Farewell to sawmills and frogs

“Don’t use my name,” she warned. “Okay, I won’t, scout’s honour,” I assured my Langford Lake friend and neighbour. I was tapping into her view of past years.

“Don’t use my name,” she warned. “Okay, I won’t, scout’s honour,” I assured my Langford Lake friend and neighbour. I was tapping into her view of past years.

Let’s call her Mary. Under cover of nameless status, she isn’t afraid to put a pre-inflation date on herself by remembering five-cent chocolate bars and five-cent restaurant coffee.

“The night the Highway Sawmill burned down,” Mary said, “my husband came home so dirty and smoky fighting the fire, that he just dropped his clothes on the raft and jumped in the lake before he had a bath.”

That was in the 1950s. “There was another sawmill on Dunford Road, in the 1940s, and that burned down too,” she said.

I had the sense that her memory worked somewhat as mine did, a stream of pictures with sound track, driven by strong feelings and quirky surprises.

Like my inner videotape of a man shaking loose a shower of soot from his hair and dropping it on the desk in front of the city editor of the old Daily Colonist.

That was his (eventually successful) complaint against the particle-laden smoke from the mills that surrounded downtown Victoria and sprawled out to distant Langford, in the days when Ross carriers used to trundle through the streets of Victoria with underslung loads of lumber.

Now the sawmills themselves have melted away with the smoke, which has been replaced by the massed fumes of car tailpipes.

“We came to Langford in 1946,” Mary said. “My husband was in the air force until August of 1946, and we came out in September. We lived on Dunford Road at first, where the recycling place is now. Before that, we lived in Fairfield for a few months, and our friends there used to ask why we wanted to live way out in the sticks.”

The little Women’s Institute hall on Dunford, demolished in the 1980s to make room for development, was commemorated indirectly by the name of the cluster of dwellings — Adelaide Court, after Adelaide Hoodless, who was the founder of the Women’s Institute in Canada.

Mary remembered the Staverman family on Leigh Road. They lived in one of a small scattering of houses on Leigh and the Island Highway, now Goldstream Avenue.

They were generous enough to allow a big piece of their waterfront to be used as a public beach. Many Langford people learned to swim there.

“And then there was the Powers property. The present public beach was part of it. The Powers sisters had their big house and five acres of woods on Langford Lake. Some of the neighbours tried to have the property developed as a park, but that didn’t work.”

In the conflict between today’s profits and tomorrow’s hopes for the grandchild generation, tomorrow came out the loser, as it usually does.

“Where Western Foods now is, and the other stores, that was the Hincks farm” Mary said. “Ken and Bunty Hincks had a dairy farm there, but I never saw any cows. They must have been further back out of sight. Ken’s brother Claude was killed in the war. Claude Road is named after him. Ken and Bunty grew vegetables for some years.”

Looking at the web of leaves and branches that screened Mary away from the streets and buildings on the former peaty wetland that used to be Hull’s Field, I asked her: “When was the last time you heard the frogs singing in the springtime?”

“I heard them a little last year, but I didn’t hear them at all this year,” she said.

Developers hired consultants who testified that by one of the many definitions of a wetland, Hull’s Field was not a wetland. But the frogs knew better.


—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.



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