The impressive 3-story log Ford House has been a landmark in Coombs since it was erected in 1910 by Walter Ford after he contracted with the CPR to clear the railway right-of-way from Parksville to Cameron Lake. The Salvation Army had also contracted Walter Ford to prepare 12 – twenty-two acre lots along the line on land that the CPR had offered to the Salvation Army who wished to build a colony. Walter Ford set up his logging camp along the train tracks, and employed a Sikh labour force brought down from the coal mines in Cumberland. Besides clearing the land for the colony, the Sikh workers built a house, outhouse, woodshed and dug a well on each of the 12 plots for those first 12 families who emigrated from the poorest slums of Britain’s Victorian cities. Ford moved his family from Duncan into this spacious log home that he had erected at the most eastern end of the Colony, close to French Creek. It was the grandest structure for many miles and its visibility has made it a community landmark.
With timber rights to 32,000 acres of old growth giants, Walter Ford, and later his son Allan, continued logging, using railway spurs off the main line to transport logs to the Straits Lumber Mill in Nanoose. Walter Ford and his wife were well respected and active members of the Coomb’s community. Both died in 1949 after 67 years of marriage. Edward Stevenson, who came down from Cumberland with his Sihk friends, was the first owner of the Coombs General Store which has served the community ever since 1912.
Several small schoolhouses had served the sparse population of Qualicum prior to the arrival of the E & N Railway in 1912, but the influx of settlers to the area necessitated the building of a permanent school. The new school’s size and impressive Classical revival architecture speaks to the community’s sense of anticipated growth and reflects the School Board’s high value put on education.
The new school opened in the fall of 1912, offering grades 1 to 8, with 41 pupils, and by 1925, offered high school grades to which students in nearby communities came to finish their schooling. The school had 4 classrooms separated by 2 stairways, each leading to a girl and boy’s basement.
Although power was available in 1930, it took 3 years to convince the School Board to wire the school for fear of a fire. Until then, students had used a candle and tin lid to provide light at their desks.
In the 1950’s, as larger, modern schools replaced the old school house, it became home to the Qualicum School District’s administration between 1976 and 1986. Needing more space, the offices were moved to Parkville and the building put up for sale, which the Town bought soon after.
A small group from the District 69 Arts Council recognized the potential of the historic building as an arts centre, and with the help of the Chamber, community fund-raising and restoration work began. “The Old School House” or TOSH, was officially re-opened in 1988 as an arts centre.
The arrival of the E & N Railway to Qualicum Beach and the construction of the Train station in 1914 coincided with the development of the Qualicum Beach Hotel and golf links. The beauty of the beach was not lost on those extending the railway northward. Anticipating an increase in population, a town site was also surveyed above the tracks.
These developments sparked the growth of Qualicum Beach from a sparsely settled area to a premiere tourist destination and the Train Station welcomed both an influx of new settlers, and guests to the new resort.
Charlie White was the first of many station agents, and his family soon took up residence in the station between 1921 and 1929. Rail activities stressed punctuality and became the standard by which people set their clocks. The train station became a community focal point, important for contact with the outside world by mail, telegraph, or in person. Local residents and businesses eagerly awaited freight and express shipments.
As rail traffic declined greatly after WW 2, many stations fell into sore neglect and locals formed the “Old Train Society” in 1991 to have the Qualicum station declared as Heritage. Careful restoration began in 1994 with thousands of volunteer hours and the aging structure was returned to its former glory, patiently waiting for the next train. Unfortunately train service terminated on the E & N line in 2011 due to disrepair of the railroad tracks.
The beauty of Qualicum’s beach was not lost to those extending the E & N Railway northward, and in 1913, a British land consortium – Merchant’s Trust & Trading, completed construction of the upscale Qualicum Beach Hotel and Golf Links. The hotel was built by Alec Fraser Construction and the golf links designed by Irish born Vernon Macan, a leading golf architect in the Pacific Northwest. At the time, the town barely existed.
Brigadier General Noel Money moved with his family from England in 1914 to manage the land holdings and the Hotel. During WW1, the hotel was converted into a convalescent hospital, which the Prince of Wales visited in 1918.
Noel Money was quite the socialite, attracting many dignitaries, including the King of Siam, and many wealthy patrons and Hollywood stars such as Errol Flynn, Shirley Temple, Spencer Tracey, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby. Always the gentleman, Money was respected and well liked by the locals, providing many jobs through the resort. The original course was much larger and in the early days, sheep were often used to keep the grass low.
After Noel Money’s death in 1941, the resort changed hands several times until Bobby Brown purchased Money’s house and the golf course in 1954. The Hotel remained open under the separate ownership of Arthur Brown until it was demolished in 1971. In 1981, the Town of Qualicum Beach purchased the golf course and preserved it as the Memorial Golf Course. It is the fourth oldest course in B.C.
The seaside charms of Qualicum Beach and the Memorial Golf Course are also featured in this Royal BC Museum video:
In 1929, General Noel Money of the Qualicum Beach hotel commissioned a house to be built on a 70-acre estate just east of the Qualicum Golf Links for his sister Hilda Bayley and his aging mother, Emily Louisa Money. The house was designed to include features of a Ceylonese tea plantation house, but Mrs. Money and Hilda only stayed in the house for a year due to Mrs. Money's failing health.
The estate was then sold in 1937 to Ray Milner and his first wife, Rina, who both loved the garden and the ancient forest. Ray was a renowned philanthropist, businessman and Governor General recipient.
After Rina died in 1952, Ray married Veronica in 1954, and more extensive renovations to both the house and the 10-acre portion of the estate began. Veronica FitzGerald Milner (née Villiers), widow of Desmond Fitzgerald, 28th Knight of Glin, was born of British aristocracy and related to Winston Churchill and Diana the Princess of Wales, who visited the garden with Prince Charles in 1986. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip stayed at the estate in 1987.
Veronica Milner’s artist’s eye and horticultural expertise combined to shape the garden and she wished to preserve the estate’s rare, old growth Douglas-fir forest. The estate was acquired by Vancouver Island University in 1996 and dedicated as "The Milner Gardens". VIU’s goal is to maintain the garden in perpetuity for education and the community’s benefit. Veronica Milner passed away in her home at Milner Gardens on November 5, 1998.
Eaglecrest Golf Course was once the site of a large estate, built by the multi-millionaire Alexander Duncan McRae who made his fortune in lumber, mining, and fisheries. He developed the prestigious neighbourhood of Shaunessy in Vancouver where he built his lavish mansion called Hycroft Manor.
McRae was promoted to the rank of General during WW1 for his outstanding contribution as Director of Supply and Transport and later became a Conservative Member of Parliament and Senator.
In the 1930’s, McRae and his wife Blaunche purchased 260 acres of ocean bluff property just south of Qualicum Beach to build Eaglecrest - their upscale family retreat. The main house was a sprawling 10,000 ft. log structure, included 4 fireplaces and was furnished with the finest European furniture. Eaglecrest was a showpiece where many prominent and famous people were guests, including Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1951.
The development of Eaglecrest and 2 large experimental farms to the west of Qualicum were a godsend to the local population providing much needed employment during the Great Depression.
The General died in 1946, and after several owners, Eaglecrest was converted into a resort in the late 1960’s. A major fire in 1969 burned the main house to the ground, which the owners replicated and opened as a golf course while a subdivision was developed in 1972. In 1981, the grand Eaglecrest Lodge, once again, went up in flames, never to be rebuilt. Today, only a log house remains in its original form and the barn was converted to the Clubhouse.
The completion of the E & N railway to Parksville in 1912 brought an influx of new comers to Parksville and the one room schoolhouse, built on the corner of the Comox and Alberni road in 1891, could no longer accommodate the student population. Ann Hirst offered up a nearby piece of land for a larger school, and in 1914, the community erected a fine new school building with 2 rooms. In 1918 a second teacher was hired and by 1924 a third room was added.
A Cenotaph was erected in front of the McMillan school that same year and the Women’s Institute lined the dirt pathway to the Alberni Highway with Hawthorne trees, planted in memory of the local boys who never returned home from the Great War. This dirt path became Memorial St. The need to offer grades 1 through 12 resulted in the construction of an annex in 1934 on the corner of Hirst and McMillan St. As there was no indoor plumbing, an outhouse was used well into the 1950’s.
The McMillan school was converted back to elementary grades in 1952 with the opening of a new High School in Qualicum Beach and a Junior High in Parksville. Finally, when the Parksville Elementary was built on Stanford Ave. in 1977, the McMillan School bade farewell to its last pupils.
An initiative spearheaded by the local arts community restored the old McMillan School and opened its doors in 1986 as The MAC – a community Art Centre.
In 1885, John and Anne Hirst were the first pioneers to settle at the mouth of the Englishman River where John and his brothers started farming and built their first hotel – the Seaview.
After the Seaview burnt down, John Hirst bought a piece of forested land from Theodore Parks – the town’s first postmaster for whom Parksville is named. John built a new hotel – the Rod & gun – named as such because of the many hunters and fishermen who stayed there. Completed in 1896, it was one of the first buildings on the present town site.
John Hirst died the following year and Anne, left with their 5 children, carried on and opened the hotel for business in 1898 with a dining room, a proposed beer parlour and bedrooms above. It became a popular stage coach stop and central gathering place. Bed, breakfast and dinner cost $1.50.
Anne Hirst was quite an astute business woman and when the construction of the E & N Railway began in 1907, she expanded the hotel to meet the increased demand for accommodation. The hotel has gone through several renovations since those early years.
Although it hasn’t rented room in decades, the Rod & Gun has operated continuously as a pub & restaurant on the site since 1998. It has hosted countless travellers and thirsty patrons - standing as a proud witness to the transformation of Parksville from a hamlet to a city.
The Englishman River estuary and sheltered bay nearby was a favourite spot for fishing and digging shellfish for the local First Nations. It also served as a recreational haven for the first settlers. Its beauty and potential was not lost to the small hamlet, and in 1922, the Parksville Women’s Institute called an inaugural meeting to discuss a waterfront park.
Many citizens participated and voted to buy the large waterfront property offered by Joe Hirst for just $3000 ! An enthusiastic group of citizens lead the community in a fund-raising campaign that culminated on Dominion Day, July 1, 1923 with more than 2200 people from the surrounding communities attending.
Fiercely competitive soccer games were regular events on the flats in the 20’s and 30’s, and in 1949, a Nanaimo army barrack was transported and re-assembled in the Park as Parksville’s first Community Centre.
Baseball became a major attraction in the 50’s and 60’s and the expansive sandy beach was a popular draw for not just tourists, but many local families who spent their entire summers camping there.
Thanks to the vision of those founding residents and the hard work of hundreds of volunteers, the Parksville Community Park has become an invaluable recreational resource and events centre for the whole region. Canada Day is still a major Park celebration.
These quiet mud flats were once the site of the thriving Straits Lumber Company and the town of Red Gap. They were built along the train tracks in 1912 to satisfy a land and timber deal between the CPR and Ford & Pearson Logging who agreed to deliver an average of 20 car loads of logs, 300 days per year. Joe & Max McKercher built the mill that was eventually sold in a bankruptcy sale in 1917 to became the Straits Lumber Company.
Built on mud-sills and pilings over the salt flats, accommodation for the Chinese, Japanese and Sikh workers were squeezed between the mill and the tracks. Other workers lived with their families on the hillside where a company store, post office, school, and boarding houses were built. About 300 people lived in and worked in Red Gap.
Ships from around the world anchored in the shallows of Nanoose Bay, awaiting lumber transported on scows from the mill. Japan was its primary customer. During the 1930s, for 3 years at the peak of its operations, the Straits was the biggest mill in the Pacific Northwest. However, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941, the mill lost its best customer and within months, the Straits Lumber Company was out of business.
A fire in 1940 almost wiped out the mill, which finally closed in 1942. A stubble of worn pilings scattered across the mud flats is all that marks the brief existence of this once industrious mill site.
This project was funded in part by Heritage BC through the Heritage Legacy Fund, Destination British Columbia, Regional District of Nanaimo's Northern Community Economic Development program, and Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism.