Get ready to have shivers up your spine.  If you think you felt something brush against your leg, we can’t tell you with all truthfulness that it didn’t happen.  If you didn’t believe in ghosts before you got here today, you may very well think differently in mighty short order.

Now, we’re not going to dive into any big history lectures, we have plenty of links at the end of this post that discuss in great detail the history of this incredible place.  Instead, today we are going to share a story that is intertwined with both the rich history and the feelings we had the afternoon we did this photo-shoot.  Feelings that we weren’t alone.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Ghosts don’t exist in the bright daylight of a sunny summer afternoon, do they?  Do they?  At the end of a road that is on designated native land on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada is this tiny church.  At the top of Comiaken Hill in the Cowichan Valley sits the Old Stone Butter Church.  This is a very well-known place to the locals of the valley, but remains absolutely hidden from obvious sight.

In 1858 Father Peter Rondeault headed for the Cowichan Valley with nothing.  He canoed his way to the inlet far below the shadow of Mount Tzouhalem seen in the backdrop of the church.  A famous mountain said to embody the spirit of a fierce local warrior chief, this is no average mountain.  Father Rondeault arrived with no possessions, and set out to create a life for himself and his faith in a harsh and unforgiving place.  The land here on Vancouver Island is full of mountains, hills, forests, lakes and ocean-front that presents a worthy opponent to even the act of survival.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

The church presents a formidable silhouette on the hilltop, and the light that drapes through the non-existent windows dances on the stone floor that has not been used for over 120 years.   The Old Stone Butter Church was built in 1880, and actively used until 1890.  At that time the story goes a better location was found for the local church and thus St Ann’s was created.  The Old Stone Butter Church is one of only three churches Father Rondeault built in his life, and he passed in 1900.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Story has it that even the natives have long abandoned this location and consider it to be actively haunted.  It now serves as only a place for young folks to head out to on weekends to party in, and undoubtedly get spooked in, and also as a great photography subject.  As we stand here taking this photograph, the wind whistles through the window openings and the strange light that paints the stone floor only adds to the feeling a hand is running its way up your back.

This picture was used in a wonderful photo collaboration with one of my good friends, Rob Hanson who happens to be a master photographer.  This special feature can be found at “Toad’s Penultimate Shot“.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

A shadow darts through the rafters, we turn suddenly.  A feature of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, they described “The church of no services…in which no congregation has ever gathered.” According to Ripley, “the Indians will not go near (it) because all those who actually built it died mysteriously.”

Believe It or Not.

Well; not entirely true, but still…  if you listen closely, the only sound is of those who inhabited these hallows for those 10 years.  They loved them with all their hearts.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

As the ghosts move amongst us, they come and go through the doorways and openings left behind.  Even in the middle of the day, in broad daylight, there is no doubt they are here.  Mrs. Toad beckons to leave soon, the strange sensations grow.  We’re being watched.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

The light creates long shadows on the stone floor, further adding to that unshakable feeling.  We’re captivated by the beautiful stonework and the intricate and interesting wooden rafters, but that feeling of urgency pushes us forward on this shoot.  Let’s get this wrapped up.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Just a couple more shots.  We can’t have taken the time to come all the way here, get setup, and not grab those must have shots.  I tell you, though, now that we’re deeper into the church cavern we feel a much stronger sense of being trapped, of being surrounded by those who are watching.  Father Rondeault had his pulpit here, he stood in front of his congregation and shared his view of religion in some truly harsh outdoor conditions.  There were no roads, no electricity, and certainly no running water.  The land was difficult to traverse and absolutely unforgiving.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

We peek through one of the side windows to see the remnants of an out-building.  Clearly not far from being completely overtaken by Mother Nature herself, the only entity stronger than the stone that makes the backbone of the church and the reason it still stands strong on a hilltop over 120 years later.

Old Stone Butter Church - Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

Old Stone Butter Church – Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

We know there’s one last shot to be had, the shot looking through the back door directly into the entire structure.  Again, the light paints the floor creating a false sense of security, but much stronger is the sense of getting this wrapped and getting out.  The rich textures in the stone-work and the details that are seen here create a photographers perfect canvas to capture light, but these stone walls also hold the energy of those that once built and loved this place.  It’s time to leave.  We are both absolutely satisfied that we got the shots we came for, and are also overwhelmed with a desire to get to the car and out of here.

I can feel the hair on my arms stand as I write tonight’s post as I recall the feeling we had during the shoot.  It’s a strange sensation to be present in such a place, a place where history, hardship, architectural interest, and the foundations of local character were once created.  It’s definitely time to leave…  for now.  We’ll be back to the Old Stone Butter Church to grab some more shots, in different times of the year, in different lighting.  But I can still feel the spirits that were with us this day.

We back slowly out the door and head for our car.

Thanks so kindly for your visit today.  Please feel free to leave us any comments you may have as we truly love to hear from all our visitors.

References

Old Stone Butter Church  –  Duncan, BC – This Old Church on Waymarking.com – way more than just a series of latitudes and longitudes, this site contains a great historical overview of the church, Father Rondeault and the surrounding area.

The Old Butter Stone Church & Mt Tzouhalem – describes in great detail the history and legend of the church and the spirits that haunt it.

Landscapes of my Father – mentions a story of the church in a wonderful post on National Geographic.  Truly well worth the time to read, the church is part of a rich backdrop.



  1. Love those first two shots Toad, classic framing! Sad to see such a marvelous structure left to the elements.

  2. Wow Toad that second shot is awesome! I love the sky in that one. The clouds give off a kind of haunting ghostly appearance. Fantastic storyline to go with these images. You always keep me captivated with your writing. I like visiting places like this just to imagine the history behind them. Thanks for sharing!

  3. avatar Fred Norris says:

    Wow I don’t know what is better,the incredible images or your amazing storyline …ok Toad they are both outstanding !Thank you my friend for never disappointing .

  4. avatar chris maskell says:

    Hey toad old friend. Great subject and processing and I love the backstory. You bring subjects to life.

  5. avatar Jim Denham says:

    Wow, sounds like an unnerving experience – good thing you went during the day! Awesome documentary Toads! The images truly show the what could have been and what has become!

  6. avatar Jan Winther says:

    Great story and pictures Toad! Looks like a very fun place to shoot – any night shots?? ;)

    • LOL! :) The only thing you’d see of this Toad at night ’round these parts would be my backside hopping madly away from here!! Thanks so much for your visit & comments, Jan, we always love to hear from you my friend!

  7. Fantastic shots and accompanying story. Once again, I’m in awe of the way you weave words and pictures together.

  8. Wow love this. That was an awesome story. The images are amazing Toad but I have to say my favorite is the 5th one with the window view and the hole in the wall…just outstanding.

  9. avatar A.Barlow says:

    Good stuff man :) That;s one cool story and images to go with it.

  10. Great post today Toad, what a find! Abandoned buildings are always great finds, but this one is pretty special :) So glad you didn’t disappear on us, I enjoy your posts very much.

  11. avatar Chris Nitz says:

    What a crazy cool, albeit spooky, location. That had to be fun to shoot during the day!

  12. avatar Mike says:

    Well done sir! I totally need to go there.

  13. avatar Jimi Jones says:

    Wow, Toad. What a story. This is a great series of images and you have woven them into the story line quite well. I particularly like those exposed rafters.

    Hard to believe that such a nice place has been left to nature.

  14. avatar Jim Nix says:

    wonderful work Toad and well written as usual, you really got me feeling a little spooked all the way down here in Texas! nice series of shots and great post!

  15. avatar ehpem says:

    Hi Toad. These are great photos of a really interesting subject. That priest really knew what he was doing when it comes to construction – makes one wonder if he was any good in his other duties if he was so good with his hands. I appreciate that you provide a story to go with the pictures, I know that adds a great deal of time and effort to the post, but really makes a difference to the likes of me. I am not sure if you saw this picture of the church that was blogged about a week ago – it is an unusual view of this location and provides an interesting setting shot.

    http://mrjom.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/butterchurch-011.jpg

    (I tried to comment this morning, but it did not take, so here it goes again, hope my comments don’t show up twice).

    • Wow, thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to leave these awesome comments, my friend! I totally agree with you on your thoughts on the priest… the architecture of this particular period seems to stand the weathering of Mother Time rather well, wouldn’t you say? I had not seen that photo you posted before, but WOW, that’s an awesome shot! What a unique composition on that, I wouldn’t have thought of trying for that… not even sure where one would stand to compose it! Thanks so much for reaching out and leaving us these wonderful thoughts, it truly means so much to us, my friend.

  16. avatar LensScaper says:

    i really enjoyed the story telling in this post. A great piece of writing and images to match. The graffiti adds to the feeling of being haunted – the unseen hands of others.

    • Wow, those are awesome comments, thanks so very much for taking the time to pop by and leave us your thoughts like that! I love how you said the graffiti adds to the haunted feel, I never really thought of that but now that you mention it, I totally agree!

  17. avatar Len Saltiel says:

    Wow Toad, I don’t know what I love most, your great images or your wonderful stories. You must be great around campfires!

  18. avatar Anna Soffia Oskarsdottir says:

    I love the photos and the story -

  19. Loving this series – well done indeed

  20. avatar Usman Sharif says:

    Amazing shots and amazing place .. perfect canvas for a photographer

  21. avatar mndustylens says:

    Wonderful series, sad to see the Church in disarray, though.

  22. great pic & great stories behind the pic.

  23. Great series. For the first few images I was thinking that it is remarkably well preserved, and then you showed more and more. Great story of your visit as well.

  24. avatar Pat says:

    Great photos! Amazing story. Thank you!
    Do you have any idea when will your return for a followup shoot?
    I can only imagine what this location looks like in the middle of winter.

    I’ll stay tune.

    Thanks again,
    pat

  25. avatar Astaroth says:

    Wow! Great pictures :D!

    I love old buildings, especially if there are ghosts living inside :p! Stone, wood, HDR and a beautiful landscape :),it’s a good combination ;)!

    Thanks for your comment in AW :). That site has auto-translation, I hope the language is not a problem :). (Maybe my “natural” English, without auto-translation, is worse :p).

    • Hi there, my good friend! I understand you just fine, I hope you can understand my English OK! Thank you so much for your kind comments, I really appreciate it. I really enjoy following your work, too, I think you and I have quite a bit in common with our taste in photography. Thanks for taking the time to visit and for leaving us these great comments! :D

  26. avatar Andrew says:

    Amazing. This is on my list of places to photograph :)

    • avatar ToadHollowPhoto says:

      It’s an awesome, awesome location my friend, there is no way you can go wrong! Photography Cornucopia! Thanks so much for your visit and great comments, my friend, we really appreciate it!

  27. Absolutely stunning pictures! We’d like to invite you to participate in the next edition of our popular Travel Photography Competition. Here are the details:
    http://hitchhikershandbook.com/your-contributions/travel-photography/
    Have a nice weekend!

    • Oh that looks terrific!! I have made note of this and will definitely participate here in the coming days! Thanks so much for popping by and leaving these terrific comments, they really mean a lot to us here!

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