Thursday 11 April 2013

Cowichan Station

If you turn off the highway onto Koksilah Road south of Duncan, and head inland toward the Koksilah River, you'll come to Cowichan Station.

It's a pretty drive through rolling farmland, along a narrow road shaded by tall deciduous and evergreen trees but, if you're looking for a village with a main street, shops and a traditional community center, you won't find it here.  Not that there weren't once all of these things, but time has moved on and the area has changed.  If you spend even a little time in Cowichan Station, though, you'll discover that, town center or no town center, there is still a strong sense of community in this place.

Like many places in Canada, Cowichan Station owes its origins to the railroad.  In our automobile centered, road-travel-based modern culture, it's easy to forget how important railroads were, but in the time before car travel was common, when roads were often little more than trails, the terrain rough, rivers often unbridged, and forests unhewn, railroads were - quite literally - the lifeline for rural communities.  Every material not produced within a community was transported in by rail, and virtually every material a community produced for trade was transported out the same way. 

In Cowichan Station the railroad provided service not only to local settlers, but also to logging and copper mining operations at Mt. Sicker and Mt. Prevost.  

In 1859, a trading post was built where present-day Cowichan Station now exists, to serve workers building the E & N Railway line.  The railway station was opened in 1887, on land owned by Donald McPherson, and was named after him.  The station was soon followed by the Central Hotel, the Cowichan Hotel, a post office, a blacksmith shop, a community hall, and a quarry.  

In 1896, with the advent of Canada Post, a naming conflict arose and the community's name was officially changed from McPherson's to Cowichan Station.

The years before World War I were Cowichan Station's boom years, seeing the village grow to encompass two general stores, two real estate offices, two Chinese
laundries, a smithy,

shoe maker, a hardware store, a doctor, two boarding houses and two churches (one Anglican and one Methodist).  

Sadly, a fire destroyed much of the town in 1911, and a second fire burned down both hotels in 1924.

The depression took a further toll on Cowichan Station and in the ensuing years, as road travel became more common and commerce shifted to different parts of the valley, the village diminished to just a general store and post office. Both of these were closed in the 1980's.

Why, then, has Cowichan Station remained an active community when so many others in similar circumstances have faded away?

In part, it continues because of a fortunate combination of fertile agricultural land and clement weather.  A great many different crops can be grown in Cowichan Station, including wine grapes and market produce.  There are dairy farms in the area too, and the community remains closely connected to its farming roots.

The area boasts several beautiful attractions - Bright Angel Park, Kinsoll Trestle, historic St. Andrews Church, and the Koksilah River - that draw both Cowichan residents and tourists to visit.  

Mostly, though, Cowichan Station has survived as a community because of its residents, who take tremendous pride in their community and its history.  They have great optimism about its future.  

Cowichan Station will be holding its annual general meeting tomorrow (April 12), followed by a 125th birthday bash. Both events will be held in their new community center, The Hub.

In 2011, Cowichan Station Area Association signed a lease with the school board for the then-vacant Cowichan Station School buildings and grounds.  Envisioned as a new center for the community, work began (largely through volunteer labour and fundraising) to restore the school building to its original heritage character while providing spaces for arts and culture work, teaching spaces, and gallery spaces.  Now operational, The Hub will be used for youth recreation, cultural and theater activities, community recreation (both indoors and out), and an emergency shelter, should the need arise.

It's great to see community pride taking such a tangible form, and it's one of many things I love about Cowichan. Our citizens rock!

If you're in the area tomorrow (April 12), stop by the Hub to say hello and to congratulate Cowichan Station residents on the wonderful outcome of their time, effort, and community spirit.

If you'd like more information on Cowichan Station, its history, or The Hub, you can find it on the Cowichan Station Area Association website.

Information for this post was sourced here: