Thetis Cove's Earliest Subdivision
Captain James Cooper, early settler, Colonial council member, businessman and harbourmaster.
(Image A-08213 Courtesy of BC Archives)
The enterprising Captain James Cooper, formerly with the Hudson's Bay Company Marine Service, is best known for his many ventures in trading and real estate, and for his feud with Governor James Douglas. But his ambitious proposal for a residential subdivision in colonial Vancouver's Island, optimistically called Cooperville, brought neither fame nor fortune.
Records of the Hudson's Bay Company, which acted as agent for land sales to settlers, show Cooper's extensive land purchases in the 1850s, and an 1858 map confirms his ownership of Section III in Esquimalt district. The property extended from the shores of Esquimalt Harbour to the Gorge Waterway, between Craigflower Farm on the east and Dr. John Helmcken's 400-acre land holdings on the west.
Cooper's 1860 subdivision plan, drawn up by surveyor Robert Homfray, called for large lots on both sides of the wagon road "to Sooke &cc", now the Old Island Highway at the Four Mile Hill. The plan also shows a proposed canal along an old trail used as a portage by Indians between the Esquimalt Harbour and the Gorge - the origin of the name of Portage Inlet and View Royal's Portage Park. See the subdivision plan
Captain Cooper and his wife lived for a short time in the house he built on the shores of the harbour near Dyke Point, but spent more time at his Metchosin Farm. In 1864 he advertised for tenants for "Thetis Cottage, near Craigflower and on Esquimalt Harbour in good condition, partly furnished and suitable for a family, on most reasonable terms." The ad brought interesting tenants; a well-connected English couple, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Fellows, moved to "the house in the woods" later that year with their infant twin daughters. Two sons were added to the family during their four-year lease of Thetis Cottage.
Thetis Cottage, the house that was "... far from beautiful but substantially built of thick, squared logs ..." in a later photograph looking northeast from the "muddy shore which ... never seemed to dry."
(Image G-02416 Courtesy of BC Archives)
Thanks to Eleanor Caroline Fellows we have a delightful picture of Thetis Cottage when she and Arthur, an owner of a successful hardware store in Victoria, lived there in the 1860s. Eleanor was the highly educated daughter of Sir Rowland Hill, an innovative educator and the inventor of Britain's penny postage system. Her letters to her family contained many sketches to illustrate her lively descriptions of "Little Victoria ... a wooden town of unpretentious buildings, which, except where it faced the sea, was hemmed in by vast forests ... ." Her reminiscences, privately published in 1916 when she was 80 years old, are based on these letters.
"[Thetis Cottage] stood far up the Esquimalt Harbour, close to a small peninsula flanked on either side by a little bay ... On the rock-strewn peninsula grew some giant pines, whose upper branches in a gentle breeze gave out a pleasant, slumber-inviting sound, and in a tearing wind roared as loudly as the waves. And at the peninsula's extreme point ... lay one of those curious deposits of shells, bones, wood ashes, etc., ... known as 'kitchen middens.'"
Eleanor describes how she searched for artifacts until she learned the midden "had already been rifled, presumably by those among the officers of the Royal Naval Squadron lying in Esquimalt's outer harbour who had scientific tastes." She often saw navy men strolling along the track past the house, sometimes dropping in "for a chat and a little music."
The view Eleanor Fellows describes from Thetis Cottage would have included Royal Navy ships anchored across the harbour. The watercolour is by Midshipman Richard Frederick Britten who served on HMS Topaze when the ship was stationed at Esquimalt from 1859 to 1863.
(Image PDP-05435 Courtesy of BC Archives)
"From the front of the dwelling we had a grand view to southward of the mountains on the United States mainland, the Olympian and Cascade ranges, whose summits are eternally snow-clad."
A view of Thetis Cottage sketched by Eleanor Fellows in 1863, showing the house nestled by the east shore of Dyke Point. The naval anchorage would be behind the Richards Island with Duntze Head just visible, centre, and the Olympic mountains in the distant background.
(Image PDP-00008 Courtesy of BC Archives)
"A verandah bordered two sides of the house; and here I would often sit, and watch with interest those grand mountains ... The house was far from beautiful, but was substantially built of thick squared logs, and was warm in winter and cool in summer. It had the small-paned windows peculiar to old time colonial buildings where a breakage of glass was a serious matter. The rooms were lofty and of fair size, and the kitchen was vast. ...Overhead was an undivided attic, well-floored and roofed, and running the entire length of the house. It was the chosen and often noisy play-ground, especially at night, when high revels were occasionally held, of the rats who, of their own act, shared the dwelling with us, enjoying board and lodging free."
Eleanor mentions how "the young son of the nearest farmer from whom we were to be daily supplied with milk" predicted the arrival of the "rodent invasion" as soon as the house was occupied.
"As the farm was at least a quarter of a mile away, quite out of sight, not even a chimney-pot visible, and only to be reached by a rough track over steep rocks and through dense forest, we felt sceptical as to the prediction; but our new friend was a true prophet. ..." (The description fits pioneer James Stewart's Seaview farm on land leased from Dr. Helmcken.)
She also writes about the Indian village at Maplebank, the naval magazine at Cole Island, and her neighbours, both native and European. (For more about Eleanor see By Snowshoe, Buckboard and Steamer, by Kathryn Bridge, Sono Nis Press, Victoria, 1998.)
Four Mile House - 1870s
Amongst these neighbours were Peter and Elizabeth Calvert, formerly of Craigflower farm, whose Four Mile House was also on part of Cooper's subdivision plan. The Calverts built a farmhouse which soon became a stopping place for travellers en route to the distant farms of Langford, Metchosin and Sooke. Their property, originally extending across the main road, once included a dance hall, stabling for horses, an orchard, an aviary and an ivy-covered summer house. The Four Mile House stayed in the family until the 1930s. It has changed hands many times since then but is again a popular restaurant and pub.
(See Craigflower Country for more)
Four Mile House - 1993
Four Mile House - 1928
(Image D-05589 Courtesy of BC Archives)
Another purchaser of property in James Cooper's forested acreage was colonial Attorney General George Hunter Cary, builder of BC's first Government House, who owned "3 water lots on Cooper's Estate in Esquimalt district," according to the 1863 voters registration list.
Most of the property remained undeveloped until after World War I. Some lots in a later subdivision called Collingwood Estates were on the market for $50 in the 1930s.
The View Royal town hall, behind the Four Mile House, is a recent addition to the historic property. Trails to Portage Park lead through the woods to the shoreline from the lower parking lot.
Dyke House, the successor to Thetis Cottage, was built in the early 1940s after Captain W. B. L. Holms purchased the entire wooded peninsula and surrounding bays.
(View Royal Archives Photo)
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