The oldest building on the West Shore – and one of the oldest on Vancouver Island – will be getting a second life at a new location.
The Colwood Dairy and Cheese House, the first dairy on the Island, was built in 1852 by the Hudson’s Bay Company and has enjoyed a variety of purposes throughout its 164 years. The building, which sits roughly in the 400 block of Goldstream Avenue was originally constructed as part of the Esquimalt farm, which was a key producer of various products for Fort Victoria, including cheese, milk and butter.
The farm house later fell into disrepair and was demolished and the dairy went into a state of neglect until the land was purchased in 1952 by Art Treloar and his wife Elsie. The Treloars repaired the building and turned it into a workshop, which is more or less how it remains.
The building has been under threat at various times in the past.
In 1981, the Capital Regional District wanted to add the building to its heritage registry, but the owner at the time told the Gazette that she’d tear it down if people started to snoop around her property. The CRD dropped its effort amid budget restrictions.
Ironically, the dairy’s position away from the road and the public’s curious eye, and its resulting lonely existence, likely saved it from destruction.
“Nobody paid any attention to it,” said William Silvester, who has written three books on Colwood history and is the current chair of the City’s heritage commission.
In fact, the building had slipped so far out of the public’s mind that the City didn’t know it existed as recently as five years ago.
“We had no idea it was there,” then-Mayor Dave Saunders said in 2011.
Recent development plans on the 400-block of Goldstream Ave. might have put the building’s future into question, but a concerted effort from both the City of Colwood and the developers will see the dairy house move – rather than be demolished – to make way for the project.
The move would also bring the small stone shack closer to the road, giving it a boost in visibility compared to its current location tucked in behind a house.
“We’re kind of hoping to make it into an interactive display, maybe have some old milk cans or signage to display what happened here. A tourist destination is what we’d like to see there, with maybe a little gift shop or information centre … there’s nothing firm yet,” Silvester said.
All of this is positive news for Colwood councillors and community members who have worked hard to ensure the building is preserved.
“It has quite a huge historical significance for Colwood. This represents the rural farm life from back in the day,” said Coun. Lilja Chong.
“It definitely has significance and is very important to the history of Colwood. (The farm) is basically the birthplace of the non-indigenous people on the West Shore,” Sylvester said.
The conundrum now lies in how to actually move the 15-by-26-foot building, a challenge that is still under consideration.
A couple of years ago a team of archaeologists discovered some original bricks underneath the much newer concrete floor.
“There’s nothing under that but dirt and it could be a problem moving it,” Silvester noted, later adding that the building might have to be dismantled and rebuilt at its new location.
The original development plans were restricted to 468 Goldstream Ave., where the dairy building currently sits, but that plan has expanded to include adjacent properties at 474 and 476 Goldstream Ave.
The majority of 476 Goldstream Ave. would be developed as a heritage park, which would also accommodate the dairy building according to the latest development plans.
The expansion of the original plans is contingent on a successful re-zoning application, which will be discussed at a public hearing Nov. 23 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 3300 Wishart Rd.