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BC Historical Books

BC Historical Books

General report on the Cowichan Valley Wells, Oliver 1860

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Full Text

Full Text

Col. Sec. Office,
Victoria, 22nd March 1860.
The following Report upon the Country of the Cowich-
an Valley containing matter of interest to the Public, is
herewith published  for general information.
By Command of His Excellency,
Acting Colonial Secretary.
To Joseph Despard Pemberton   Esq.,   Colonial  Surveyor, &c.
Sir,—I beg leave to submit for your information the
following remarks on the capabilities of the Cowichan
The Valley may be fairly considered as about 15 miles
wide upon the sea coast, but narrows rapidly as we
ascend the river, insomuch, that upon the Westerly
limit of the survey (11 miles from the Coast) it has
a width of only 6 miles The surface throughout is
either uniformly level, or lies in gentle swells, and until
the Mountain sides are attained, scarcely any rocks or
boulders are found, the rocky knolls and ledges so frequently found occurring in the southerly parts of the
Island almost entirely disappear. It is well watered by
the Cowichan' river and its numerous tributaries.
High ranges of mountains believed to be of secondary
formation, with Calcareous Freestone, or Carbonate of
Lime, form almost impassable barriers towards the
North and South, and the whole subsidence of land between these mountains is evidently a deposit brought
down by the waters. The distinctive nature of the soils
throughout the Cowichan Valley is Calcarious, seemingly formed by the decomposition of Limestone rock,
for while the other principles occur in different degrees,
the properties of Carbonate of Lime almost invariably
predominate. There is usually a depth of two or three
feet, resting upon a sufficiently retentive subsoil of blue
clay or gravel. The Earths, chiefly light, very porous,
and composed of due proportions of clay, sand, carbonate of lime, and vegetable remains, are well constituted for absorbing and retaining moisture, and the gen
eral color from brown to black, with the entire absence
of chalky or white earths, would likewise indicate a favorable soil for receiving and retaining heat.    Samples
taken from the Somenos Plains  were found by experiment to  absorb water sufficient to increase the volume
of soil from  one-eighth  to one-fifth of its whole bulk.
The low grounds are good, and would easily be brought
into a state fit for cultivation.    The only exceptions are
those lying immediately at the   foot  of Mount Prevost
and the Quamachan mountains, where the  soil  resting
upon massivej*ock, has been converted   into a   spongy
web Pabulum,  and  good  for  nothing.    Much   of the
river bottom is a clay loam of a brown color, and  an
excellent soil for wheat, beans, turnips and red clover.
The alluvial deposit of the Valley is, however, far from
being all of a clayey nature, in many parts,   chiefly  on
the southerly side, the mould rests upon a gravelly, and
even a  sandy  deposit.    This is likewise a rich   soil as
may  be   seen  from  the  abundant   crops   of potatoes
(among  the most exhausting plants)   raised by the Indians upon  the  same  patches of land  for a  series of
years.    The  Plain lands have soils   either gravelly, or
sandy and gravelly loams, eligible for barley, oats, rye,
buckwheat,  beans,   peas,   and the root and leaf crops,
potatoes, turnips, and  carrots,   with  the   other usual
garden  vegetables.    The humidity of the  atmosphere
may prove a  barrier  to the culture of Indian  corn.    I
am unable to say, but I believe that this grain will one
day form a staple, as it will assuredly form a profitable
commodity,  both of consumption and export.    Wheat
may likewise be  successfully raised upon  most of the
soils in their natural state,  and by proper tillage, upon
all.    And I am firmly persuaded that under a common,
judicious  system  of farming, as good returns can be
obtained from these lands   as  in  any    part  of   the
Continent of America.    The climate, it may be noted, is
one  especially adapted to the  pursuits of agriculture,
not being subject to the heats and droughts of California*
or to the colds of the other British American Provinces,
and the Eastern United States.    The loamy soils everywhere possessing a depth of two or three feet, and containing a large proportion of the  calcarious  principle
are especially  eligible  for fruit culture,   and the oak J
plains around the   Somenos   and- Quamachan  Lakes,
With a sandy clay subsoil are exceedingly well adapted
for fruit or garden purposes.    Among the native fruits,
the blackberry, mulberry, raspberry, strawberry, gooseberry, currant, and high bush cranberry would require
little  pains   or culture to   produce  luxuriantly.    The
strawberry    grows    on  the    plain    land   nearly    as
large as the garden fruit.    The  varieties of plants are
very numerous, a few only were noted  growing on the
plains and meadow lands, among which are the following:—Wild pea, wild beans,  ground  nut, clover,  field
Strawberry,   wild   oat,   cut  grass, wild  timothy,   reed
meadow grass, long spear grass, sweet grass, high ostrich
fern, cowslip, crowfoot, winter cress, patridge berry, wild
sunflower, marigold, Wild lettuce, nettles, wild angelica,
wild lilly, broad leafed rush, and reed rush.    The fern
attaines  the great bight  of six or eight feet, and the
grasses have all a vigorous growth.    The chief econom- •
ical woods, are pine and oak,  neither of which attain,
however, to the great size observable in the other parts
of the Island.    The following are some of the trees and
shrubs :    Oak, red or swamp maple, alder,  trailing arbutus, bois de fleche, crab apple,  hazel nut,  red alder,
willow,   balsam poplar,  pitch pine,   and various  other
species, balsam fir,   cedar,   barberry,   wild red cherry
wild blackberry,  yellow plum, choke cherry, black and
red raspberry,   prickly purple raspberry,   swamp  rose,
bearberry, red elder, mooseberry, snow berry, blueberry,
bill'berry, whortleberry, cranberry, red and white  mulberry.     It  is  believed that the country surveyed  will
prove rich in the economic minerals,   sufficiently so  to
justify the Government in causing an investigation to
be made at the proper time.    Malleable lime  and freestone for building purposes are abundant, with marble.
Iron both bog and monntain ores.    Indications of gold
were remarked by the party upon the southerly slope of
Mount   Prevost, but no value was attached   to   these.
Water privileges for the purpose^of mills and machinery
are not frequent along the coast, although  the  region
abounds in large  rivers and small  streams.    Several
good   falls exist a short distance above the   mouth   of
Mill creek,  in the Shawnigan District,  and this  creek
has  like  facilities for mills at various other  points to
its junction with the Cowichan river.    Other streams
afford a sufficient extent of w^ater privileges to  answer
the requirments of a large population, but these are all
inland  at  a distance of several miles  from the coast.
The salmon is abundant, both npon the coast and in the
river, and with the herring fisheries, will  undoubtedly
prove a lucrative branch of employment to a part of the
future  population.    The cod fish and numerous   other
kinds are also caught in quantities by the  Indians.    In
traversing  the   country several descriptions   of  game
were met with, among which were the elk, deer, grouse,
and wild pigeons, duck, and wild geese.    From my observations and from the supplies constantly brought   in
by the Indians it was at once inferred that the   country
was plentifully stocked with most kinds of game.    The
Cowichan Harbor  is somewhat  exposed to  the S, E.
winds which, however, are of rare occurrence. The small
Bay running up in the 6th range of the   Cowichan  District forms a good Harbor and anchorage.    The   access
to  the Cowichan valley by water is at  all times easy,
the   distance   from Victoria being about 35 miles,   by
land the communication will be more   difficult.    Passing by the head of the Saanich Inlet and along its west
bank the distance would probably be 40  miles,   and  it
is believed no natural obstacles would be found to render the undertaking a very expensive one.    The   whole
area surveyed is 57,658 acres, of which, 45,000 acres of
plain   and   prairie land may be set down   as   superior
agricultural lands, the remaining portion being woodland,  either open or thick, and which will likewise be
ultimately occupied.
I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most Obt, Servt,
Oliver Wells.


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