The Making of the Malahat
It all started when Major James Francis Lenox MacFarlane purchased a farm in Cobble Hill sight unseen. Eventually the Major met with his friend Arthur Flint at the Goldstream Hotel to make plans to travel to his farm for the first time. They climbed aboard Flint’s democratic wagon and off they went toward Sooke Lake. This was no adventure for the weak as the road was little more than a wide trail undulating through the wilderness over and around the Island’s mountainous terrain. This link will show you what we believe to be the Wagon Route to Mill Bay. After an arduous climb to level ground they stopped for lunch where the Major, in total disbelief said this would be the last time he came this way. It took a full 3 days to get to Cobble Hill further convincing the Major that there must be a better way.
I’m not certain why he was so insistent upon building a road to Cobble Hill as Prime Minister MacDonald had hammered in the last spike for the railroad many years earlier in August of 1886 but that didn’t dissuade the Major in his pursuit. He set sail in his sloop and followed the coastline from Goldstream to Mill Bay making copious drawings of the topography along the way. Satisfied that he had discovered a passable tract he set out to survey the route on foot.
The Major had the support of the Cowichan Valley residents so with petition in hand he headed for Victoria. The Government rejected the proposal as the Major wasn’t a professional surveyor. It was suggested that Frank Verdier, a consummate timber man determine the viability of the proposed route.
Off they went and upon the completion of their trek Verdier advised the Government that this was the only probable way to reach Mill Bay and connect to the roads from the north. The Government rejected the proposal as Verdier wasn't’t a professional surveyor.
It’s said that Bert Todd of the Victoria Motor Club pressured the Government to hire surveyors and get the job done once and forever. Even though Mr. Todd brought the project to fruition, there rightly was a monument erected at the Malahat summit dedicated to the tenacity of the Major.
The project was finally completed at the end of 1910. The one lane gravel road was not for the inexperienced as there were no guard rails and few pull-offs to let traffic pass but with a speed limit of 12 MPH you could get to Mill Bay in no time.
In the 1920’s cars are within the reach of many and camping road trips became very popular. One of the first Auto Camps was built by Anthony Kohout in 1925. Later in 1929 he decided to build a hotel on the property which is now known as Sooke Harbour House.
In the 1940’s Auto Camps had become known as Motor Hotels and later Motels. A good example are the Malahat Bungalows that were built in 1940 and exist to this day. Also you can find several heritage pubs and hotels along the way from Ma Miller’s Pub at the Goldstream inn to the Masthead Restaurant in the Columbia Hotel (circa 1863) at Cowichan Bay.
While researching this article we realized it would be fun to publish a road trip of the many heritage road-houses. Take the time to cross these boot worn thresholds and soak in some history and then send us your favorite heritage haunt for inclusion in our upcoming summer issue.
The Malahat has undergone a seemingly endless number of improvements over the years with the latest being the widening of the highway and the erection of concrete barriers between the oncoming lanes. Most likely improvements will continue through the years as the demand increases.
We honour the memory of Major MacFarlane and his tenacity when dealing with the Government Bureaucrats of his day. It's odd how some things never change.