A rickety bridge on Kangaroo Road is shown in this archival photo. The road got its name due to a comment made by a lands department staffer in reference to claim jumpers and other settlers.

METCHOSIN’S PAST: What’s in a name?

Place and street names have colourful history, Wendy Mitchell writes

Place names can be telling things, whether the people places or events referred to are within living memory or not.  They remind us of places in distant lands or of people mostly forgotten, but there is always a reason how a place came by its moniker.

Like many places on Vancouver Island, Metchosin was named after a native word. The story is told that James Douglas was exploring the area with native guides and asked “what is this place called?” The natives replied “smets-shosin.” A dead whale was rotting on a beach and smets-shosin means “place of the stinking fish” or “place smelling of fish oil.”

An alternate legend is that long before European contact, a whale washed up and the area affected by the rank odour was called smets-shosin. The dreadful smell is gone but the name has stuck. The present spelling of Metchosin is recorded by Douglas in 1842, but it has been spelt variously over the years as mechonsan, metchoosen and metchosen.

Which beach this whale was polluting, whether Albert Head, Witty’s, Taylor or Weir’s, is not recorded. The names are though: Albert Head is named after the consort of Queen Victoria, Taylor for the Hon. Thomas Taylor, Minister of Public Works and Railways in the McBride Government of 1912, and Witty’s and Weir’s after the pioneer families that settled and farmed the adjacent lands.

Mount Blinkhorn honours Thomas Blinkhorn, the first farmer of Bilston Farm, that would later belong to the Witty family. In March 1853, Blinkhorn was appointed by Douglas as Magistrate and Justice of the Peace for the “District of Metchosin and twenty miles around.” From the top of the mountain one can see Bilston Farm, which included Witty’s Beach and Lagoon, but the Blinkhorns never lived on the mountain. A report from 1857 praises Blinkhorn as being the most energetic farmer on the Island, which must be saying a lot considering the caliber of our pioneers. Then there are the names that seem unfathomable, like Kangaroo Road. It is a very twisty road with many ups and downs, somewhat like a kangaroo’s movements. But it was a joke made by an official in the Lands Department that resulted in the name.

In the day, a quarter section (160 acres) of Crown land could be staked by an individual and by “improving” and residing on the property for a certain length of time, they would receive title. There were many “remittance men” who took advantage of this offer, but having wanderlust and no family ties they would often leave before the allotted time was up. If the property was unoccupied for over six months it could be claimed by another. The pre-emptions had to be registered in the Lands office and the story is that one official remarked, “what’s the matter with the folks out there? They are always ‘jumping’ one another’s claims and jumping around from place to place … like a lot of kangaroos.”

In 1896 the road was constructed to give direct access from Metchosin to Sooke Road, running through the area known humorously as the Kangaroo District.

In the School Museum are two whale vertebrae reputedly from the odoriferous orca. Bessie Page’s book, Metchosin Place Names, is available in the Museum and is a fountain of interesting stories. Most of my information is sourced from Footprints, compiled and edited by Marion Helgesen, sponsored by the Metchosin Museum Society in 1983.

The School is closed for the winter but can be visited by appointment. The Pioneer Old Barn Book Store, located on the Metchosin municipal grounds, is open every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Please drop off your used books in the bin and help support our efforts to preserve local heritage.

Wendy Mitchell is president of the Metchosin Museum Society. If you have story ideas, email her at wendyncmitchell@shaw.ca.