1858 engraving of Victoria

Colonial History Vancouver Island

Maureen Duffus - Author and Historian


Excerpts - Old Langford

Dunsmuir's Inaugural Train Trip

British Columbia left its colonial status behind and became a Canadian province in 1871. The deal included the promise of a cross-Canada railway which Vancouver Islanders naturally assumed meant a terminus in Victoria. Didn't happen. Coal baron Robert Dunsmuir was persuaded by land concessions of great magnitude, and a chance to ship his Nanaimo coal efficiently, to build an island railway. The southern section, from Esquimalt across Langford to the Malahat mountain, was completed in 1886. Dunsmuir and his distinguished guests celebrated with an inaugural ride, and The Daily Colonist of April 1, 1886, was ecstatic.

Two cars decorated with bunting and propelled by a powerful Schenectady locomotive "started off at a lively pace amid favourable encomiums upon the evenness of the track which presented the jarring motion inseparable from travel on certain lines. After a run of little over half an hour, the end of the continuous track - a distance of some eleven or twelve miles - was reached. This was at a spot known as the double-headed ravine ... Across this ravine is being built a trestle work of some 400 feet long and 124 feet in height. Thirty five men have been at work on this for five weeks, and in the same number of days the structure, which is built in three tiers and looks like a perfect network of bracing, will have been completed."

The dignitaries left the train to walk along a footpath to the far side of the ravine so see tracks which continued to the Niagara Canyon. Mr. O.C. Hastings was on hand for one of Vancouver Island's first publicity photo opportunities and "brought his camera to bear on the party and took an instantaneous photograph. This completed, the signal was given and the cars again started for Esquimalt making a stop at Parson's Bridge where a visit was paid to the new waterworks at Thetis lake." (A BC Archives photographed identified as the first train to Goldsteam shows the dignitaries on an open flatbed car behind a flag-draped locomotive.)

The party returned to Esquimalt where they were served a "substantial cold lunch" on the steamer which would take them back to Victoria and enthusiastic cheers for Mr. Dunsmuir, host of "a most pleasurable trip to all who partook in it."

Mr. Phair's Goldstream Hotel

Once the train was running and a trackside station established at Goldstream, James Phair built his grand country resort on Humpback road, between the conveniently placed train station and the scenic Goldstream river.

Goldstream Hotel
The Golstream Hotel, built in 1885-86, was extolled as "the terminus of pleasure-seekers of perhaps the most beautiful drive around Victoria" in Victoria Illustrated, an early promotional publication.

Thanks to the railway and some finely tuned public relations efforts, the day trippers came in droves. Land was cleared, trees were felled, and Phair and his workmen built trails through the forest down to the river. He also allowed the militia to use his fields as a firing range, ensuring more thirsty customers in the saloon after rifle practice.

His first brilliant public relations movement was made with the cooperation of the traffic manager of the railway. With the round trip fare an affordable 25 cents, the Goldstream excursion specials are said to have carried "fully a thousand people .. both trains being well filled with holiday makers." On Sundays the morning train left at 9 o'clock. Thoughtfully, the railway on on a 2 p.m. train as well for those who felt they must attend morning church services. Soon Wednesday evening concerts featuring the band of the Fifth Militia Regiment, and other attractions were popular as well.

By the end of summer picnics were out and hunting very much in. Weekend parties arrived to enjoy the hotel's saloon, designed as an English pub, so pleasing to many British Victorians.

Goldstream house was destroyed by fire in 1923. Another tudorish hotel built on the site in 1930 still welcomes the community. Mr. Phair's wooded trails are now part of the campground at Goldstream Provincial Park.

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