Salt Spring: The Story of an Island

Salt Spring: The Story of an Island

by Charles Kahn

Paperback(First paperback edition copyright 2001 Charles Kahn)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550172621
Publisher: Harbour Publishing Company, Limited
Publication date: 04/01/2001
Edition description: First paperback edition copyright 2001 Charles Kahn
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Charles Kahn was born in Montreal in 1945. He has worked as a freelance editor and writer for over thirty years and has had numerous travel articles published in the Globe & Mail, the Montreal Gazette and Touring and Travel. He has edited and co-authored several educational textbooks and is also the author of Hiking the Gulf Islands. In 1992 Kahn moved to Salt Spring Island where he is an active member of the Salt Spring Island Historical Society and the island's Trail and Nature Club.

Read an Excerpt


One Salt Spring islander greatly influenced almost everyone and everything around him. Not everyone liked Harry Wright Bullock, and few understood him, but he was truly larger than life.

The single, rich, twenty-six-year-old Englishman who came to Salt Spring Island in 1892 must have intrigued islanders. Bullock was short (about 5'8"), broad, bespectacled, and balding, with a large beard and a round kindly face. Donald "Goodie" Goodman, who worked for Bullock from 1922 to 1926, said his employer "was a man of very much regular habits, including a fair amount of eating, usually about five meals a day, and he showed it all right."'

Bullock's somewhat mysterious quality led many people to exaggerate when discussing him. His dress and demeanour were consciously that of an upper-class English gentleman. Almost every photo or description portrays him formally dressed in a starched white shirt, tie, vest, black waistcoat or long black frock coat, and satin top hat. He even kept his beard black and shiny with a product called Beardblack. In the frontier community of latenineteenth-century Salt Spring, where most people survived by hard physical labour, Bullock's fanciful appearance sometimes inspired far-fetched stories of outlandish behaviour. Bullock's wealth, lifestyle, and eccentricities - he liked islanders to call him "The Squire" - invited discussion and anecdote.

Bullock, the second son of a wealthy Bristol family, was born in 1866 near his mother's home of Chalfont, Buckinghamshire. His family provided ample financial support when he left for the colonies. Denise Crofton, a frequent guest in Bullock's home, remembered hearing that Bullock was in love with his brother's wife and left England to avoid painful encounters.

For five years, Bullock rented two rooms at Stevens Boarding House and lived there while his house was being built. Anne Stevens was a good cook, and the boarding house at Central was next door to St. Mark's Church, very important to the devoutly Anglican Bullock.

Bullock purchased land on the lake that now bears his name and hired Reid Bittancourt to build a twelve-room mansion, which reputedly cost $2000. Fruit and nut trees were planted almost immediately.

One of Bullock's first housekeepers was Miss Hind, a former matron of Victoria's Protestant Orphans' Home, who came to Salt Spring in 1903. Mary Palmer replaced her three years later.

Over the years, Bullock's house grew. Bill Palmer, his employee for years, said the house had ten bedrooms, a dining room, a drawing room, a huge hall, Bullock's den, a sitting room, a small dining room where the household staff ate, and a large kitchen. Donald Goodman remembered that Bullock had a furnace in the entry hall, "which only a bachelor would do, because no wife would ever arrive and let him get away with it." He said the house contained "a helluva lot of antiques," and the walls were covered with valuable paintings. The indoor plumbing, perhaps the first on the island, required an unsightly network of exposed pipes on inside walls.

Bullock was a knowledgeable farmer, but left most farm work to Japanese labourers. Each year, his 300-acre (121 ha) farm produced about two thousand boxes of apples, plums, pears, and cherries - 80,000 pounds (36,288 kg) of large, high-quality fruit. Bullock also produced cream from his Jersey cows, pork, poultry, lamb, garden crops, and honey from his hundred or so beehives. Ham and fish were cured in a smokehouse.

Bullock's state-of-the-art equipment included one of the island's first tractors in about 1922, a gasoline generator, and a steam engine to thresh grain. Day-to-day operations were overseen by a succession of competent managers. The first, in 1905, was Keith Wilson, Rev. E.F. Wilson's youngest child. Three years later, Bill Evans came to work on the farm and eventually replaced Wilson as estate manager. Bullock built a house for Evans and his wife, Nellie Dowson, who arrived from England in 1912. When Evans left to manage a farm at Duncan in 1917, Bill Palmer took over.


After 1900, Bullock always hired a couple of twelve- to sixteen-year-old boys to care for his house and property Most came from the Protestant Orphans' Home in Victoria. After Mary Palmer retired, the senior boy would serve as cook-taught by Bullock, himself a good cook-and the junior as houseboy The cook was also responsible for preparing the shopping lists. The houseboy cleaned the house, served at table, and did the dishes. In winter, the boys cleared snow and brought in well water, as Bullock Lake was too boggy to provide drinking water; in spring, they helped plant the gardens.

Each boy received room and board plus $10 a month in his first year, with an increase of $2 a month for each successive year. A boy needed to buy only clothing from his wages, as Bullock supplied everything else. Donald Goodman remembered Bullock investing $125 in a radio just for the boys' use.

Bullock was very strict with his boys, insisting on proper behaviour and dress (he dropped the requirement for elaborate uniforms after World War 11). Although Palmer said his employer occasionally carted him and made the boys "toe the line," Goodman said that Bullock never really mistreated them. Still, Bullock's class biases were apparent in his "upstairs-downstairs" household. He ate only in the dining room, for example. Occasionally he would break his own rules, Palmer recalled, by having a cup of tea in the kitchen. He also did not believe that working-class children required schooling, so his boys never attended school. The only exception was Bill Palmer, who attended a Salt Spring private school and completed Grade 13 in Victoria, perhaps at his mother's insistence.

Donald Goodman recollected one Bullock failing: "One of his bad faults was that he couldn't tolerate seeing you without something to do." The boys started work at 8:00 or 8:15 a.m. but dragged it out until 9:00 p.m., "because if he caught you without a job, he'd find a new one for you.... When he went out, we'd finish up within ten minutes and be gone." It was the only way they could get time off.

Some felt that, when Bullock was older, the boys took advantage of him, as Donald Goodman reported:

"[Bullock] was foolish to an extent, especially years after I left. He was loanin' the kids money with no thought of ever getting it back. . . They could touch him for 20 dollars any old time they wanted. And he'd give it to them and smile. He knew he wasn't gonna get it back, but he'd still loan it."

Over the years, Bullock hired as many as sixteen boys from the orphanage. Bullock's boys must have learned valuable skills from him, because most did well after they left the estate. Today people might suspect the motives of a man who had such close involvement with young boys. However, no hint of scandal attached to the man in his own day, and Bullock's boys continue to speak highly of their mentor.


1. In the Beginning: Aboriginal Salt Spring
2. Land for Five Shillings
3. Eking Out a Living: 1859-1872
4. The Black Community
5. Government, Law, and Disorder
6. A Troubled Adolescence: 1873-1883
7. The Hawaiian Community
8. Connections and Communities: 1884-1899
9. Into the Twentieth Century: 1900-1918
10. Farming the Hard Way
11. The Squire of Salt Spring
12. Logging, Mining, and Red Ink
13. Ferries and Roquefort Cheese: 1919-1945.
14. The Japanese Community
15. Time for Each Other: 1946-1960
16. The Island Discovered: 1961-1986
17. Salt Spring in Transition: 1986-1998


Aboriginal peoples had several names for Salt Spring Island. The Cowichan called it Klaathem, which in their language means "salt." The Saanich called it CUAN, which means "each end," referring to mountains at each end of the island) Variations of this information have passed by word of mouth from generation to generation of Coast Salish people.

The first written mention of Salt Spring Island appeared in a letter written by Governor James Douglas in 1853, a year after he explored the east coast of Vancouver Island by canoe. Douglas believed that his discovery of salt springs on the island "would be of the greatest importance and become a wealth to the country"' His report was published with a map on which Salt Spring was labelled Chuan. The Cowichan had given this name, which means "facing the sea," to Mt. Tuam on the south end of the island. Over time Chuan became Tuan and eventually Tuam, which it remains today Meanwhile, the salt springs were sufficiently intriguing for Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant (in 1849 the first settler to purchase land on Vancouver Island) to use the name Saltspring Island on a map included in his 1856 "Description of Vancouver Island."

Captain George Henry Richards, who charted much of the northwest coast between 1857 and 1863, renamed the island Admiral Island in honour of Rear-Admiral Robert Lambert Baynes, commander in chief of the Pacific station at Esquimalt between 1857 and 1860. Post-Richards maps showed the island as Admiral island and Ganges Harbour as Admiralty Bay

The salt springs captured the popular imagination, however, and the island became known locally as Salt Spring (two words) Island, in spite of Grant's 1856 one-word spelling. Saltspring (one word) became the island's official name when the Geographic Board of Canada adopted it in 1905, although Canada Post - with the support of many residents - still prefers it spelled as two words.

Perhaps the debate over the island's name planted the seeds of Salt Spring islanders' contentious natures. Throughout this story, you'll find accounts of islanders lining up on opposite sides of issues, and even on opposite sides of nonissues. Perhaps this can be explained by the kind of people attracted to island life - strong-willed (stubborn?), independent (perhaps isolationist?), often unconventional individualists whose opinions and beliefs cover every possible position on any idea or issue. islanders find almost everything disputatious. Introduce an issue or express an opinion and you can expect lively debate.

Salt Spring Island covers about 182 square km and is about 27 km long and 14.4 km at its widest point. St. Mary Lake is by far the largest of the eleven named lakes on the island, and Bruce Peak at 709 m is the island's highest point.

The map of Salt Spring on the inside front cover of this book suggests the immense transportation and communications problems that early settlers faced on a mountainous island covered with old-growth forest and few roads. High ridges of uplands divide parts of the island from one another and the interior from the shoreline. Because of this geography, the early story of Salt Spring is largely the story of hard-working people in small isolated communities carving farms out of rugged terrain. It's no wonder that boats and water transportation were crucial to the early settlers and continue to be important to the island's well-being today

Broadwell's Mountain (now Channel Ridge) cut off settlers at what is now Fernwood on the east, and even St. Mary Lake in the centre, from Vesuvius Bay on the west. The mountainous Cranberry and Mt. Maxwell area was effectively cut off from all other parts of the island and was thus one of the last areas to be settled. This upland region also separated the north and south ends, ensuring that each end of the island would develop in blissful ignorance of the other. The Fulford-Burgoyne Valley, stretching between Burgoyne Bay in the northwest and Fulford Harbour to the south, formed a large area of its own. it was cut off on the east from the Beaver Point community by the upland area around Reginald Hill and on the west from the Musgrave community by what was once termed Musgrave Mountain (now Mt. Sullivan, Mt. Bruce, Hope Hill, and Mt. Tuam).

Landings and, later, wharves developed at Fernwood, Vesuvius Bay, and ultimately Ganges Harbour in the north and at Burgoyne Bay, Fulford Harbour, Beaver Point, and Musgrave Landing in the south. Settlers visited the closest Vancouver island port to receive their goods and mail and to ship their crops and livestock to the closest markets. For example, Vesuvius and Fernwood residents relied on ships plying the routes between Victoria and Nanaimo, occasionally making the voyage to Nanaimo in their own vessels. The few residents who used Ganges Harbour relied on their own vessels to travel to Victoria. Settlers using landings at Beaver Point and Fulford Harbour travelled either to the Saanich Peninsula and then by land to Victoria or directly by sea to Victoria. Residents around Musgrave Landing intercepted ships travelling from Victoria to Nanaimo or travelled to the settlement on Cowichan Bay

Salt Spring's communities developed independently, each with its own character and interests. To this day the character of south Salt Spring is distinctly (and proudly!) different from that of north Salt Spring, and this difference is a constant source of mostly good-natured discussion and banter.

The story of the island begins with the life of the Coast Salish people on Salt Spring's shores and continues through several periods of settlement by diverse peoples. People have always come to Salt Spring with their individual dreams. Many came to find a place where they could live free of the constraints that characterize most societies. This is still true today: almost every new islander arrives with a unique personal dream.

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