Crofton, Desmond, interviewed by Lillian Horsdal, August 23rd, 1972.

This is a fascinating interview that I found in the Saltspring Archives.   It relates to an interview of Desmond Crofton by Lillian Horsdal on August 23rd 1972.  The interview covers the period when the Crofton Family first arrived on the island in 1898 through to after World War 2. 

Click on this link to take you to the full interview.  I have duplicated part of the interview below but the full transcript can be found at the link page.  An amazing piece of history.

Crofton, Desmond, interviewed by Lillian Horsdal, August 23rd, 1972.

Transcribed by Usha Rautenbach

Mr. Desmond Crofton, at his home on Salt Spring Island, and the date is August 23rd, 1972

Q: Mr. Crofton, could you tell me your full name, your dob, and where you were born.



DesC: My full name is Desmond Gerald Crofton. I was born at Harbour House in the little lounge, in 1905, July 10th, 1905.


Q: Could you tell me, Mr. Crofton, if you would, how long your parents had been here, and a bit about their coming to the island.

DesC: I’ll start off with my dad. My dad came out from Dublin in 1898. His father was a Captain in the Royal Navy under Queen Victoria, and he was appointed the Harbour Master for the harbour of Dublin, which was known as Kingston in those days, now known as Dunleary. My father was supposed to go out into the navy, but he didn’t like the idea, so he said “I’d rather go out to the colonies.” So Grandfather sent Dad out to learn farming from a Mr. Scovell, who was also another Irishman from Dublin.

So, my dear old dad, he loved the work out here. He found the work very hard, long, for little pay, and he would be very ready for his bed, at night. Shortly afterwards his two brothers Ernest and Frank also came out and settled on the island, and married here.


Perhaps I should say something about the early days.

The great drawback in those days was of course the hostile Indians. those early settlers had to carry guns, usually shotguns, to protect themselves. There were the odd people who were molested, and in fact a couple of the negro settlers were killed. I don’t remember, that was according to my dad.

I would like to also say something about the negroes.

They came to Victoria in 1859. They came from Fort Victoria, under the crown colony under Sir James Douglas. Sir James Douglas offered these early settlers land at a dollar an acre, or to pre-empt it. What I mean by pre-empt? They had to, they were given a tract of land; they had to live on it, and develop it, and do so much work each year, and then eventually they became the sole owners of it. But a lot of them bought the land at a dollar an acre, which was very cheap. Now, these negroes came from San Francisco, by sailing ship to Fort Victoria, the Colony, as we called it, of Vancouver Island.

They had just been released from slavery, and they weren’t too happy with the treatment they’d had, and they thought they’d like to go under a new flag, so that’s therefore why so many of them immigrated. About 500 came in that one shipload, to Victoria.

Q: That many?

DesC: Yes

Q: May I interrupt and ask you, did the negroes get the best land on Salt Spring? Did they get good land?

DesC: They got good land, but they seemed to fear the Indians, and they settled right on the centre of the island, which was good land, but they didn’t get the choice land, I would say. Like Harbour House – but Sylvia Stark got shoreline land in the end…

Q: They didn’t settle down on the sea, or anything?

DesC: No, they seemed to be afraid of the Indians, who were in their canoes, and lived on clams and fish and such, and they weren’t molested so much back –

Q: What Indian band was it?

DesC: It was the Cowichan, mostly the Cowichans.

Q: Were they quite hostile, eh?

DesC: They were very hostile, very hostile.

Q: Hmm, I always think of them as peaceful.

DesC: They resented a number of the white families who settled here. I remember the Beddis family; Decie F. Beddis, she only died a short time ago, at about nearly 90-something, and she told me, when she was a little girl, she and her brother used to go down to the beach, (she and) Charlie would go down onto the beach, and they’d come running up to the house, because these Indians would suddenly come around the corner, you know, they’d have their bows and arrows, and looked rather fierce, so they hid

Q: So the islanders armed themselves?

DesC: Yes, they did. When they went out to work in the fields, they would often take their shotguns, just to fore a shot, and that would sort of chase the Indians off.

Q: Did the negro people get good water on their land do you know?

DesC: Yes, there’s a lot of water on the island, lots of water on the island.

Q: OK.

DesC: I’d like to say something about Sylvia Stark.

Now her parents were slaves, and she came to the island at the age of about four (sic), and she lived until she was the age of 96 (he actually says nineteen-six), I often met her, and she was a wonderful old lady. I remember I took her up a man because her eyesight had gone, and we went up in the horse and buggy. This is going back to about 1913, when I was a little boy of about seven or eight, and I was able to drive a horse and buggy.

and I took this man up and he tested her eyes, and gave her the right glasses, and she said, “Just a minute,” and she reached in under the bed and pulled out her sack, a canvas sack, and all those five-dollar gold-pieces. In those days it wasn’t the ordinary currency, they dealt a lot in those days in – and she pulled out a number of these five-dollar gold-pieces, right from under the bed. That’s where her bank was!

Q: Is that right!

DesC: Yes. And then she had a son by the name of Willis, and he was a tremendous hunter, I mean, you know, we had a lot of cougars, that roamed the island and (killed) the livestock, especially cows and sheep and lambs; and so Willis was a great hunter, and he had a couple of good dogs, and he would track them down. And incidentally, Willis Stark and some of these early settlers used to make quite a good living out of selling a carcase of deer. They would shoot a deer. and ship it by the CPR to Victoria or to Vancouver, for ten dollars a carcase, which was a lot of money, sometimes five dollars and for two dollars for a pheasant or a brace of grouse; because game was very plentiful in those days – it was teeming with fish.

Q: So it was natural for most young men on the island to grow up hunting.

DesC: – to grow up hunting, and fishing. They just loved it, it was a wonderful life. My dad loved it so much. See A Late Summer


Ganges Harbour Massacre

DesC: Now, I might say something more about the Indians, if I may. (BEWARE errors in the following dramatic account: it was the Cowichan Indians who were encamped, peacefully, this being their terrain, and it was the Bella Bella who arrived, in one canoe. The Cowichan did do the killing,)

The Indians, as I said before, were the Cowichan, band, tribe, and in 1863 there was a massacre right on the Harbour House beach, which is just at the head of Ganges Harbour, where my old home is. They set upon a group of the Bella Bellas, at dawn, and while these Bella Bellas had come down from the north, the north end of Vancouver Island, laden with fur, fur in their big cruising(?) war canoes, because they were on their way to Fort Victoria and the Hudson Bay Company, (where) they would get quite a price for their furs; and so they had encamped on the beach, here, overnight, and so the Cowichans descended upon them and massacred about 28 of them. The only, two or three children were in there, and they spared them, and took them prisoner; and there was a Mr. Lineker that had a log cabin just on the bank above the beach; he managed to slip away and got word to Fort Victoria to Sir James Douglas, and they in turn sent gunboats up to restore order, and you might wonder that the noise of those cannons, and those solid shot, crashing through the trees and into their encampment, scared the Indians very much” that restored order, and they were able to rescue these two or three children.

Q: Well, in those days, in a situation like that, was was their method for getting word to the mainland, or to the Island?

Good question – in truth, Mr. Lineker “got word” by writing a letter, and waiting for a response, and writing another, and so on. The gunships were not sent out in response to this incident, but to Kuper Island at another time, in response to another – in the meantime Mr. Lineker was not best pleased.

DesC: Well, Mr. Lineker got over to Vesuvius, Booth Canal, and there was some other people there, and they were able to get a boat over to Chemainus, and how they got to Victoria, I’m not sure, but anyway they got word to Victoria. (This may have been the route the letter went) There was boats plying, these steam launches, you know. going backwards and forwards to Victoria, and they were able to get word. So they sent these gunboats up, and as I say, a few solid shots. Incidentally, a few of those cannonballs have been found.

Q: Really?

DesC: You might be able to pick one up at the Collins brothers at the north end of Salt Spring Island, which is mentioned in Bea Hamilton’s book, I think they have a couple of cannon balls, but other people have picked them up and taken them away, I don’t know where they’ve got to, whether to museums, or their own little store.


DesC: Now, I’ll get back to my dad.

Q: Please do.

DesC: My dad, as I say, he came, and when he was about 18 years old, this was, 1898, this was about 1900, and he realised there was the vicarage up here, and the Reverend Wilson, who was my grandfather, he had five beautiful daughters, and so my dad used to spend a lot of time up there, along with my uncles. The vicarage was near St. Marks church, up by what we called the Central Settlement, up in the centre of the island; and the Reverend Edward Wilson was the first resident priest (sic) on the island. So it wasn’t long before my father and my mother, Nona Wilson, were soon engaged.


The Wilson Family

DesC: Now, the Wilson family had arrived in Victoria in 1893, and the Bishop then wanted a resident priest for Salt Spring Island, so quite a few settlers were coming in. Now, they had arrived from Eastern Canada from Soult St. Marie, where Grandfather had built Indian schools, and he was a missionary, and he built the Shingwauk Home, that’s for Indian children. But they found the winters rather severe there, and they’d had their house burned down, so they came to Victoria, British Columbia, to settle down. Now, they settled here in 1894, and they brought ten children with them, five sons and five daughters.

And I’d say that my grandfather Wilson built St. Mary’s church at Fulford, with local help. But there had been some lumber there; they were going to – there was, a Reverend Mr. Haslam, a man who sort of commuted to the island, and they thought they should have some sort of little church at Fulford, and he had also started St. Marks church up at Central, in order to have one at each end of the island. But anyway, my grandfather started (sparked?) the building of St. Mary’s at Fulford, and then he also helped to finish and line the interior of St. Marks, so that we had to good churches for the Parish of Salt Spring Island.

Now my grandfather had three sons, there was Keith, Norman, and Llew, who helped run the farm. because in those days it was just solid bush, heavy, heavy, timber, and it took a lot of hard work to clear this land, so he had these three sons to do it. My grandfather was very busy with his parish, and I might say that he also educated his children, especially at night. There was a little school up in the Central, and the girls went there, but the sons would do a bit of night school with Grandfather, and on the weekends.

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