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Chief Justice Hunter

By Lori Treloar

Gordon Hunter, born in 1863, practiced law in Victoria and eventually became the Chief

Justice of British Columbia. Near the turn of the 20th century he bought an old house in Victoria,on Bellville at Oswego, which became known as the Judge’s House. He also owned a large piece of property on the east side of Shawnigan Lake, which he called Rockvale.

Rockvale was built in 1908, on four acres of land south of Strathcona Hotel. There was a main house, guest houses and beautiful gardens with ponds and statues kept in shape by a group of Japanese gardeners. Chief Justice Hunter is remembered for his “high order of ability and a rare combination of talent, powerful intelligence, a penetrating eye and his formidable vocabulary”.

Judge Hunter, at Shawnigan Lake, was apparently a bit more relaxed. One Shawnigan old-timer talked of his father spending time with Judge Hunter. His father would often row down from the North end of the lake to the Hunter’s landing for lunch and/or a few drinks. There was a good garden on the property and Mrs. Hunter would load him up with preserves and relishes that she had made. Mrs. Hunter, even though a summer resident, was a good supporter and worker for the old Shawnigan Lake Athletic Association Hall.

Another favourite activity of the men was to meet at the old hotel in the Village for a few drinks. Hunter had a 12 cylinder Cadillac which was quite a sight to behold (in fact, he once drove the car over the Malahat in high gear). The men at the hotel would always enjoy having a look at this impressive machine. In one instance they counted all of the spark plugs and then toasted each with a drink...spark plug number one, spark plug number two etc. until they had had twelve drinks on the old car.

Another indication of his personality is demonstrated in his commission of a stone lion that was built on the waterfront of his Shawnigan property in the 1920’s. The impressive lion, which still guards the

lakefront today, was positioned so that its posterior pointed directly toward the legislative buildings in Victoria.

This alignment was due to the fact that Judge Hunter was appalled at what he perceived to be the abuse of justice in Victoria. To further prove his belief that politicians were making an ass out of justice, the lion is an exact duplicate of the lions on the steps of the legislature.

The lion was sculpted by Shawnigan resident George Gibson, an architectural carver who had done considerable work on Christ Church Cathedral, many upscale homes and the legislative buildings in Victoria.

After Judge Hunter’s death, Rockvale was used as a hotel and riding school until, through neglect, it fell into disrepair. In 1959, Mr. Curtis, formerly of Shawnigan School, bought ther property and established the Cliffside Preparatory School on the site.

The old barn was completely renovated to provide classrooms, a chapel and changing rooms. Hobby rooms and a library were opened in the tower. Just off the property a small island called Treasure Island was accessible by the three rowboats, and an inboard boat, kept in the two boathouses.

Cliffside Preparatory School adopted the aforementioned lion as their school symbol. The school colours were green and gold. In 1977, Cliffside closed. The land transferred from Cliffside Preparatory School to The BC Lions Society on 21 Dec 1978. The BC Lion’s Society bought the property to create Camp Shawnigan, a retreat for children with disabilities, which continues today.

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