The Growth of Comox

The Town of Comox grew up from the wharf.

Here is a glimpse of the sequence of events from 1860 to 1991.

1860 – The Governor sends Commander R. G. Mayne to the Comox Valley.  He reported that the Valley was the most promising spot for an agricultural settlement on the island. There was plenty of fine land and there was good anchorage for ships of any size.

1862 – The Robbs pre-empted land which we believe was 160 acres for James Robb and 100 acres for William( his son) (Sections 53 and 56). They looked around and selected land on the bay where they felt would be the logical place for ships to arrive and dock. They selected this heavily treed slope of land over open farming land because they thought this would be the most likely place for a town to emerge and for a shipping hub. The land near the water edge was quite open and very fertile for the planting of vegetables.

1862 – 1863 – Small pox epidemic was said to have been spread from a sailor from San Francisco to the Native work camps around Victoria. The disease spread up the coast as workers returned home from the work camps. Thousands of Natives died within a few months. More than one-third of the Native population on Vancouver Island perished.

In the Comox area there were three groups of Indigenous people to be encountered by the settlers. The Comox (whose original name was Sa-thool-tuch) were resident here. The Puntledge (originally Pentlatch) the other permanent residents were on the brink of extinction from the small pox epidemic and moved in with the Comox in 1862 and deserted their village about a mile up the river from the Comox. The third group were the Eucletaw (Lekwiltok) came from Cape Mudge and were the most southerly group of the Kwakwaka’wakw. They possessed herring and salmon fishing sites along the river and would camp here to collect their winter rations and then return home. All three tribes seemed to get along quite well most of the time. Currently, the fishing sites, and the old fishing pylons pounded into the low river bed and ocean are of great interest of modern day scientist. Some samples are currently (2010) being carbon dated.

The land that was the abandoned Indian Village on the river was pre-empted by George Ford (Section 41).

1863 – In January the settlers petitioned Governor Douglas for cattle and seeds. The Government sent the steamer Emily Harris with a load of shorthorn Durham cattle. The steamer arrived as close to the Indian Village as it could and pushed the load of cattle off into the water and they were guided ashore by canoe. We believe that several head of oxen also arrived on the Douglas about the same time.

April 2nd – The British Colonist interviewed and unidentified settler from Comox who reported that 50 persons resided in the Valley. There were 15 good homes and several more under construction. He stated that the road from Nanaimo to Comox was underway and should be finished within a month. He stated that many of the settlers were disgruntled about the Government not having arranged for regular mail and paper service. He said that the only store (We believe this was the Hart Store) was poorly supplied leaving many people in a bind over the winter. There were 6 yokes of Oxen, 1 horse, 13 head of cattle all owned by one person and 50 to 60 pigs (we believe this was George Mitchell’s cattle and pigs).

1864 – From 1862 the dairy was mostly supplied by Gordon Mitchell’s cattle and the small herd of Durham cattle that arrived in the spring of 1863 from Victoria. William Blaksley and John Baily walked to Victoria and procured a herd of young cattle and brought them back to Comox by boat.

George Drabble applies for 100 acre pre-emption (Section 29) which was land that had been vacated by Mr. Harney. Subsequently, Drabble vacated the land a few months later and sold his claim to Robert Ritchie. He left Comox and got work in Nanaimo as a farm bailiff.

Comox people went to a great potlatch at Cape Mudge.

Most of the early settlers were single men and most of them stayed that way.  Isabella Robb was the first white woman in the settlement. Mary Harmston was the second.

John Marwick (Section 9), Patrick Murphy (Section 10 & 11), James McNish (Section 12) and Charles Fletcher (Section 13 & 46) held their lands in “The Swamp” in a partnership and one of the four, as Drabble recalls usually Murphy, looked after the claim while the others were away hunting gold.

The Puntledge people living on Denman Island abandoned their village and moved in with the Comox. It is believed that there were about 10 families left.

The first team of horses arrives owned by William Charworth Musters.

1864 – 1868 – George Ford (Section 41) and Henry Horatio Mauge (Section 40) both married native women and both left the valley to raise sheep on Hornby Island.

1865 – Reginald Pidcock sold 100 acres to Bishop Hill and the Anglican Church (mission Hill) and moved across to the west side of the River and took up most of the land which is now Courtenay. In 1870’s Pidcock built the Comox sawmill on the Courtenay River.

1866 – George Drabble returns to Comox.

1868 George Mitchell died In Testate. He was shot and killed by an unknown native man. Mitchell was in a drunken state and was waving a gun around and so fearing for his safely the man shot and killed Mitchell. The justice system upheld his plea of self-defence.

Hart & Holden Store and the Burrage Stores Close.

Hudson Bay Company leased both the Hart & Holden Store and the Burrage Stores. A. G. Horne operates the two stores for the Hudson Bay Company until 1877.

1869 – The settlers petitioned the Government to make Comox a “fence district”. There were so many pigs running loose that they were becoming a nuisance and somewhat dangerous as they were quite wild so legislation for obligatory fencing of livestock was requested.

End of 1860’s –Surveying was begun for planning a winding back road up from Courtenay.

1870 – The Baynes Sound Coal Mining Company was incorporated with prospect holes on the Tsolum River. They built a three mile long railway crossing the Island Highway at Rosewall Creek.  They hauled about 1500 tons of coal out but were unable to market the product.

1871 – In October only 10 of the 60 settlers had families.

Union Coal Company began taking coal from Coal Creek. By 1874 they had built a tramway to Royston but the cost of the project became too high and they stopped work.

John Fitzgerald’s Scottish wife Anna and Australian born son Joe arrived.

Thomas Beckensell the nephew of Charles Green arrives.

1872 – First marriage in Comox Valley was between Florence Harmston and Samuel Cliffe.

1873 – There were only three mowers in the valley. Most of the hay harvesting continued to be done by scythes.

1874 – Matthew Piercy and George Greive arrive from New Brunswick with wives and children. Matthew Piercy bought the rest of the John Wilson farm. He lived next door to Crawford the school teacher.

Joe Rodello builds is new store on the right side of the Wharf. He engages the services of George Drabble to survey a road through his property up from the Wharf.

The Wharf was built at Comox by Joe McPhee and John Wilson.

1875 – Drabble surveyed for a connecting road from Courtenay up over Comox hill to the Wharf (Comox Avenue).

1876 – James Dunsmuir offers to purchase William Robb’s farm to use as a shipping point for coal. It is said that William Robb asked $80,000.00 for the property so Dunsmuir went to Union Bay to acquire a shipping corridor. Had the coal shipping corridor been located on the Robb property this would have certainly changed the complexion of Comox for all time to come.

1877 – The Wharf Hotel was built by Joe Rodello (later renamed the Elk Hotel). The hotel was leased to John Carthew from 1878 – 1880. Later when George McDonald bought the hotel in 1880 it became the social centre for the community.  George had seven daughters (many sources said there were 8 daughters but we have not been able to identify an 8th) who were all musically oriented and the family would put on lavish performances for audiences that included the Royal Navy.

A. G. Horne purchased land on Wharf Street up from Rodello’s store (across Front Street now Beaufort) and built a store of his own. He always felt that the HBC should have purchased land on Wharf Street and not operated the stores on the river estuary near the Indian Village.

1st School of Comox built on Anderton Road – had one room for grades 1 through 8 – it closed in 1927 when the Little River, Nobb Hill and Comox schools were consolidated at Comox.

During this time frame there was only two teams of horses in the valley and some huge oxen. There were a few wagons and one buggy owned by HBC storekeeper. Most vehicles were homemade carts, sleight and drags.

Some of the land was divided off by rail fences. There was no post and wire or board fencing.

There were large droves of pigs that ran at large and were marked like cattle.  Some times a herd of pigs would be penned where they would rout and clear out the fern roots and in short order would have so successfully turned over the land that it could be harrowed and then planted with almost no other work.  From time to time a pig or two would be caught and fattened up on milk and potato feed then sold, usually in Nanaimo.

1878 The Lorne Hotel was built and named for the Marquis of Lorne, the husband of Princess Louise, at the time he was the Governor General.  Built by John Fitzpatrick, the hotel served as a community gathering centre, maternity ward, and funeral parlour. It was purchased by Sam and Florence Cliffe in 1883.

1879 – Alex Urquhart had been the farm manager for the John Wilson Farm. He bought the McFarlane farm including the Crawford Ranch.

1880 – Rodello’s store burnt down.

The Elk Hotel was sold to George McDonald it became a very popular entertainment spot. The enlisted men who came off the navy ships migrated into the Elk; the officers went to the Lorne.

1881 – Anderton family arrives in the Valley, William and Helen Anderton.

1882 – Archie Pritchard set up a lumber camp on the Trent River below Union Bay and Walter Piercy started a logging operation south of Union Bay. Logs were hauled over greased skids to the tidewater where they were towed away by boats often the Beaver. This was the starting of another important economic boom to the Comox Valley.  It is said that the first loggers came from Maine and setup on the mouth of Dove Creek and they employed 12 to 14 men. Their plan was to float the logs down the Tsolum to the tidewater but the logs jammed everywhere.

1883 – Florence Mary (Harmston) Cliffe and Samuel Jackson Cliffe bought the Lorne.

1891 – The first St. Peter’s Anglican Church was built on land donated to the church by William Robb. The requirements of the donation were that the Church be built at a cost of not less that $2,000.00 and that the structure (framing and roof on) must be completed within 40 days.  The conditions were met and the building cost $2,218.00.

Census- Eric Duncan was assigned the task of taking the census in the country between Union Bay and Campbell River excluding Cumberland. He reported that the total was just under 1000 in his section.

1892 – First newspaper was started in Courtenay by an American named Whitney and called “The Comox News”. He moved himself and the newspaper to Cumberland in 1896 and later sold the business to W. B. Anderson and one of the Campbell Brothers.

1893 – The Union Coal Company in what is now Cumberland was mining 700 to 1000 tons per day and employed 600 men. This gave a great economic boost to the Comox Valley. The farming community had its first local market.

1895 – The Dominion Telegraph office begins operation from a small building beside the Elk Hotel. The area is renamed Comox-Atlin, formerly Augusta Bay, or Robb`s Landing by the locals.

1900 –  The Comox Peninsula was being settled. Some of the settlers in that area at that time were Charles Henry Stafford Williams (later settled at Williams Beach Road), Walter Gage, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Stewart Torrance and family, William Anderton family.

1902 – Carroll took over the Creamery. He required that all milk be separated and the cream was tested and an unlimited water source was installed. The creamery turned out good “Comox Creamery Butter” and began getting a reputation. This forced the large individual producers to join the Co-Op and under the control of Richard Hurford and Carroll the Creamery became one of the top four in the province thus producing another economical boot for the Valley.

1904 Jack Carthew (a contractor from Cumberland) purchased 30 acres of waterfront from the Brown pre-emption next to the Robb Ranch.

Lynman Hart and Tom Bambrick took over the Little River operations and built the first logging railway north of Nanaimo. Another well known logging company was King and Casey who used horses and had a farm near to Robbs. They worked on the Tsolum and logged three million feet in three months which was a considerable feat for the time. The Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company (of Chemainus) bought large stands of timber along the Puntledge and drove logs down the river and out to sea.

1905 – 1906 – First Telephones came, brought in by Joseph McPhee. The first telephone number in Comox was to McPhee’s store on 5th Street Courtenay, his number was #1.

1910 – The first auto to come to Comox and was owned by Walter Scott. The roads were hard to navigate as the majority of them were primitive horse and buggy trials.

Elk Hotel bought by Jack Martin.

1911 – Canadian Western Lumber Company bought out the Victoria Lumber and Manufacturing Company of Chemainus it planned to manufacture lumber at Headquarters and built a large sawmill.  The Mill was never used as it was found that it was much cheaper to toe the logs to New Westminster where the Company had its headquarters. The Comox Logging and Railway Company was a subsidiary of this company. Power logging was introduced into the Valley.

1912 –  The new Post Office and the store beside it were built. The storefront was bought by A. B. Ball who owns the house next door which had been built shortly before.

Norman Boden started the “Courtenay Review” which later merged with “The Comox Argus”.

1913 – In 1913 four sisters, Sister Majella, Sister St. Edmond, Sister Praxedes and Sister Claudia came to Comox from Toronto and established St. Josephs Hospital.  The hospital began as a four-bed infirmary and by 1917 expanded its capacity to 17 beds.

1914 – August 1914 E & N Railway arrives in Courtenay.

1915 – 1916 102nd Battalion occupied the Spit. The engineers condemned the Spit because there was no drinking water but they were posted there anyway. They started construction with plans for 2 and 3 story buildings, but they blew down 3 times so they quartered the men in tents instead. They piped in water from Brooklyn Creek and although the water was not good they used it anyway.

June the 102 Battalion leaves Comox for the War.

The enactment of the Prohibition laws. At that time the Elk was already in legal difficulties and with the new laws the Lorne also fell into financial ruin.  The Port Augusta had never been competitive with the others, so, J B Holmes had made part of the building over into a store so he managed to survive.

William Robb passed away. This marked the end of the Robb control over the Comox town site.

Robert Joseph Filberg arrives with his bride to take over the management of Comox Logging and Railway Company.

1917 – St. Joseph’s Hospital expands to a 17 bed facility.

1925 – George H. M. Ellis purchases the A B Ball Store and renames it The Bay Store.

George Ellis purchased a house on Comox Avenue next to the Ball house that had been built by Percy Smith.

1927 – George Ellis built an addition to the Bay Store and added a Butcher Shop.

New Comox school is built.

1928 – Comox Golf course opens with six holes and was a private course owned by the Courtenay Golf Association.

1932 – Comox Creamery built in Courtenay (was a Co-op)

1934 – Comox Golf Course open to the public, full nine holes to play under the leadership of Thomas Graham the newly elected President.

1943 – Airport started up but really got going in 1952.

1946 – Comox incorporated into a Village.

Earthquake of 7.3 magnitude hit the valley.

1947 – July 17 – A new second Bay Store is build across Comox Avenue from the original Bay Store. The original Store is operated by Ronald Ellis and has been converted to a hardware store. The new store is operated by Owen Ellis and is a grocery store “Bay Store – Red and White”.

1954 – The annex part of Robb Road School was built and opened. Five years later in 1959 the main part of the school was built.

1962 – Comox new municipal offices were opened.

1964 – Brooklyn Elementary school was built. Original had 6 rooms but later added 2 more rooms and a gym and covered play area – completed in 1967.

1966 – Strip Mall is built by the Ellis family on Comox Avenue east side of Port Augusta Street.

Robert Filberg gives his majority shareholding of the Comox Golf Course to the Town of Comox on the condition that it would always be a golf course or parkland forever.

The Bay Stores close the Ellis Brothers business move to the new strip mall.

1967 – Comox became a Town.

1968 – Village Park elementary school completed – was a 6 room school.

1972 – Original Bay Store building has housed several things from 1966 until the building is torn down in June of 1972.

1973 – The Elk Hotel burns down.

1977 – New breakwater, landfill and marina were built at Comox Harbour.

1984  –  Lorne Hotel was owned by Marg & Rod Chalmers

1991 – New breakwater and guarded walkway were built at Comox dock.