The Municipality of Saanich at one point consisted of all the lands South of the City of Victoria from what is now the District of Saanich right up to North Saanich by the Ferry Terminal. These lands were purchased by Hudson Bay factor James Douglas, from the native Tribe of Saanich, (Saanich is the Indian word for "good soil") for an undisclosed sum back in 1852. Then, in 1906 the area broke up into the distinct districts of Saanich, Central Saanich, Sidney, and North Saanich until this day. What is now the District of Saanich was referred to as South Saanich in those days. Many streets, landmarks, and areas within Saanich are named after the early farming pioneers into this area.
Saanich was founded on 1st March, 1906. Mr. F. Turgoose was returning officer and at a meeting called on March 8th, the nomination of seven men was secured, thus no election was needed. On March 10th they were sworn in and Thos. Brydon was selected to act as Reeve. The first clerk was H.O. Case. In 1908 the Municipality was divided into six wards, later a seventh was added. At first there was strong opposition to its formation and during the debate it was suggested that the Lake and South Saanich Districts be left out. In the light of later day events it would have been wise had this proposal been acceded to. It is today a thriving, thickly settled municipality and ere long will outnumber Victoria in population and completely dwarf it. As we shall see, Ward Six later seceded from Saanich.
The cause of the tragedy is not certain. Maybe the captain and crew had been celebrating too well and not too wisely. Sixteen 14 of the crew, among them William Thomson scrambled ashore. They were met by a hostile looking band of Indians almost as soon as they had broached a keg of rum which somehow washed ashore with them. They quickly spilled the rest on the beach. A pow-wow ensued and by the angry looks of some of the natives the sailors began to wonder if they were to be slain. Eventually they were taken to the Indian village and treated almost as slaves. When Spring arrived the Indians who were delivering their pelts or skins to Victoria took the white men with them. They traded them off to Governor Douglas for seven blankets each.
Some of them were sent to Cadboro Bay to help build a barn for the H. B. Co. farm. It was here that Thomson met Angus McPhail and possibly explains the reason they settled near each other. They actually squatted on their land as no surveys had yet been made. The land, however, really belonged to the H.B.C., they having bought all the land of North and South Saanich for " Forty-one pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence." This works out at about one cent an acre. It was June, 1855, when Thomson finally selected a site for his homestead. There were no roads, of course, just meandering trails or horse paths. To get supplies out to his farm he had to use canoes or boats. It is said that on one trip, when he was loaded down with a half ton of provisions, nineteen pigs and three men, it took them four days to come from Victoria around the peninsula.
In December, 1856, William Thomson married Margaret Dyer, daughter of Mrs. Duncan Lidgate by a former marriage. He brought his wife and their first child, six months old, out to his Saanich home on the first of April, 1858. The child's name was David. He was followed by fourteen others. Alex was next, the first white child to be born in Saanich. Then, in order, William (met with fatal accident at nine years old), Richard, Helen (Mrs. McKenzie), Walter, Elizabeth (Mrs. Fraser), Fanny (Mrs. Bissett), John, Charlie (Ted), Grace (a spinster), Archibald (drowned in a well), Hugh, Robert, Gertrude (Mrs. Hughes). Besides his farming activities he did road contracting and many of the original roads were built by him.
He was also very active in the community life and welfare. He gave land and assisted in building St. Stephen's Anglican Church even though he was a staunch Presbyterian. He also gave the land for a schoolhouse and was one of the instigators of the Saanich Agricultural Society. He was its second president and the second fair, 1869, was held on his farm. Without much exaggeration it could be said he was " the father of Saanich." DUNCAN LIDGA TE came to Victoria on the second trip of the S.S. "Norman Morison," reaching Victoria about December, 1853. He worked at his trade of carpenter for the H.B.C. The workers who came out to work for the H.B.C. were indentured to them for a certain length of time, after which, they were entitled to grants of land. Mechanics were allowed fifty acres, laborers twenty-five acres.. Lidgate must have been classed as a mechanic seeing that he got fifty acres allotted to him. He first took up land at Four Mile House but later switched to Saanich near Mount Newton and next to William Thomson. This was in 1858 and he appears on the voters' list of that year for Saanich. He was married in Scotland to a young widow by the name of Dyer. She had a daughter by her first marriage, Margaret, who became Mrs. William Thomson. Duncan Lidgate was also a widower with a daughter who became Mrs. Pike. The second marriage of these two produced a son, William Lidgate, who was the father of a large family in Saanich. Mrs.Lidgate married a third time to a man named Pritchard. She was in great and general demand as a nurse and many of the people of Saanich in the earlier days can thank her for helping them safely into the world. She was usually referred to as " Granny." Duncan Lidgate helped build Craigflower School and also St. Stephen's Church of which he was a Warden. He was buried in St. Stephen's Churchyard in 1874.
GEORGE DEEKS is another whose name appears on the Saanich voters' list of 1859. His land was described as Swan Place and its area 200 acres. It was located both sides of what is now Stelly's Cross Road. There was no road there then of course, and one wonders why the road was not named after Deeks seeing that he was the first settler there. He was rather elderly when he purchased the land in 1872, or thereabouts. He sold the land to Alphonse Verdier and moved into Victoria.
According to reports of old timers he was a good farmer and " could plough straight as a line." He built up quite a fine herd of cattle. Deeks and his wife were of English farming stock. They had no family or relatives in the neighborhood or in the city, consequently little is known of their background. HENRY SIMPSON was another of the original names on the 1859 voters' list of Saanich, listed with three hundred acres freehold. It took in the rest of the valley not owned by Thomson, Lidgate and McPhail and extended to the East Road that runs through Saanichton. It could be said that, as well as being one of the first farmers in Saanich. he was also the first business man for in 1859 he raised a mortgage on his land for " Eighty three Pounds Six Shillings and Eight Pence." The loan was obtained from a John Schmidt of Esquimalt. The indenture for this loan is still in the possession of a grand-daughter, Mrs. Albert Doney, who, with her husband and family, still owns and lives on a part of the old Simpson farm.
Evidently the mortgage was paid in due course. The reason for the loan was to enable Henry Simpson to build a " Tavern " near the trail or road from and to Victoria. The tavern was duly built and called the" Prairie Tavern." In 1893 he entered into an agreement with one S. Martin, to build a hotel near the site of the Prairie Tavern. The cost or contract was " Two Thousand, Two Hundred Dollars." When completed it was named the "Prairie Inn." It was a real hostel, catering to travellers and wayfarers or anyone else who wished for a drink or a good meal.
In the early days he also ran a hack horse service and he had his horses trained so that they would return home without a rider. There was a provision. The horse had to be fed and watered before being turned loose on the homeward journey. Later, when there were some sort of roads, Henry Simpson operated a stage to Victoria. He also carried the mail. some of which was delivered by his daughter Emma after school hours. In addition to all this he did road contracting in conjunction with William Thomson. Burnside Road was one of the roads built by them. He also found time for community work. He was a director and one of the originators of the Saanich Agricultural Society and gave them the land where the Saanich Fair is held. He also helped to promote ploughing matches some of which were held on his land. He donated prizes for t:hese events as well as sponsoring games and horse races. On one 17 of his trips to England he brought back fruit trees and planted them on his farm.
Saanich Real Estate was even popular in the old days and the neighborhood a desirable place to settle and buy Real Estate. Not as much was for sale and there was no MLS system for decades to come, and only listings for houses and farms were available, with the advent of condos and townhomes still far into the future. Land and lots were plentiful however, and generally inexpensive to purchase.