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Desmond Crofton

Desmond CroftonMr. Crofton speaks of the Harbour House Hotel owned by his family, his military career, and life on Salt Spring, 1910-1960.

Cassette tape with good quality sound (but the questions are distant)
No intro on the tape, so no date, but c1965, from BC Ferry date referred to.
Desmond Crofton (being interviewed by an Imbert Orchard 1965)


III. BUSINESSES: Harbour House Hotel; Gulf Island Ferry Co.
IV. Gulf Island Ferry Co.
V. NAMES: Beddis; Crofton; Mouat; Stark; Rev. E. Wilson
X. TRANSPORTATION: Roads; CPR boats; ferries
XVI. SCHOOLS: Len Tolson's School
XVIII. BUILDINGS: Harbour House Hotel; Lady Minto Hospital; St. Mark's
Church; St. Mary's Church

Rev. Wilson
My grandfather came to Salt Spring Island about 1893-94. He was going to settle in the United States after coming from the Shingwauk Home in Manitoba, where he ran, it was an Indian School, and then he brought all his family to Victoria, and he spent some time in Victoria. Then there was an opening on Salt Spring Island to create a new parish. There was a Mr. Haslam who came over occasionally from Chemainus, Duncan area So, the population was growing, and they wanted a resident rector, and my grandfather undertook it. They promised him a salary of $171 a year from St. Marks, which was a church he helped to finish, and at Fulford, he built that church, and they were able to dig up $1 per year to help out.
But he, as I say, was a lawyer, a doctor, and artist, a wonderful artist. He did really everything in the way of the administration in those days, because the average person could hardly read or write, some of the old timers. So he had great talent. He was a great figure in the community.
So he finished off St. Mark’s Church which Mr. Haslam and some of the local people had started, and as I say, he built the church at Fulford, St Mary’s. And he would have to go, to cover the island, either on horseback or in an old buggy; and the old buggy gave up the ghost one day, and of course having no money, and some friends in England gave him the price of a buggy, or rig, to carry on his work
His name was Edward Wilson, the Reverend Edward Wilson.
He came from England, originally, he and my grandmother, and they had ten children, eleven children, ten living, and they were all brought up here on the island, and they gradually all married, and settled elsewhere. Two or three of them settled on the island here.
He was a very strong character, very strong; a disciplinarian, especially amongst his family, but he had a great wit. But he never seemed to tire, he was full of energy.
For instance, surveying, there was very few surveyors here, there was really no doctor, there was no lawyer, there was all that sort of thing that he attended to. He knew a little bit, he was just self-read, acquired (his knowledge) through reading in books. All the vital statistics he kept here. So often, there was a doctor on Vancouver Island, but he was able to bring children into the world and administer a certain amount of that sort of thing, but they would have to bring a doctor over from Sidney, I believe, if it was really urgent
He painted a great number of pictures, sketches, he was wonderful at sketching. We have an album in Victoria that’s just fill of these sketches. In fact some of my family have a number of sketches that he has sketched. My brother across the road (has some). I have one in the back room here, I’ll dig it out. It’s just a small o

4. 25 Nona Crofton, née Wilson, and Fred Crofton
My mother came out with my grandfather, and she was only about thirteen when she arrived on the island, and she used to play the organ, in the church, along with her sisters.
My dad, an Irishman, came out from Dublin in about 1899, and he was a boy of about 16, or 17, and he was supposed to go into the Royal Navy, but he didn’t like the idea, so he came out to a Mr. Scovell who owned this whole property here, and he was sort of an apprentice to him; and then of course he met my mother, and they were married about 1903, and my brother was born 1904, and I was born 1905, and we’ve lived on this property ever since.

5. Mr. Bullock
(Growing up here, the community) was very scattered, there was really no phones, you’d have to do everything on horseback. I think perhaps the centre of the social activity of the island was a Mr. Bullock. a Henry Bullock, and he was really known as the Squire of the Island. He lived up the road here about two miles, and he had a lot of money, and he used to give great dinner parties, and dances, and he had boys in buttons; the old English country squire.
He was very fond of seeing the young ladies dressed properly, and he’d be always giving them gloves, earrings, and he used to try and get his housekeeper to make them wear corsets, and they were available as well; so he was quite a character.
He was a big man with a beard, weighing about nearly 300 pounds
He used to drive to church every Sunday morning, with a top hat, and frock coat.
And then of course when the cars came, he had the old Model-T Ford, with lots of brass on it. He’d have the boy drive the car, or he would drive it himself, but he’d always arrive at church with his top hat, and even the boy in attendance would be wearing a top hat as well, and an Eton collar. These boys would be 16, 17; but they used to get a dollar every Sunday they went, and in those days that was a lot of money
He came out from England, and as I say, he had a lot of money; and he did a tremendous amount of good work on the islands, especially completing St. Mark's church, and he gave a lot of land to the church, and we’re still drawing interest from it. It belongs to the diocese of Vancouver Island, Victoria headquarters. But he was the person that everybody went to in their troubles, and he had a huge cellar, and if anyone had a sick cow or a sick horse, or a man would pretend to be very ill, why, there was always that great basement cellar full of whiskey, and all the other liqueurs. He was the centre, and of course people used to abuse his generosity.
He was instrumental in starting the Creamery, along with the Scott brothers and a number of other old-timers. We had a very good creamery here, it used to produce a lot of butter. Farming was the chief industry on the island, and then they eventually started a jam factory which didn’t last too long. Mr. Bullock was connected with most of those early endeavours.
Henry Bullock had a sister Mary, who came out, and my uncle married her, and they settled on Salt Spring Island, and lived here until just a few years ago, and they both died.
Mr. Bullock was a large, short man, he was short and large, with a bald head, wore glasses, and a great beard. Very round face, but a kindly face, a very kindly face.
Q. It was quite an establishment, he had these boys in livery?
Yes, they would come out from England, or most of them came out from England, from the orphanages, most of them came from. But there’s still a few living here on the island, they’ve done very well.
He had an estate, he had two lakes. Unfortunately the building was burnt down about four or five years ago. But the old house, high ceilings, a very stately English home, that’s what it looked like.
He farmed, he had - the Japanese in those days, they would work for 50¢ or a dollar a day, and he had a number of them, and he was a great farmer. Then we started the old Agricultural Fairs, and he produced a lot of good stock to show in the fairs, and as I say, he brought in a lot of good stock, which still remain on the island, that other people bought.
He was very fond of his food. He would have these dinner parties, and he would have about a ten course dinner, and people would be groaning after they’d had about the third or fourth course, and he’d be just piling it on your plate. I can remember when I was a boy of about 17, he needed a hostess, and one wasn’t available, and he got me to be at the other end of the table to serve, to carve the ham, and to do all the rest of it, and you can imagine a boy of about 17 the head of a large dinner party, felt a bit embarrassed, but he was like that, he always had someone as a host or a hostess, to help him.
The Caldwell family had about 200 or 300 or 400 acres. The Ruckle brothers out at Beaver Point had over 1000 acres. Then there was the Akermans, and the Maxwells, Mount Maxwell is named after the Maxwells, but they were just general farmers, and didn’t have the money. But Mr. Bullock had quite a bit of money, and he was able to do all these - .
Q. But he was the only one that really sort of lived as the lord of the manor?
Yes, he was. If the Navy came in, or anything special, he ws always the man that was called upon to entertain them, and wine them and dine them.
He lived until about 12-14 years ago when he died, but he came out about 1888, 1890, from England.
Up on his estate he started a creamery, and all the local farmers brought their cream to his creamery that he built, and then they wanted something more permanent, because the island depended so much on the creamery, farming, and they built one right in the centre of Ganges, a stone building, and it produced a lot of butter. It was a very thriving community. People bought shares in the creamery, and it was only about 10 years ago that the creamery closed down.

13 Turn of the Century
When I was a small boy, I used to see the oxen, people perhaps up in the Cranberry up there, living ot quite a way, would come in with their oxen and the old sleighs, to bring their produce into Ganges. And then of course the horse and buggy and the wagons, and then of course later on, the old Model T Ford came into existence. But the roads; between Ganges and Vesuvius really was the first road, and then they put a road through to Fulford, and then eventually out to Beaver Point, and all the side roads; but that was all done by local farmers, getting about a dollar, 2 dollars a day for their work, working on the road, and after they’d finished their day’s work they were perhaps to walk 4 or 5 miles home, perhaps 7 or 8, to do all their chores, and then do their chores before starting to work (on the road) in the morning.

14 Central Settlement
Q. For a long time the two communities, North and South, were quite separate then?
Quite separate, yes. ‘Vesuvius’ was actually the Central Settlement, that’s near the golf course. That’s where my grandfather had his place, and there was a little boarding house there, operated by the name of Stevens, and there was a little jail, even, up there, (and a schoolhouse) and a little community hall, and that was socially the part of the island they had their get-togethers. All the people would come in their horse and buggies and tie up to an old post, and they would dance, and bring their children, and stay until midnight, and then have to drive home, with their horse and buggy. That was the Central Settlement, which is about two and a half miles from Vesuvius, which was the port of call, the easiest to get at, from Vancouver Island - it was only about 3 miles between Crofton and Vesuvius . There was no Ganges.

15 Ganges
I think it was really the Mouat family that got Ganges started, and the Bittancourts. There was Granny Mouat, who was a wonderful person. Her husband died, and she had all the Mouat clan, and she had a boarding house, and then she started a store, and there was a Mr. Bittancourt who also had a bit of a store down there, but the Mouats, I think, who developed the community of Ganges more than anyone else. Gilbert, who was the eldest, and then there was Will. E., and Gavin. Gilbert and Gavin did a tremendous amount for the island.

16 Ferry Service
Gavin (Mouat) was the one that carried on the ferry company. We got Mr. Matson, of the Victoria Colonist, who started the ferry - Colonel Cy Peck, who was our Member (of Parliament) for the Islands, felt that we needed better transportation, and he got Tim Matson to build a ferry and operate it - and then the government didn’t feel like carrying on the subsidy, so Mr. Gavin Mouat and a few of us formed a company, and that was known as the Gulf Islands Ferry Company, and then eventually, about 4 years ago, 5 years ago, bought us out. (The ferry ran) between Fulford and Swartz Bay. It was the old Cy Peck, she’s still tied up at Fulford now. She carried about a dozen, 14 cars, and about a hundred passengers. And she only ran twice a day. She’d take off at about 8 o’clock in the morning, and then do another run at 4 in the afternoon, two round trips a day, to Swartz Bay. The Vesuvius ferry didn’t come until about 7 or 8 years ago. We used to have the old Charmer years and years ago, and then of course the Princess Mary was on the run for a few years, and then of course when the CPR pulled out there was nothing. That was to Ganges.
Q. What would account for the development of Ganges?
When we built the docks down at Ganges, and the CPR started to call in here, then of course it became a very flourishing community. Fulford did quite a lot of their business with Sidney - they had a launch that used to go in every morning, from Fulford to Sidney, it’d carry a certain amount of freight, and mail, and passengers.
Q. When did the road go in?
Tou mean the road between here and Fulford? About 1880 something, it was done just with the old horse and team, and pick and shovel. And it was really, I think the roads were the old cow trails, deer trails, more or less , they followed the contours.

18.50 First Settlers
Q. Who were the first settlers?
The Negroes came her about 1858. There was about 600 Negroes set sail from San Francisco, for Fort Victoria. Sir James Douglas promised them a spot here, in the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island, and Salt Spring Island was chosen, and he gave them land at a dollar an acre, and a lot of them settled here. Of course a lot of them went back to the States, they became very lonely. But they were really our first settlers, about 1858, 1859.
Q. What part of the island di they settle?
They were up around the Central Settlement, out on Stark Road. Stark Road was named after the Stark family, and the old original Starks escaped from slavery, Stark family - Sylvia Stark died a few years ago at the age of 108. And she had quite a number of children, and a few of them are still living on the island. The first schoolmaster was a Negro. They made wonderful settlers, they were good citizens. There was one or two people murdered by the Indians, and I think one of them was an Negro. The Indians were very hostile in those days, and people didn’t travel very far from their homes because of the hostility of the Indians, and they’d sometimes shoot an arrow at you.

20.38 Battle of Ganges
Down on the Harbour House beach right in front of Harbour House hotel, there was an Indian battle in 1863. The northern Indians, that’s the Bella Bellas, often came down to Fort Victoria with their furs,
and they camped in here one night, and about 4- or 5-, 600 of the Cowichan Indians set upon them, and there was quite a massacre right on the Harbour House beach, and I think a little boy and a little girl were the only two survivors, except one man, an Indian, Bella Bella, was able to escape to Sidney, and to get into Victoria and inform Sir James Douglas, and they sent up some gunboats to preserve order.
Q. So the Negroes would have been the only settlers...
And then they became, Mr. Joe Akerman was born here about a hundred years ago, and he was the first white man, the Akerman family, and he died about 10, 12, 14 years ago.
Q, And that was the first white...
The first white child, yes. (sic - he was the first white child not born of an Indian mother).
Q. (To?) the first white settler.
Yes, and then there was the Maxwells and a umber of other families that came shortly afterwards.
Q. And they settled in the south, didn’t they?
The Maxwells and the Ruckles, yes, at the south end of the island. And Mr. Joe Akerman settled at the north end of the island, and he had one brother Jim who settled at the south end of the island.

22 Harbour House
“Now I could give you just a little bit on my mother and the guest house.”
My father, being an Irishman, and all the young remittance men, there were so many remittance men were living here on the island, 1912, 1913, 1914, and as soon as the war was declared they all went back, and went overseas. And my dad went in 1915. So my mother was bringing up a family of 7 (sic), we were all young, and so she started a guest house; that is, the present Harbour House, which was just a farm, and my brother and I, as small boys, helped to run it, and we had an uncle of mine, a Mr. Norman Wilson, that’s a son of the Reverend Wilson, who gave us a hand to start it. And the guest house grew and grew. Mr. Wilson built on a number of guest rooms, and Harbour House has grown - where we used to take in about 6 or 8 guests, to the capacity now of bout 40 odd guests.
I have six brothers and sisters, and all of their names start with D - Dermott, Desmond, Diana, Doreen, Denise, Donavon and Dulcie. And they all contribute to carry on the good work at Harbour House.
And then when my dad came back in 1919 from the war, he was pretty badly shaken up from the war, and he carried on for a while, but my brother and I really ran the farm and helped run Harbour House from then on. The farm was connected with it. Then in 1925 I got married and had my own little farm here, but I used to work with Harbour House, at Harbour House, to help out.

24 Harbour House Visitors
In the early days (the visitors) would come with the old Princess Mary, and they would stay for a week or two weeks, or all summer. And of course there was no car, they would just come families and all, and a lot of them would come in tents, and we’d have the tents all set up for them. And the older they got they would like the more comforts, and of course we had the rooms in the lodge.

24.30 Boys Back From The War and Alcohol
In the hotel we had a number of the men who came back from the war, and they didn’t know where to go, and they stayed at Harbour House, and some of them went logging, but they always their home as Harbour House for a good number of years. And naturally these boys would like to play a game of poker, and they’d have to go and see Mr. Bullock, that one was not feeling too well, and he’d produce one or two bottles of whisky, and the boys would have a party.
And then some of the local residents found that the Okanagan had done away with their apple crop industry, and so they produced cider, and some of them made very good wine. And quite often these old Model T Fords would head up into the Cranberry or somewhere where these stills were, and they would fill up with the applejack, and there would be some more parties. But that was the way of life, there was very few, er, anything in the way of entertainment, there was really nothing, so you had to make your own.

25.50 Cider & Wine
Q. This cider-making was illegal then?
Oh yes, Tt was illegal, oh yes. You could buy it for a dollar a gallon, and good wine for two dollars a gallon, and it was wonderful stuff.
Q. Where was the wine made?
Either out at Beaver Point, or in the Cranberry, or in around herel with a big orchard a farmer would set up his cider press, and it was very good.
The wine was made from grapes, and prunes, a very good prune wine, blackberries, even potato cider they used to make.
Q. There was quite a lot of it then?
A lot of it, yes, oh yes, it was excellent.
Q. Did the authorities ever come along?
I believe during the early part of the last war, they came and cracked down, the provincial police came down, because the liquor stores were going, and this people (chuckling) were keeping them out of business!
Q. Did the island have a reputation for this kind of thing?
(Desmond Crofton much amused) A lot of people got to hear about the excellent cider and wine that they made over here! Because so often there’d be a party, and the boys would go back to Victoria, especially the football teams, basketball teams, and we’d fill them up with this ‘goof’ as we used to call it, and they’d go back, and say “Well, we’re never coming back to Salt Spring Island. It took us a week to get over it!”

27.29 The Tale of Fred Crofton and the Conservatives and the Liberals
My dad was a very ardent Conservative, and Harbour House was the headquarters for the Conservative Party, and then down at Mouats - Granny Mouat and Mouat’s Boarding House, and Mouat Brothers - ... Gilbert Mouat was head of the Liberal Party. So many people have asked us why the population consists of so many Mouats and Croftons. So my dad would say “Well, um, it’s this way, I would produce a son, Dermott,” and he’d go down and tell Gilbert “That’s a good Conservative vote,” And Gilbert would laugh and giggle and shake his head and says “Well you wait Fred, it won’t be long,” and then HE would produce an offspring, so this went on and on, and we produced 7 Craftiness, and he produced about the same number of Mouats, so we can call that politics, (as the reason) for the increase in the Mouats and the Craftiness!

28.30 How the Island Got Its Name
The Indians called this island Klaat-heem, which is ‘salt’, and up at the north end of the island we have some salt springs, and it’s really derived from the Indian name. And then, when in 1845 the British survey ships came here, they called this, because it’s the largest of the Gulf Islands, ‘Admiral Island’. It stuck for some time, it’s on most of the navy charts, bu Salt Spring seems to have been the most popular name, and they retained it.
Q. Are those springs ever used?
No, you can go up and see them, they’ve analysed them but there’s nothing really very much there. It’s a sort of muddy brownish water, of very little value.

29.30 A Future for Salt Spring
In recent years, this has become really a playground, for Victoria, Vancouver, and Nanaimo. We’re situated exactly in between, in sort of a triangle, the Gulf Islands, and I think the tourist industry is growing, and will grow more and more. We have developed a very fine golf course, which was started in the early 1930’s with sand greens, but now we have a very fine club house, and good grass greens, and avery good membership, and that is a great acquisition to the community. And a lot of resorts are going up all over the island, a number of subdivisions, and people are coming in now and buying a lot on the sea frontage, paying 5 and 6 and 7 thousand dollars for a lot, and in those days you could buy it for perhaps for $100 or $300 an acre.

30. Cliques and Community
Q. The Society, was it Cliquey?
No, I don’t think on Salt Spring Island there were. There were naturally a lot of little cliques or groups of their own personal friends, nut they always went to all the community dances together. For instance, my brother and I used to play hockey, football, rugger, tennis, golf, and we used to go all around and play elsewhere, and they used to come back, and there’d be - the community spirit was there, and I don’t think there was snobbishness, shall we say, no, I wouldn’t say that. But I say there were the people that were born in England and knew their own counties so well, and they would form their own little groups and the same the south end of the island. And so many were very fond of painting and they’d have their little artist groups; musical groups, and that sort of thing.

31.40 The End