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HISTORY COLUMN: Former Beechwood Farm land still gateway to Metchosin
Springtime brought an interesting painting to the Metchosin Museum Society, donated by the granddaughter of Frank Blake, who established Beechwood Farm on Metchosin Road.
An old newspaper article (circa 1940) describes it, “Beechwood is like a model farm in its neatly-painted barns and sheds, and many tourists have stopped to admire it …” The barn is at the very entrance to Metchosin and is an icon in its rural nature; it is still a tourist attraction and has even been used as a backdrop for wedding photographs.
Frank Christopher Blake was born in England, emigrated to farm on the Canadian prairies in about 1908 and moved to Victoria in 1917. Around 1919 he bought 40 acres for $4,000 in Metchosin. Over the years he added to the farm, bringing Beechwood Farm holdings to more than 300 acres.
Except for the front one acre, the rest of the property was forested, which he cleared himself with the help of his sons over the years. The family appears in the 1921 census as Frank Christopher Blake 38 years, Bessie age 42, Constance 15, Leslie 11, Reginald 8, Marjory 6, Edgar 3 and a boarder, William Henry Belbeck, age 62.
In 1928 Blake’s name was submitted to the lieutenant governor to be appointed as chief electoral officer for the Esquimalt District. In the 1940’s he was the president of the Metchosin Farmer’s Institute.
Blake, and subsequently one of his daughters and her husband George Musselwhite farmed the property by raising turkeys and chickens and dairying. His granddaughter notes that the little building to the right of the barn in the painting, still standing today, was the bull’s shed. She and her cousins were strictly forbidden from going anywhere near the shed, as the bull was considered very dangerous. The painting shows Jersey cows looking contented and calm lying by the haystack.
The farmer’s plight has not changed much over the decades. The earlier news article states of Blake, “Dairying is his first choice for the Island agriculture, ‘if you could get a good market for the milk,’” he says. Blake goes on to say, “Farming on the Island would be much better if we weren’t swamped by all kinds of early produce from the United States. People get tired of the stuff. Take strawberries for instance, (which is) why the public has eaten strawberries for so long that they’re not very keen about ours when they reach the market.”
Over the past 10 years, the present owner of the property, now known as Green Acres Golf Course and Driving Range, has put a full concrete foundation under the barn, roofed it with metal over the original cedar shakes and braced the walls inside. The large, solid cedar gate posts which are not in either picture, but are remembered by many Metchosinites, are stored on the property.
To see the original watercolour, signed by artist “H. Carpenter,” please visit the Metchosin Pioneer Barn Museum behind the fire hall on Happy Valley Road, during the Farmer’s Market on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The old School Museum is open Saturdays from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information or if you have stories to share, please call Wendy at 250-474-4651 or Bert at 250-382-1989.
Wendy Mitchell is president of the Metchosin Museum Society.