Imagine a time when ladies in beautiful flowing dresses and ornate bonnets gracefully sipped tea while dapper gentlemen with watch chains at their waists retired to the parlour to discuss politics and negotiate business deals. Poetic images of fancy dinner parties alive with chatter, garden picnics under ruffled parasols and children huddled together by the dim light of the oil lamp while stories of great adventure are read aloud. A simple time that warranted appreciation of all things elaborate and grand. A time when comfort was often barely achievable and opulence was reserved for the very few.
These surely must have been the visions that danced in the day dreams of Mrs. Agnes McKenzie as she and her family and eighteen farm hands made their way from Scotland aboard the Norman Morison in the winter of 1853. Led to believe that their palace awaited, they arrived only to find a timber foundation and little else. Forced to make camp through the winter in the newly created Fort Victoria along with their six children, the McKenzies finally moved into their dream house in May, 1856, and went on to have two more children.
But what would possibly make a family travel in treacherous seas to a place only seen in their imaginations? To really appreciate this story, we have to go back to the very beginning. Not just the beginning of Victoria or Vancouver Island as we know it today, but back to the people who wrote it as they went about their lives.
Today we continue our series with TLC The Land Conservancy of BC at Craigflower Manor. A grand house that has survived one hundred and fifty years of various owners and tenants, and managed to elude the wrecking ball to finally achieve its rightful place as a National Historic site.
The nine hundred acre farm was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1850 from the Coast Salish People near the village site of Kosapsom for 52 pounds and 10 shillings as part of the effort to establish British claim to Vancouver Island by building farms and transporting colonists to manage them. Kenneth McKenzie was the first bailiff of Craigflower farm, and under his stern watch the farm prospered for the first ten years, blossoming into a self-sustainable community with many dwellings and outbuildings such as a sawmill, a flour mill, a blacksmith, a brick kiln, a slaughterhouse, a general store and a school which will be featured in an upcoming blog. The manor was built to emulate Mr. McKenzie’s family home in Scotland, Renton Hall, in Georgian type architecture.
This unique door can stand on its own merits simply by the design and beauty of it, but there is also a story behind this piece of art. In the early days of colonization, iron was an expensive and scarce commodity used to forge the tools and implements that helped to carve out the communities that exist today. To use it for decoration such as this would only have been accessible to the very wealthy and would have surely been the reason for such embellishment. This stately manor was one of only two 2 storey houses in the area at the time, the other, now long gone, belonged to governor James Douglas, one of the most prolific people in terms of colonial history on Vancouver Island.
This incredible fruiting tree is undoubtedly feeling its age as it requires just a little help to stand up! You just can’t help but wonder who sat under it, perhaps sharing a picnic lunch, or stealing a little kiss or maybe even stuttering out a nervous marriage proposal? I’m sure if this tree could talk, it would have many stories to tell.
This wonderfully crooked window just beckons you to press your nose against it to see what’s hiding behind. No doubt there were many times the tiny faces of the McKenzie children appeared, looking out at the rain that is typical for much of the year, and wishing for the warm sun to return and fill their days with fishing and hiking and other such activities.
The manor is undergoing renovations due to an unfortunate fire, but there are some rooms that are finished. This office, complete with a very sturdy safe, is just off the music room. The wallpaper has been carefully recreated to reflect the style of the time.
This room surely would have been one of the busiest at the time, with the responsibility of running such a huge farm. You can almost picture finely dressed men, discussing issues of the day and negotiating business deals that came to shape the land.
Though these office items all have a very functional purpose, they somehow also manage to decorate the desk and reflect a lifestyle that was left far behind as their ship set sail to the harsh and often unforgiving shores of their new home.
As we leave the office, we are greeted by the cheerful decor of this elegant little music room. With a wonderful spot to sit by the window and let the sunshine warm your face as you sip your tea and the rich tones of the organ swirling around the room, there would be few other places that would be so inviting.
One can only imagine the parties that were born around this lovely old organ. No doubt it was the busiest room at Christmas time!
As we leave the house, we walk around the manor to the expansive backyard. Mother Nature has decorated this weathered little shack with wild roses, adding to the charm of this very special place.
A little worse for wear, I just cannot help but think that the best tasting bread came from this old oven. Or perhaps some freshly caught salmon, grilled to perfection. In any case, I’m sure it was the centre of attention more than once as hungry guests waited for the words “it’s done!”
Today there is a beautiful working garden in the corner of the yard, but back when the McKenzies lived here, they were responsible for providing crops and products to be used at the newly built Fort Victoria, as well as the Royal Navy at nearby Esquimalt. In fact, they even supplied the Russians in Alaska.
It was important to the British that the farm was completely self sufficient, as they did not want colonization to become a financial burden to their citizens. In 1854, the Hudson’s Bay Company transferred the land at Craigflower, as well as three other farms, to the Puget Sound Agricultural Company who were mandated to operate them. Craigflower was the most successful of the four farms, under McKenzie’s watch, for the first ten years.
As we make our way down the hill, there are still a few outbuildings that dot the property and add points of interest.
This fabulous storage shed may not serve a terribly elegant job, but that is certainly not evident by the ornate and detailed embellishment on the door.
Finally, this rickety fence caught our eye as we left the property. Rich and weathered textures give it a real flair all of its own, and we couldn’t help but think it was definitely built for a utilitarian purpose rather than for decoration. But then beauty, as we all know, is in the eye of the beholder!
The McKenzies left Craigflower farm in 1865 to move to another farm on Vancouver Island and the manor began an interesting history of its own. It was used as a vacation spot for boarders and summer visitors, leased to various farming families, and served as a nature sanctuary and summer camp for young ladies among other things. After the Hudson’s Bay Company sold the property, the new owner leased parts of it for a service station, motel and burger restaurant until the 1960’s when new owners lived in it and opened it up to the public. Eventually the provincial government acquired it and restored it and in 1967 it was declared a National Historic site. Now managed by TLC, visitors now can visit and tour the manor, and are encouraged to spend time in the yard having picnics or relaxing and just enjoying the atmosphere. If you are planning a visit to Victoria, this is a must-see, and of course, TLC members enjoy free admission.
Thank you so much for spending some time with us at Craigflower manor, we always appreciate your visit! More detailed information about the history and story of the house and farm can be found here and here. And of course you can become a member of TLC The Land Conservancy for pennies a day and enjoy knowing that you are part of saving wonderful places like Craigflower Manor by clicking here.
Please leave us your thoughts and comments, as we always love to hear them! Thanks again for popping by, until next time!