The Early Days of the Ardmore Community in North Saanich, BC, Canada
Some of the early settlers in North Saanich were ex-navy and army officers, some of whom had been in the British Raj in India. On the way home to Britain some decided to stay here and settled on Vancouver Island. During the Crimean War the British fleet was sent to the colony of Victoria and Governor Douglas was asked to prepare a hospital facility for the wounded in Esquimalt. The intention was for the British to launch a surprise attack on the Russians up the Kamchatka River in Russia. There were two excursions and about 20 wounded sailors who needed to be treated in local clinics.
After that episode was over, William Le Poer Trench who was a captain in the British Navy during the Crimean War, decided to decommission and came out to North Saanich in 1884. He wanted to use what monies he had to purchase two sections of land from Cole Bay towards Pat Bay. He owned both sides of what is now the West Saanich Road. And because he was a gentleman and he liked to do “gentleman sports” he of course had a tennis court as well as croquet and lawn bowling. But what Trench really wanted was to build a golf course. And so he did. That golf course became Ardmore, the one I’ve been involved with, which was originally built in 1886. It is actually the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi that has been “non-continuous on the same site”.
Here’s the story of how it came into being. Fortunately the Trans-Canada Railway had just been completed the previous year, in 1885, and there were a lot of Chinese workers who had helped build the railroad and who now came to Vancouver and Victoria seeking work. So William Le Poer Trench hired a number of Chinese workers to pick rocks on what later became fairways, and to prepare greens for the golf course. In the process, they realized water was needed and so they had to dig a well. That well is still up on number eight fairway. It was dug by hand by the Chinese workers going down, digging and filling pails, and sending the rocks to the top. At one point they came across a huge boulder that they couldn’t get through. They knew how to use dynamite from working the railways and so they set fuses to blow the rock apart, and then carried on.
Of course in those days dug wells were shored up with lumber as the workers dug down, but when they were ready to extract the stones, this particular well was already about 25 or 30 feet deep. It caved in and two Chinese workers were buried alive and their bodies still are there today. It remains an unmarked grave on Ardmore Golf Course built by underpaid Chinese workers.
This was also the time when D’Arcy Island was a leper colony, and the Chinese people who had leprosy were sent there to more-or-less perish, as supplies were only brought to them twice a year. It was a time when the disease of leprosy was misunderstood and the Chinese people were not regarded as equals in any way. They were considered workers and that was it.
So William de Poer Trench built his golf course in 1886, along with a giant mansion which would have been close to what is now the parking lot of Ardmore Golf Course. As a kid I saw the ruins of Trench’s mansion and learned all about it from Mr. Towers, the former estate manager, and a few other pioneers who lived around there. The mansion was built of stone and wood. It was two-storeys and included the headquarters for Mr. Le Poer Trench’s business as well as a home for his family.
In 1886, and for several years after, people came out either from Victoria on the railway or from other towns for parties on the weekend. Or they might have come by way of Cole Bay and then rowed ashore. But Mr. Trench wanted a more efficient means of transportation and so he became the first person on the peninsula to buy a Stanley Steamer automobile to get around. His mansion burned down in – a case of suspected arson – in 1907. After that Mr. Trench, who was a member of the British House of Lords, decided to return with his family to England. He sold all of his property including Ardmore Golf Course which, at that point, became an orchard with apples and other fruit trees.
The property was then bought by Allen Steamships Company of Scotland, basically on speculation that the area would soon have an influx of people and they could make more money by speculation on the land. So the area’s residents, who from time to time had been allowed to play on the Lord’s Golf Course, didn’t have any place to play golf and so they formed a smaller golf course club called the North Saanich Golf Club. They built a seven-hole course just to the north of the Tseycum Reserve where the winery is now and which Mr. And Mrs. Sisson ran. That functioned as a little golf course until 1930 when Mr. Sisson and his wife decided to see whether they could rent the property of the former Ardmore Golf Course from Allen Steamships Company. They wanted to remove some of the apple trees and rebuild the golf course so that’s what they did. In 1930, they started building it and three years later it opened and Ardmore Golf Course was up and running again as the Ardmore Golf Club. So that’s why it’s “non-continuous on the same site” because it went through a number of years as an orchard and part of a farm. It’s still miraculous that it is the oldest golf course west of the Mississippi – but unfortunately we have to qualify that with “non-continuous on the same site”. Oak Bay Golf Course is actually the oldest golf course in western Canada but we would have beaten them if we didn’t have to say “non-continuous on the same site”! My father purchased Ardmore Golf Course in 1946.
My dad was the commanding officer of the air force during the construction of the airport at the start of the war. As a Wing Commander in 1939 he made the very first landing on a grass strip which was to become our YYJ airport. In those days the airmen didn’t have much recreation so Dad went over to Mr. and Mrs. Sisson and said, “Could I arrange to get some recreation for my airmen at your golf course?” I think they were allowed to play there for ten cents a day and which helped the war effort. When they came to play they were lent some golf balls and clubs, paid their dime, and away they went for some fun. The airport was part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan and you know it’s fantastic that so many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of airmen learned how to fly and to navigate here. After training they went over to Europe and then fought in the war.
Dad also had the idea for the very first U-drive business in Saanich. He realized that the Air Force personnel stationed at the Victoria airport couldn’t easily get into the city for their R&R. So he went over to of Mary’s Coffee Bar and said, “All these airmen need to get to Victoria to have some fun, so would you buy some old jalopies?” The owner of the cafe agreed, and bought a 1934 Packard Super Eight and a 1935 four door Chevy sedan and that was the first U-drive car rental in Victoria. It lasted for the first few years of the airfield construction, 1939 to 1942.
When the war was over, and my dad had decommissioned, he found out that the Ardmore Golf Course which was owned by Allan Steamships Company, was for sale. The Sisson family couldn’t run it anymore so Dad decided that he would risk going into huge debt to buy the place. Our family moved over and that’s how we started our life at Ardmore. It was part golf course and it was part farm. I like to say that it was a farm with a golf course playing through it. We had Jersey cows, chickens, sheep and we also had golfers and golf balls. One of my jobs was to collect the eggs and find and paint used golf balls because we couldn’t buy new ones.
In the so-called pro shop we had an ice box for selling soft drinks and whole milk. We sold eggs, golf balls, rented golf clubs, daily fees and butter. The butter my mother sold she had made in her top loading agitator washing machine. Her son Ron had made a bracket that sat over the agitator blades that could hold four quarts of cream. The butter was made and then shaped into forms for sale.
We have on Ardmore Golf Course some really huge and very old trees. One Douglas Fir used to straddle the fence on Ardmore Drive as you turn the corner from West Saanich Rd. and go down. When it fell in the hurricane that we had back in the 1960s it landed on the fairway and across the green and my brother Ronnie cut it up. We still have a little copse of trees there that are ancient. One of them is over 1,000 years old. When I wanted to determine its age I asked to have it drilled by the Forestry Department. The technicians plugged it up with material so that it wouldn’t be harmed during the process. They counted the rings and they came up with 1,100 years for that Douglas Fir. And the tree is still there. What a story that tree could tell. It might go something like this…
In the year 875 a tiny Fir seedling broke through the fertile soil of the Saanich Peninsula, inhaled its first breath of pure air, felt the soft breezes and the warmth of the sun on its tender leaves, then proceeded on an incredible journey through time. 617 years later, as Christopher Columbus first stepped onto the shores of this continent, this tree, or Th-Kuat, as it was known to the Coast Salish First Nations, stood tall and proud over its domain. 300 more years passed until Captain Vancouver arrived on these shores, named the land after himself, charted the waters and rugged coastline and then departed. The tree grew taller and sturdier, its roots growing ever deeper in its thirst for water and minerals. Its leaves reached skyward for carbon and oxygen and each year one more ring formed within its bowels.
Three more generations of First Nations people were born and died as the tree continued its journey. 50 more years passed until Sir James Douglas set foot in Victoria. The tree that was named after him (“Douglas Fir”), continued to grow, unimpressed. 130 years later, the tree, now 1,100 years old, 110 feet tall, its girth protected by six inches of gnarled bark, its sides still bearing the scars of some past forest fires, is still with us. Some of its massive branches have grown weary and fallen but the tree still stands magnificent in its awesome size.
Long after you and I, our children and their children, are dead and buried, will it still be growing? Hundreds of people drive by every day, unseeing, or even aware of this marvel of nature so close to them. The Fir is now the guardian of the third tee on Ardmore golf course in North Saanich. Come and visit it. Marvel at its tenacity of 1,100 years and its survival of both man’s and nature’s ravages. If you are like me you will touch its aged body for what it has seen in silence and storm and you will feel humbled by this magnificent survivor. (Excerpted from “Ardmore: Home, Community and Golf” by Wallace George du Temple and Edward R. Ostachowicz)
In the 1940s and 50s the extended family did everything for farm and course; brothers Ron, Wally and Barry, George and Alice Du Temple, and Roy and Lilly Walker, Mom’s sister and brother-in-law, and the brothers Phil and Gerry Walker.
The greens on the course were tiny. They were maybe just nine feet across and the only way of getting water to them was using our Model T Ford. We’d made it into a tractor with three 45 gallon drums on the back that were filled with water and then gravity feed dumped on the grass. My brother Ronnie would load those water tanks up at the well where the bodies of the two Chinese workers are still there at the bottom.
The Model T was the first vehicle I learned how to drive. The back tires were very, very small – to give extra power so it could pull the mowers. There were nuts and bolts that went through the metal rim to give it traction and so forth. It used to be rather difficult when a golfer was coming along. There was one golfer who used to really criticize me as a little kid and boss me around. The odd time when I’d see that he was on the third green I’d say, “Okay. I’m going to water the fourth green.” So I’d get there ahead and be dumping water so when he got there it would be big puddles. Used to just to drive him nuts!
On opening day at Ardmore Golf Course the ladies and gentlemen would have the opening tea. We had lots of tournaments at the golf course and many local companies supported the Ardmore Thanksgiving Golf Classic in those days. A little cottage on the course built in 1929, is still there. It was the home that I lived in from the time I was six years of age and where my brother and sister-in-law, Ron and Betty Du Temple, lived for many years after my dad died in 1982.
There is a wooden sculpture of a cougar on the stump of a Douglas Fir at the corner of Ardmore Drive and West Saanich Road. It’s nine feet from tail to head and is a gorgeous likeness. That tree was declared unsafe because it started to tilt. We had a very strange north-easterly wind one year and the tree started to tilt towards Ardmore Drive. The Forestry Department declared it a number one hazard so it had to come down. My wife and I were so upset but once you get that official assessment, you have to do it. So we decided to cut the top off and the Forestry Department said, “Okay. Well, can’t hurt anything now if you leave a 30 foot stump.” So we left a 30 foot stump and my wife said, “Well, I think we should put a cougar on top of it.” So we hired a man to carve out of a huge block of cedar a beautiful cougar which then was lifted by a crane and put on top and bolted down as a permanent fixture. So that’s how the cougar got there and there it sits to this day.
Just before North Saanich got its own fire department one of those big Douglas Firs started to burn on the 5th fairway. Two kids had gone underneath it and they pretended that they were in a cave. They started a little fire, and sure enough the whole tree caught on fire. The pitch started to burn and the flames shot up. The Sidney fire department needed to come because at that time there were two other huge Douglas Firs around it and another four close by. The danger was that they would crown and if they crowned then all of them could be lost. So the Hartshorne brothers came over, along with the fire department, and saw what was happening. Because the inside of the tree was rotten – it was just the cambium layer all the way around that was holding the tree up – they decided they would cut the tree down while it was burning and cut it so it would fall away from the other trees on Ardmore Drive. And that’s what they did. The Sidney fire department drained water on the trunk and on the trees trying to prevent the fire from spreading. All that water was splashing down on top of their heads and shoulders while they cut the tree. Then everyone had to run back and get out of the way of the crashing tree which was probably 800 years old – and huge.