni) and the Lobefin Snailfish (Polypera Greeni) that he caught in Esquimalt Harbour. By far, his streamer fly, the Ashdown Green, was best known of his accomplishments in this field as, in the 1950s and ‘60s, it graced the backs of Sportsman cigarette packages.
In 1907 Green addressed a Dominion Fisheries Service commissioner who was considering the leasing of fishing rights in Cowichan Bay to commercial interests. Asked his opinion of the use of seine nets in the bay, he stated that he’d lived beside the Cowichan River for 40 years: “I think it should be stopped. [The Cowichan River] is not a large river like the Fraser. The fish can’t get up at any time… They stay in the bay and don’t start to go up until there is a freshet. As a consequence, in that small bay [commercial fishermen] would net every fish. I have no doubt that seining should be stopped there.”
Asked if he thought that the Cowichan River could “stand the strain of commercial fishing,” he emphatically replied, “No, no, not a bit of it.”
He’d returned to Duncan, this time with Constance, about 1894 and set up residence in their gabled manor, Kilninta, which they named for an estate in Scotland that Mrs. Green’s father had rented “for the shooting”. The tennis court has long vanished and, in recent years, one of the established cypress trees that may have dated from the Greens’ tenure was cut down. Also gone is the gardener’s cottage which the Greens rented in 1905 for temporary use as a private school.
Despite his continued frequent absences surveying the province, the Greens became leaders of Duncan society, hosting tennis teas and picnics, he (at least in earlier years) playing his violin at dances, she playing the organ at St. Peter’s. At the 1900 Summer Fair Clara won one first and three second prizes for her flowers, he first prize for his Fox Terrier. In 1913 he sold Kilninta to Frank Price and they moved back to Victoria. Not until 1918 did Henry Ashdown Green retire as an engineer and surveyor. He was 78 years old. With his full black beard long turned to white, and his six-foot frame bowed with age and half a century’s strenuous exertion, some likened him to Father Time.
By the time of his death in 1927, at the age of 87, he’d outlived three of his children. In 1998 great granddaughter Gillian Ashdown Green purchased a condominium on McKinstry Street, originally part of Kilninta estate. She became the fourth generation of the family to live on McKinstry, Jack Green noted in 1999. At that time the family fishing lodge on McKinstry Street, given to son Ashdown T. Green as a wedding gift in 1914, was said to be “very little changed from the 1920s”.
The same cannot be said for Kilninta, of course. In 1953, shortly after completion of the new Island Highway, the grand old home opened its doors as the Silver Bridge Inn, its name inspired by the nearby river crossing. Prior to the addition of hotel, banquet and dining rooms in recent years, the Green’s home served primarily as a restaurant.
Kilninta, whose “original architecture [is] still in place,” was originally designed “to show a beautiful front on all four sides”. It also was closer to the river’s edge prior to the building of dikes which have allowed the construction of a condominium and commercial building on the reclaimed foreshore. The former home’s current role as an “old-fashioned pub” and as part of a much larger building complex has it somewhat tucked away in a back corner, but extant.
The Anglers Tavern sign depicted the Ashdown Green fly and its window glass featured etchings of Green “fishing in his beloved river” by Maple Bay artist Ken Hicks.
Son Geoffrey W. Ashdown Green’s name is on the Duncan Cenotaph. He was killed, aged 24, in March 1918 while serving as an observer with the Royal Flying Corps.