It is often said that what we are looking for is right under our noses, but how in the world can a one hundred and sixty year old stone building hide in plain sight?  Apparently quite easily when a bustling community slowly comes to life around it, drowning out the whispers of long ago, replacing them with modern sounds of car engines, airplanes and cell phones.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

While life marched on around this historic dairy, it quietly lived a lifetime of purpose, neglect, deterioration, restoration, politics and discovery.  Being at times the point of much controversy, at others, pure delight.  And now, as many learned people decide it’s fate, it sits and awaits destiny one more time.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Built in 1852, it was the first dairy constructed on Vancouver Island and is now considered to be the oldest building on the West Shore, a collection of municipalities that form the suburbs of the city of Victoria, and one of the six oldest buildings in the province.  Two of the municipalities are subsequently named “Langford” and “Colwood”.  It was one of the structures built on the 600 acre farm called “Esquimalt Farm”, one of four original farms owned and operated by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, a subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Other buildings include the farmhouse, named “Colwood” after the homestead of Capt. Edward E. Langford who served as bailiff, a lime kiln, a brick kiln and several barns.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Capt. Langford arrived in Fort Victoria in 1851 with his wife and daughters, and his wife later gave birth to the first white male child born in the colony.  He was a former Black Watch officer and gentleman farmer who loved to live a lavish lifestyle which ultimately led to his financial demise and he was given notice in 1855 that his agreement would be terminated five years later.  He returned to England in 1861 penniless and in debt, with the help of friends and enemies alike.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

During its time as a working dairy it was used to produce milk, cheese and butter on Capt. Langford’s cattle and sheep farm that employed three hundred workers.  The farm was listed for rent in 1862 in the local newspaper, and the Hudson’s Bay Company sold it in 1866.  In 1892 it was leased by William John Wale, who would go on to become the first Justice of the Peace of British Columbia.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Over the subsequent years it succumbed to time and weather until in 1952 all that remained were three walls.  It was restored and turned into a workshop and electricity was added as was a new roof.  The floor was covered by a thin layer of concrete, hiding what would become the subject of much excitement during the archaeological excavation that started at the begining of this past summer and continues today by a small group of dedicated volunteers from the Archaeological Society of B.C., who work tirelessly on weekends to bring understanding and appreciation of this very special building.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

The walls are eighteen inches thick and are a veritable mosaic of every size of  limestone imaginable, most likely quarried from the farm or nearby.   Construction must have undoubtedly felt like assembling a jigsaw puzzle of daunting magnitude.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Just like a cat, this unassuming building must be blessed with nine lives as it has dodged the wrecking ball more than once over its long and storied lifetime.  In 1981 the local government wanted to add it to the heritage registry, but the owner at the time was bemused by the idea of visitors on her property and subsequently threatened to tear it down!

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Although it has not been used as a dairy for a very long time, it does not sit entirely abandoned either.  On the day we visited, a very nosy couple of birds kept a close watch on us as we tinkered about taking pictures, while the cacophonous peeps and chirps of their little ones rang out from behind the tiny hole in the front of their house.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

A treasure trove of nooks and crannies also provides perfect real estate for an entire village of spiders!

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Inside the dairy, we discover what all the excitement is about.  Buried under the thin layer of concrete, archaeologists find the original 1852 dairy floor.  Although damaged in areas, a pattern is easily discernable and visions of the original structure start to emerge.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

These bricks were produced at the kiln on the farm, making them absolutely unique to this property and a rare and exciting find for the archaeologists.  They are carefully and intentionally laid, providing a template of the original floor plan.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

This wall at the rear of the building was reconstructed during the renovations that occurred in the 1950’s as it had completely caved in.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

As all things made of wood tend to do here on the coast, the roof is once again showing it’s age as the sun filters through numerous holes, bathing the floor in droplets of light.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

The archaeologists surmise that there was probably a counter or work bench around the perimeter of the room as there are differences in the whitewash that covers the walls, and a main working station may have been at the center where the bricks are arranged in a rectangle.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

An old bucket with no bottom was found standing in a hole in the middle structure and probably formed part of the draining and cooling system.  It was the subject of much delight as everyone slowly came to realize that it was from the days of the dairy and not something added in later years.  It was carefully sent to the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria to be treated against further deterioration at their conservation lab.

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Colwood Dairy and Cheese House – Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

No longer sitting on farm land but rather in the backyard of a single family dwelling soon to become a two building mixed use condominium project, the plan is to incorporate this historic building into the landscape of the new development and open it to the public.  However, new problems to this agenda arise when considering how to move it without destroying it and what to do with the floor that has since been discovered.  While ideas and suggestions are tossed around, the clock is slowly ticking forward and eventually an answer will emerge.  Let’s just hope that this wonderful old building still has at least one life left.

Just before we say adieu to this amazing little building, we wish to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Stuart Stark who is the heritage consultant and a local expert in early buildings, Pete Dady who headed up the dig, Tom Bown, Gerry Merner and Stephanie Sketchley who formed the team responsible for the excavations, and our dear friend Ehpem who was responsible for photo and video documentation and also made it possible for us to be a part of this worthwhile effort that was obviously a labour of love for these good folks, who collectively donated over three hundred and ninety hours of their personal time to make it happen.

Thank you so much for joining us on this grand adventure!  It is not often one gets the chance to truly touch history, to stand in the footprints of those who came before us and contemplate a time that was at once both simpler and harsher.  One solitary story, that when blended with all of the others, becomes the chatter of history that brings us just a little closer to discovering who we are, if we are willing to listen.

Until next time!

Warmly,

Mrs. Toad

Shortly after our post was published, we were contacted directly by Stuart Stark, a renowned expert in heritage architecture and conservation, who graciously provided us the additional comments and background to this story.  Stuart says:

“I was hired as the Heritage consultant by the owner and developer and charged with preparing a restoration plan.  As part of preparing that plan, I needed to find out what the original floor level of the dairy in order to ascertain if we could make sufficient clearance for the building code for people to use the diary after roof reconstruction.  The original roof was very low.  Another project will be used as the template for reconstructing the roof.  Also, further research revealed a letter from Capt. Langford dated 1854 which indicated that the dairy had a “lath and plaster ceiling”.  I found earlier photographs from the B.C. Archives from the 1920’s & 1950’s adn compared them with known information from other Hudson’s Bay Co. buildings.  I then contacted the Archaeological Society of B.C. to see if they would be interested in revealing the original floor level, and they thankfully agreed.  The project could not have happened without their careful and thorough involvement.

There is still much work to be done, and we are all hopeful that there will be other support for the project as the importance of the building becomes known.”

Ehpem’s blog can be followed here: burnt embers

ASBC (The Archaeological Society of British Columbia) can be found here: http://asbc.bc.ca/vicsite

Stuart Stark can be found here: http://heritageconsultants.ca/?page_id=45

 

Refs:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colwood,_British_Columbia#History

www.biographi.ca/EN/009004-119.01-e.php?id_nbr=6211

www.goldstreamgazette.com/news/132828183.html

www.goldstreamgazette.com/news/176811011.html




  1. avatar Heather says:

    My goodness..it will be interesting to see what happens to this place. This is why photography is SO IMPORTANT, should it get torn down, we have a visual record of it’s existence. Your work is so important Toads! Don’t ever doubt it!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      I could not agree with you more Heather, it’s just so important to showcase these places so they don’t get forgotten. It just amazes me that this great building even survived through all these years! Thanks so much for your visit today!

  2. avatar Len Saltiel says:

    This is why I can’t wait to see your posts Mr & Mrs Toad. Not only do we see great images and superbly written prose, we also gain a history lesson. That coupled with the great efforts to conserve it. Thanks.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      It always surprises and delights me to learn about the characters that were here before us. The colonial history of Vancouver Island may be young, but there’s certainly no shortage of interesting stories nonetheless! Thanks for popping by today Len!

  3. avatar LensScaper says:

    Another extraordinary historical story and superbly well documented through your images. Do keep us posted as to what eventually happens to this dear old dairy.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thanks very much Andy, we will keep everyone posted for sure! There are a lot of good people working on this, so I have no doubt that we’ll see a happy ending here.

  4. avatar Jim Denham says:

    What a soap opera this little gem has posed over the years! That stone wall is just awesome and 18″ thick! Would have been cool to see the original floor intact, but you can’t have everything! Good stuff Toads!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thanks so much Jim! It is a long and storied life for this little unassuming building, that’s for sure! It was a real treat to be able to photograph it and to spend some time inside. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. avatar Edith Levy says:

    Wow great post (once again) Mrs. Toad. What a great find and these images are fantastic. I have a lot of favorites from Toad Hollow but I think these just became my new favourites 🙂

  6. avatar Jim Nix says:

    these are lovely Mrs Toad and the historical background/context is the icing on the cake!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you Jim, we were very lucky to be able to photograph this historic building and we are thankful for the patience of the archaeologists who put up with us getting in their way! It was a one-of-a-kind experience for sure!

  7. Once again you have come up with a most intriguing little find. As always the information you provide, the links, and the photography make this post a great read. Looking at the thick walls and the building’s original use makes me wonder whether the original roof assembly was different or perhaps insulated in some way to keep the room as cool as it needed to be.

  8. To answer my own question, the old shake roof had a lot of ventilation. One could see daylight through it when looking up. Nevertheless did the place keep cool during the hot summer days in the blazing sun? Can’t help but wonder looking through your post again.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments Joseph, I read in one of the documents during my research that Capt. Langford had specified that “All of the buildings were roofed in shingles and the dairy and cheese room built of stone and ceiled with lath & plaster”. Our friend Ehpem did explain to us that the bucket they found probably formed part of a simple cooling and draining system, and this theory was further backed up by the discovery of what they believe were two taps in the corner of the building. Fun to ponder though, isn’t it? We take refrigeration for granted these days, so it’s always interesting to me to think about how people dealt with these issues. Thanks for popping by!

    • avatar ehpem says:

      Hi Toads, and Joseph as well,

      This is an awesome post, very well done. Having spent a lot of time there this summer I know just how tricky this spot is to photograph well, and thus am very grateful that you agreed to help out. And Mrs. Toad has summarized the ongoing research in such an accessible and clear way! I plan a post or two about the place as well, but I have more work to do on some of my images prior to doing that.

      From the research that Stuart Stark has been doing about these kinds of buildings from this period, we know quite a lot about how it would have been kept cool. There was an optimum range of temperatures for separating cream and proper operation of a dairy and cheese house – it was in the 50’s Fahrenheit. The stone walls would be very important, as is evidenced by this being one of exceedingly few stone buildings from the time – everything else on the farm was built of wood as far as we know.

      The brick floor is essential to cooling – they were regularly dampened so that evaporation helped in the cooling process. There is one, and possibly two places in opposite corners that may have been used as floor drains to accept the water spilled on the floor to dampen it. Although the jury is out on this aspect, one or both may in fact be places were parts of the floor were removed for other reasons. Also, there were two rooms, each with its own door to the outside and clear signs of an internal curtain wall, which likely had a door in it, but we do no know that for sure. One presumably for the dairy side of the operation the other the cheese. The ceiling was lathe and plaster which presumably insulated it from the attic heat and was easier to keep clean. There may be been other devices to keep the attic cool.

      The stone walls are really thick. And around them on the inside was what is most likely a counter at about waist height. It was supported by a brick foundation wall around the edge of the floor which was separated from the outer wall by a foot or so. This may have been a brick wall to its full height, but it could also have supported a wooden wall – another feature for which there is not a definitive answer at this time. Between the inner wall supporting the counter/shelf and the outer stone wall was a narrow cavity which has limestone pieces loosely placed on dirt. Whether this was open at the ends or closed is not yet clear, but probably it too helped insulate the interior. Since it is low on the wall it does overlap with the part that would get the most sun during the day on the outside where it is below the reach of any cooling shadows the eaves might throw. On the south side of the dairy the older photos show large trees surviving, so it looks like it may have been build so as to be shaded from the south.

      The bucket is without a bottom and looks to be part of a drain – water would go in there and then soak away. However more work is needed to confirm it is is contemporaneous with the original build of the dairy, and indeed if it might have acted as a drain. There is some disagreement on the team about this, but I side with Stuart on the bucket dating to the original build. It is within a central counter area, also supported by brick walls and floored with dirt and loosely placed limestone. It could have been where water was poured through some kind of sink in the counter, or other drain feature. It is unlikely it held water for long, but I suppose it might also have held a smaller bucket or other container to hold water for evaporation, though this seems unlikely if it is within a structure that was walled all the way around and covered over the top.

      I would like to note that Stuart, through his contractual arrangements with the developer, has initiated all of this work and made it possible for the volunteers to conduct excavations here and for people like me and the Toads to be involved in it’s documentation. It has been invigorating to work with someone of his expertise and breadth of knowledge.

      There are a lot more details to be explained and understood, and that will take more time in archives and looking at surviving examples of these dairies from this period in other places, as well as analysis of the archaeological materials (things like bits of plaster and wall render that have been recovered, and outlines in the faint traces of whitewash on the interior walls). Stuart has a lot of work still to do on this kind of research and analysis, but getting the building documented and information preserved and working out how to move it out of the way of development have all been first priorities. And, the digging kept on turning up more features that need explaining, which does not simplify the task! ASBC members will have to look over the recovered samples for clues to the composition of the missing features. Things like mortar should be analysed and other research done to get some certainty about which parts were contemporaneous with the use of the building as a dairy.

      Stuart is also responsible for restoration, including designing a replacement roof (the current one including all structural elements is from the 1950’s) and will likely be basing it on a contemporary Hudson’s Bay Company related house in Victoria that has an intact roof that he has already documented in full (Tod House in Oak Bay).

      Anyway, it has been a fun project. Nice to see parts of it so well documented here. This post serves an important service to the public about a unique bit of BC history. Thanks so much!

  9. avatar Chris Nitz says:

    Hey, I need some of that firewood! I love that the old brick floor is still there, and the bricks look to be in reasonably great shape. Nice work, Toads 🙂

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thanks Chris, the bricks were a real treat for everyone to find and they are made that much more special by the fact that they are probably the only ones that were made on this farm, which makes them a bit of a rare find. Thanks for your comments today!

  10. avatar Rick Louie says:

    What a great find! Nice that you documented it so well. That brick floor is amazing to see and to think it was prevalent back then. You won’t see stuff like that anymore.

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      I agree completely Rick, that is what makes it so exciting and special and worth trying to preserve it for hopefully many years to come. Thank you for your kind comments and for taking the time to visit today!

  11. Great series Mrs Toad, well done!

  12. Gorgeous images and very interesting read. Thanks so much! I learn more about my old home town in your blog than just about anywhere else.

  13. avatar Rachel Cohen says:

    This is such an amazing discovery, images and post Toad! I love all things historic, and when they come with extra surprises like the discovery of part of the original floor, well that really makes it for me!!
    So beautifully written, documented, and photographed my dear friend!! Truly a wonder for generations to come!! 🙂

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you so very much for these kind comments Rachel, it really means a lot to us! We agree that there is just a mystery about these historic places that begs to be photographed and discovered. We were very fortunate to be a small part of this grand adventure! Thanks so much for your visit today!

  14. Wonderful post Mrs. Toad! After reading the update and the comments I’m glad to hear it will be saved. I think it’s important to society as a whole to hang on to as much history as possible so that we may all enjoy it.

    And of course great shots to go with your story!

    • avatar Mrs. Toad says:

      Thank you so much Michael. We are very excited to see how this will all play out. Everyone involved is doing their best to make sure that this incredible place will be enjoyed for many years to come. We will certainly keep everyone posted!