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Early Days at Shawnigan

By Brownie Gibson (from Green Branches & Fallen Leaves)


What was no doubt the first excursion train to Shawnigan Lake was run on Good Friday, April 8, 1887, with 200 passengers on both trains. This was the first of many excursion trains to the Lake for regattas, dances, picnics, band concerts, and fishing parties, with as many as 700 passengers carried on one occasion.


In November 1887 Mr. Dunsmuir, E. & N. owner, built a park on the point and put a footbridge on piles across the bay for the benefit of excursionists who detrained at Strathcona. Here all the early community field days and picnics were held. From the 1930s to early 1950s this property was the playing field of Strathcona Lodge School and was finally sold to the Mountain View Auto Court.


Most of the oldtimers of the district are firm in their recollections that Mr. Dunsmuir intended to give this park to the community, but as nothing was apparently recorded on paper, the property automatically became part of the Strathcona holdings.


Many are the tales of the early days of the railroad. Mrs. P. G. Cudlip, a resident of Shawnigan, tells of her grandmother, Mrs. Cullin, baking blueberry pies and home-made bread for the train crews who, in return, dropped off supplies and coal, thus creating one of the first flag stops at Shawnigan Lake. (The Cullins camped near where the Strathcona Hotel was later built at a place on the lake known then as Gilesville—not to be confused with the hamlet later springing up about half a mile north, and known locally as Hawkingsville).


Anticipating the railroad, the first hotel at Shawnigan was built in 1885 by Charlie Morton. Known as Morton House, it was situated close to the present E. & N. Station. An account by N. E. Losee, first mill-owner of the day, in an early issue of the Daily Colonist, states that all passenger trains, both north and southbound, were timed to stop and remain at Morton House for ten minutes in order to accommodate their thirstier passengers. In fact a good many fishermen were known to have spent several days at a time under Charlie Morton’s wharf.

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