Central Saanich has a rich historical past that helps define our beautiful corner of the world. Here are a few of the special places we can visit to appreciate our past.
West Saanich School
At 7130 West Saanich Road, in 1880, the first school in Brentwood Bay was built on land donated by George Stellys and John Sluggett. This one-room schoolhouse was replaced with a new school in 1908, which still stands in Brentwood’s Pioneer Park and retains many of the original interior finishes, including blackboards.
Actively used as a school from 1909 to 1952, West Saanich School drew students from as far as Prospect Lake up to Mt. Newton. It was a one-room schoolhouse and lacked modern conveniences—it was heated by a pot-bellied stove and relied on outhouses.
West Saanich School is the oldest public schoolhouse on the Saanich Peninsula remaining on its original foundation. It has undergone a number of important restorations and has been used as a community hall by local youth groups since 1960. It also supports local events, including Brentwood Bay Festival and Music in the Park.
Butterfield Park is a historical 13-acre property at 8000 Thomson Place, off Mt. Newton Cross Road. This property has a beautiful natural landscape providing spectacular views of the inlet, the Mt. Newton Valley, and site’s many gardens.
John Claude Butterfield left his native Yorkshire in 1890 for Victoria, BC. As a master mariner, John was soon working up and down the BC coast. He married Gertrude Evelyn Flewin (from the northern coastal community of Port Simpson) in 1906 and the Butterfields had a baby daughter in Prince Rupert, Hilda Dorothy Mary, the following year. In 1913 the Butterfields purchased 13 acres of sloping wooded land on Mt. Newton Cross Road from pioneer William Thomson.
The house, attributed to Victoria architect John Keith, was carefully situated near the top of the slope to take advantage of views over the valley and the waters of Hagan Bight. To augment John’s salary of the captain of the Brentwood Bay ferry, the Butterfields established a poultry business. Gertrude and Hilda were passionate about their country life, raising prize flowers and vegetables for the local agricultural fair and taking an active role in St. Stephen’s Church. The home featured an orchard, cutting garden, vegetable garden, wild flowers and roses, herbs, poultry barn and stable. They valued the native wildflowers, such as violets, bluebells, camas, calypso orchids, trillium and fawn lilies, that grew in abundance.
The District of Central Saanich now owns the property, which includes the restored house, extensive gardens, and outbuildings. The restoration of the house was awarded a Hallmark Society ‘Louis Award’ and local period landscape consultant Cyril Hume noted, "The Butterfield Property is one of the most valuable historic residential landscapes that I have ever seen anywhere in BC." The municipality has a keen interest in continuing the development of the park and to this end commissioned a landscape architect to inventory and evaluate the gardens and provide a report.
Newman Farm offers a glimpse of turn-of-the-century farm life on the Saanich Peninsula. The 16.5-acre farm was donated as public parkland to the District Central Saanich by John and Henry Newman in 2003. Having remained in family ownership and relatively unchanged for 107 years, this property is a rare example of a small, subsistence farm on the Saanich peninsula. In addition to the original cabin and farmhouse, other structures on-site include a creamery, garage, chicken coop, barn, outhouse, a second cabin, milking barn, four sheds and two boathouses. Many of the buildings are heritage sites.
Nestor Newman, a Finlander who had worked in Dunsmuir's coal mines, purchased the farm in rural Saanich in the 1890s. With his wife, Allida, he built a small cabin as their first home on the property. This cabin still remains today, but was replaced by a larger residence in 1905, to accommodate their growing family. By this time, Nestor worked as a Section Foreman for the Victoria & Sidney (V&S) Railway, which ran in front of their home, along what is now known as Old Veyaness Road.
In April, 1913, Nestor died and Allida was left to run the farm and raise their nine children. Their eldest child, George, 15 years old at the time, assumed his father’s position with the V&S Railway at reduced pay. True to the pioneering spirit, the Newman family was self-reliant. They grew their own fruits and vegetables, ground their own cereal and raised prize-winning jersey cattle.
George, along with younger brothers, John and Henry, spent most of their lives on the family homestead, which was actively farmed up until 1996. The main residence underwent few changes and lacked running water, electricity and any modern conveniences right up to the time the last Newman brother died in 2000.
The eastern most section of Newman Farm, off Lochside Drive known as the “beach field” is open to the public. Stairs were rebuilt, providing access to the foreshore of Ferguson Cove.
Since 2012, the District of Central Saanich has partnered with The Farmlands Trust to re-establish agricultural uses on the Newman Farm. Through this arrangement, Farmlands Trust supporters and volunteers grow a variety of fruits and vegetables for donation to Our Place for meals for the homeless and those with low income living in Greater Victoria (as of August 31, 2017, Farmlands Trust reached a new milestone – harvesting more than 10,000 pounds of vegetables!).
Two wooden boathouses were in poor condition, but have since been repaired and today are being used by a local youth paddling club. Plans for the farm include restoration of the circa 1900 barn and reintroduction of agricultural activity. Due to the fragility of many of the historic buildings and safety concerns, access to the farm is currently limited.
A master planning process was undertaken in 2006/07 to provide direction for development and management of the Farm as parkland. The resulting plan entitled Newman Farm - Preparing a Way Forward established a vision for the park, which states: The community of Central Saanich will care for the Newman farm in a manner that honours the legacy of the Newman family, reveals our agrarian heritage, demonstrates our values and involves and considers our community.
Mount Newton Valley
Mt. Newton rises off the north side of the road and is a sacred mountain of great cultural significance to the Saanich people or W̱SÁNEĆ. The Saanich people inhabited the Peninsula many years prior to the arrival of the newcomers. In the beginning the creator taught the Saanich people how to care for the land. For many years they remembered these teachings and were happy and prosperous. As the years passed, some forgot the teachings. The creator became unhappy and sent a great flood. Those that were not prepared were washed away, and those who were prepared gathered food and possessions in canoes and paddled to the highest mountain nearby. The creator took pity on the survivors and the flood receded. A mountain appeared in the distance, which became LAU, WELNEW (place of refuge, escape, healing). The good people who were saved are the ancestors of the Saanich tribes today. (Source: “LAU,WELNEW” by Earl Claxton and John Elliot, 1993).
When the first European settlers came to the Saanich Peninsula, Mt. Newton Valley offered an agricultural paradise. They cleared the land, farmed, and raised livestock.
Mt. Newton Cross Road Heritage Walk
You can see 13 pioneer sites on the Mt. Newton Cross Road Heritage Walk, which leads you through the valley (almost 4 km/ 2.5 mi one way—most of which is on a pedestrian path).