As photographers, many of us have our places that we love to return to often seeking that ultimate shot. The subject is so compelling you just know locked in the scene lies a masterpiece awaiting discovery. For me, my place is Old Stone Butter Church built in 1870 on Comiaken Hill in the beautiful Cowichan Valley. Spoken of in hushed whispers by valley residents, it’s been long thought that the shell of this landmark is now home to spirits only. Join us today as we revisit this wonderful forgotten place.
The day was cold, but I knew it had been clear all night, and that the valley was likely to be draped in a thick covering of fog. I was right. Mrs. Toad had other duties to attend to this morning, and I was left to my own devices. In a matter of a few moments a distant voice called out to me, luring me… it was the Old Stone Butter Church once again.
I couldn’t wait to get to the chapel. And when I arrived, it was even better than I expected.
I suspect the church has become my muse now. A siren’s song that beckons me over and over to return to see what treasures await. The only sounds evident as I worked my way around the church were those of the crows and ravens trying to navigate the impenetrable fog. In the far distance, a dog was barking. Unable to see where the sounds were coming from only further added to the moody sense of being here, and a feeling of being watched from just beyond the brume wall.
Comiaken Hill in the valley is usually the source of beautiful rolling vistas, with the eye traveling across the mountains of the island leading to a gentle slope that takes you down to the ocean and the tiny town of Cowichan Bay in the distance. On this day the landscape melted into the mist only a few hundred feet from where you stood. The thick, damp air almost had it’s own texture, one you could feel between your fingers as you rubbed them together.
Such a incredible place, it’s even been featured on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” who referred to it as “The church of no services…in which no congregation has ever gathered.” While not entirely true, the church was in service for only 10 years before it was abandoned for a newer location in the valley. Ripley’s goes on to say “the Indians will not go near (it) because all those who actually built it died mysteriously.” Again, these are stories woven to add to the fabric of the tale, but the words resonate as you stand on the grounds taking in the incredible energies that swirl around.
Fabulous details on the story behind Old Stone Butter Church can be found at “Myths and Legends of the Cowichan Indian People – Coast Salish history“.
Each time I return, change is evident. Further wear, further weathering and decay, all signs of the relentless encroachment of time versus the construction skills of man. On this day, the grey fog only served to enhance the dull tones and mood of this place, adding a strong forlorn and lost feeling. As I worked my way around I was struck by thoughts of those who struggled to come here and settle, to build places of worship and congregation like this… good times, bad times, all these experiences are left as impressions in the building and on the land.
Every visit as we approach the church, just before it comes into sight, I find a little fear rising in me. Has it changed again? Is it gone? Have the spirits finally left and moved on? While some of the answers to these questions are yes, thankfully many of them are no.
What was once a beautiful handmade stained glass window today is just an old stone frame for the outside world. Today the church serves as a meeting place for youth on weekends and a seemingly endless canvas for local artists to use to share their graffiti. This all converges here in the poignant and profound.
As quickly as the visit arrived, it was time to go once more. As we make our way down Comiaken Hill, we turn one last time to see the majestic structure siting on the edge of the hill overlooking the valley far below. It appears to have endless patience as it awaits it’s next visit from the those who have heard the tales and are curious.
Or for those who heed it’s siren’s song and find themselves beguiled by it’s raw beauty.
We truly appreciate your visit here today. We love to hear from all our visitors, so we would be delighted if you would take the time to leave us any comments or thoughts you may have. Until next time!