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Twenty Four Colonels on the West Arm Road — Shawnigan Lake in the 1920s

by Joan Mason Hurely c. late 1980s

My husband, Denis Mason Hurley who came as a boy to live at Shaw in 1920, always claimed that in those days there were twenty-four colonels on the West Arm Road.  This so-called road was a narrow gravel track, dust in summer, mud and deep snow in winter, which wound for three or four miles of the village of Shawnigan through the forest along the west arm of the lake.


Life at Shawnigan in the 1920s and 1930s was remarkably primitive by our standards. Still, the colonels contrived to maintain among the logged-off stumps and Douglas firs a transplanted British society and a vigorous social calendar.  They changed for dinner and talked of tiffin and every house on the West Arm Road had its own individual name, usually associated with some family place back home.


The Mason Hurleys were no exception. The family seat in Ireland is memorialized in a piece of stationery I still have from those days, printed merely: Glenduffe, Shawnigan Lake, BC. That was quite sufficient

address for mail to reach its destination, and promptly and reliably, too.


Although the colonels had their pride and their pretensions, they had very little else. I

remember my mother-in-law telling me that when anyone had visitors from home — and in those days, when the journey alone took two weeks, people stayed for several months — other families in the district would rally round and lend silver and anything else necessary to create an impression of affluence.


Leading lights in the social hierarchy were Colonel and Mrs. Eardley-Wilmot. Their huge home, Knockdrin, named after the family estate in Ireland and surrounded by one hundred acres, towered above the road.  Knockdrin still stands upon its bluff and has been restored by its present owner. It is now called Marifield and the holding is reduced to three-quarters of acre in the centre of a subdivision.


In the Eardley-Wilmots' day the glory of Knockdrin was a tea pavilion and two wooden tennis courts, the surface made of two-by-fours. Denis remembered attending their tennis parties when he was a boy. The men wore yellowing white flannels, always held up by an old school tie knotted around the waist . Many

wore topees-that tropical pith helmet so reminiscent of the British Raj. In fact the fashion for topees was sustained by St. George's School in Vancouver, where it was part of the school uniform — a grotesque notion on the raincoast, but the headmaster had taught in Mandalay.


The Shawnigan colonels whitened their topees and their tennis shoes, known as sand shoes, with pipe clay supplied in those days to the army for whitening belts. The women wore white shoes-and stockings, bloomers and white skirts and blouses.  History does not relate who made the cucumber sandwiches, but I believe all the ladies helped with the tea, and Mrs. Eardley-Wilmot's ringing English voice could be heard calling to her son, whose name was Vere, "Veah, deah, come heah!"


In spite of the acreage, the tennis court and the cucumber sandwiches, my sister-in-law tells me that the Eardley-Wilmots were so poor and had so little fuel that in winter they were obliged to go to bed after supper to keep warm.  When they died there was still an enormous mortgage on the property.

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Do we have any documentation on these property place names, and the associated family to locate them?


Another excellent glimpse into our past!

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