1B Desmond Crofton  


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.

But I might say my grandfather had many talents. He was a surveyor, because really there was no-one around here, in these islands, that knew anything about surveying. He was also a doctor, he had handled these Indians, so he was quite a doctor, and he was an artist, and he was a writer. And then, he really kept the vital statistics, you see. We had no-one here! There was no records, no government building, everything was done in Victoria. So my dear old grandfather kept the vital statistics, and then he would send them on into Victoria. And I’d say that his ministry took him all over the island, and in those days you had to either ride, walk, or go by the buggy.

Q: That was it.

DesC:  That was it, yes.

Q: Well, I’d like to go back a bit, for a second, before you proceed. I’d like to know what he found when he brought, when he came out here, with ten children. Was there a home waiting for him, with the vicarage? Or?

DesC: He lived for a short while at the Stevens Boarding House; that was the boarding house the other side of St. Marks, they had a sort of - the Stevens ran it, a bit of a boarding house, and there was a Mr. Bittancourt at Vesuvius Bay, and sort of, so he did, er, get, something built (by Bittancourt?). He had a beautiful log house built, (inaudible -in front of the?) vicarage, it was a lovely house, and then they had (inaudible - lumpily?) added on. It was quite big building


Q: Your father married Nona Wilson. Can you remember of your father ever told you, or if you ever knew, how courting was done then, in a small community like this? Did they wait quite a long time before a wedding? Or?

DesC: No. because in those days the young people would go off, for picnics, and go sw(imming?). My grandfather was a pretty strict man, he didn’t allow any drinking or smoking or cards in the house, so they would sort of go off into the fields, and of course there was lots of side roads, and there wasn’t too much travel (traffic) in those days, so they did their courting that way.

Q: Well, your grandfather, the Reverend Wilson, he was quite a social reformer, wasn’t he, (inaudible - accepting things? affecting things?) and yet he was quite a conservative man in his personal life. So he was a very interesting man.

DesC: He was a very interesting man. He was a biggish man (FOOTNOTE -sic- he may have seemed tall,to a small grandson, but was no match for Mr. Bullock in girth)), and with a black beard, and I was a little boy, and I’d go up there, you know, and I was always afraid of Grandfather, and having to go and kiss Grandfather goodnight, and I was only a little boy three or four years old, and I was frightened of him! - laughter.

Q: You were? He was quite imposing man then.

DesC: I believe he was. Very strong personality. He had a very bad temper, but.

Q: Did people in the village come to him? You say that he doctored, and that he helped everybody.

DesC: He helped everybody, yes. he did, he really did.

Q: Was there anyone else besides the Reverend Wilson in that, in a similar position?

DesC: Well, no. The United Church came in, and the Methodist church came in, and the Roman Catholics had a priest at Sidney on the Saanich Peninsula, and they used to come and work mostly with the Indians at the southern end of the island, so they did have others, but he was the resident here, and if they needed anything they would come to Grandfather.

Q: Could I ask, was the Revered Wilson of Irish descent?

DesC: No, he was an Englishman

Q: Was he a staunch loyalist?

DesC: Yes, he was. Very staunch. So was my grandfather Crofton, also, having been born in Ireland and raised there, and his families before him, they were always very staunch. The Queen meant everything to them, Queen Victoria.

Q: Could I ask if Crofton on the Island (Vancouver Island) is named for your family?

DesC: Do you mean the mill? 

Q: Yes.

DesC: Well, I had this uncle who came out here about 1890, traveling in a  sailing ship; and whether it was named after him - but there was a Mr. Croft, who owned a large tract of land on Mt. Sicker (sp?) and Mt. Benson, and he had a copper mine there, and he needed to get the copper out to a smelter somewhere, and so in the bay there, there was a good little harbour there, so they perhaps called it Croft’s Town, so having known my family, Crofton, they said “Let’s call it Crofton, it sounds good.” 

Q: Just wondering, I was curious about that, when I head about you.

DesC: So we can claim a little credit for it!

15.30 Rev Wilson’s ‘commute’

Q: My dear old grandfather would perhaps go all over the island, and he used to leave quite often on a Saturday afternoon, for Fulford, to have a service on Sunday, so therefore he’d have to leave on Saturday, and he’d go and visit a number of friends, and perhaps would stay with the Ruckles at Beaver point, or a Mr. Al Raynes, right in Fulford itself, the Fulford Valley. Sometimes  he would just sleep in the pew in the church. He naturally had a rug, you see, for getting cold riding in the horse and buggy, and you’d have a rug or two, and a cushion, and he’d sleep right in the pew; and then of course he could always find a meal, with any one of the people down there, on his way down, and en route home. But he would take the morning service in St. Mary’s in Fulford and then he’d get back for the evening service, or the afternoon service in St. Mark’s.

So as I say, he was a very strict man, so therefore the young people didn’t have too much social life at home.


DesC: But there was a Mr. Bullock, a rich Englishman, who came out from England about 1892 I think it was (sic) and he was known as the Squire of the Island. He had a large house, and he did a great deal of entertaining. And he also had boys in buttons, that did everything, opened the door, and waited on you, and he always wore a frock coat and top hat, and gloves - always very well turned out. He used to try to get the young girls, the young women, to wear gloves and high heels, and earrings, and he would pay for them! If they would have their ears pierced and wear the earrings. He felt, coming out to the colonies, that they should set some kind an example and keep up, you know, the old English traditions, because it was still a British Crown Colony. 

So Mr. Bullock used to throw these great parties, dances, and everybody would have to dress up in formal evening clothes; the men in their white tie and tails. And how would they get to these large do’s? Well, the Wilson family being rather a large family, you couldn’t get ten of them into a couple of buggies, or warm (?inaudible) so they’d get the old wagon, the big wagon, with the two horses, and they’d have the boards and cushions, and they’d put straw or hay in the bottom, and they’d arrive at the party, and the girls would be lifted out of the wagon, and go to the party, and then afterwards drive home in the old wagon.

Q: Did your grandfather and grandmother go as well?

DesC: Sometimes they did, yes. 

Q. So he didn’t mind Mr. Bullock’s parties?

DesC: Sometimes, but he was not for too much of this - he thought it was sinful.

Q. Mr. Crofton, do you know anything about Mr. Bullock’s background?

DesC: Yes. Henry Bullock came out from England, and as I say, he was from a wealthy family. He never married, but his sister, Mary, came out, and one of my uncles married her; Mary Bullock married Ernest Crofton. And they lived down at Vesuvius, the canal, as we call it, they had a little place there.

Q: What happened with Mr. Bullock, how long did he keep on having his influence (?inaudible) on the island?

DesC: Well, until he died, he died about the early 1950’s. It was during the second world war that his health started to give out on him. He was a tremendous supporter of the church, especially the Anglican church. He supported all kinds of charities and churches, but especially the Anglican church.

Q: Going back a bit, he’s famed for these boys that he brought out, isn’t he? He was really kind to them, wasn’t he.

DesC: Oh yes. Yes, he was, yes.

Q: I’ve been told that he actually started some of the boys, when they were old enough to go away, or he didn’t keep them on, he started them in business.

DesC: As soon as they felt like going out into business he would encourage them, and get some more of the younger ones.

Q: But he didn’t adopt them?

DesC: No, no, but he was always ready to look after them, and if any of them fell upon hard times, they’d come back, and he’d keep them for a while, and help them out, and send them out again. Yes, he was a wonderful man.


DesC: Now, I could get back to say that my dad and mother were married, Fred Crofton and Nona Wilson, were married in 1902; and they bought Harbour House from Mr. Jack Scovell, with the help of my grandfather, naturally, in England, a young couple needing some help, to buy a big farm, you see there was about a hundred acres. It was just a farmhouse, in the same locality as Harbour House (the hotel) So, in 1904 ny brother Dermott was born, and I was born in 1905, and my sister Di in 1907; then the others that followed were Doreen, Denise, and Donavan Patrick, and Dulcie. All D’s, seven D’s.

These younger Croftons went to school here in Ganges, but my brother and I went to a private school; Mr. Tolson, an Englishman, had a school here, and we did quite a lot of, a few years school with him, and I think we did some night school. So in 1916 my dad went overseas to fight, in World War One, and then in 1917 my uncle Norman Wilson came and helped my mother start a lodge, so they built quite a big wing on, as a nice guest house, mainly for summer guests, but they did open all winter, and cater to the transients, and in 1929 we built on another wing, quite a larger wing, and also put on a pub, the beer parlour, or pub, whatever you’d like to call it. Just beer.

Q: How did they publicise Harbour House? How did they publicise the lodge, when it was just getting started?

DesC: Well, in The Colonist and in The Province, we used to put a little ad in the paper, and word soon got around, and notices, and sometimes the CPR, with boats that used to come in four times a week, used to be very good, and say that’s the place to go to, and people getting on the boat in Vancouver coming to the islands here (used to ask) “Where could we stay?” Well, they’d say “Harbour House at the head of Ganges H” and they’d invite tourists to the darkest place (!? dock at our place? barely audible) - very convenient.

And I might say that H.R. Macmillan was one of our first customers at the beer parlour. He owned some tie mills on the island, along with Mr. Singer, and eventually H.R. MacMillan bought out the Singer tie mills, and so, as you know, he certainly went on from there to become a great man.

In 1929 the ferry service started, the Cy Peck, was the ferry link between Fulford and Swartz Bay, named after colonel Cy Peck, the famous commander, he won a VC, and he commanded the Canadian Scottish regiment; he was also a great friend of my dad.

And of course with the coming of the ferry, naturally the roads were improved, the car ferry, people brought cars, they couldn’t really take the horse and buggies on; the horse and buggy days really went out in the twenties, even on the island. So there were big changes I think then, and of course we used to have these great apple orchards, and the Okanagan fruit was just starting to come on the market about that time, and really put our apple trees and fruit trees out of business.

Q: Did your mother preserve a lot? and cook a lot?

DesC: Yes, all that. You know, they’d have a, kill one or two pigs, and the pork barrel, and they’d salt the pork down in the barrel, and then preserve all these fruits and vegetables, and then they’d have big root houses where they kept the vegetables all the time, and made their own butter, and all that sort of thing.

Q: When your mother was running the lodge, did she hire cooks, and things like that?

DesC: Yes, she did. You had to, she couldn’t do it all. Then of course all my young sisters were just starting to be of some use then, and they helped wait on table, make beds and do all that sort of thing.

Q: It was a real family enterprise!

DesC: It was really a family (venture?). Then when my dad came back from the First World War, Norman Wilson went back to his farm, and started farming again, and started a golf course, just about that time. That’s when the golf course was started, about then, in the twenties. Yes.

Q: There hadn’t been one before?

DesC: No.

Q: What was the recreation like in those days? In your father’s days?

DesC: We found that in those days, by the time that you’d worked seven days a week, by six o’clock at night, all you wanted to do was relax, and read, and perhaps do a little fishing, something like that. But there wasn’t too much. There was a bit of social activity.

Q: Did your parents read a great deal, both of them?

DesC: Yes, yes.

Q: And they encouraged all of you children to read too?.

DesC: Yes, they did. We used to get a lot of the English papers from England. There was The Sketch, Punch, Bystander, the Tattler, and all those - and a lot of books also.


DesC: Now, I’d like to say something about the Mouat family. Gilbert Mouat was a wonderful person. He’d been struck with polio a little earlier, but he became manager of the Mouat’s Store, and the Mouat’s Store started in 1907. He and his brother W.M. Mouat, and Gavin, were tremendous, they were sort of the leading business people in the community. But Gilbert was a tremendous Liberal supporter, and my dad was the house of the Conservatives, you see. So, when our family started to be born, my dad would run down or he’d phone on the little local phone and tell Gilbert that he’d got a good Conservative vote, and what did Gilbert think about it, and Gilbert would chuckle, and he said, “Well you just wait another two or three months, Fred.” Of course. in two or three month’s time he’d phone up Fred and say “I’ve got another good Liberal vote,” you see. And so my dad produced a good seven votes, and the Mouat family could only produce about five Liberal voters. But I will say that in the end the Mouat family expanded more than the Crofton family, and so the Liberals outscored the Conservatives. But they used to have a lot of fun in those days.

27.15 Transportation

DesC: The C.P.R. boats used to come in four times a week, to where the Mouat family was, right down where the government dock is. We had the Charmer, and she was a good sized C.P.R. boat, and there was the the Otter, and the Queen City and all these other boats that came in, and they used to bring all our freight for the island. And we used to ship a lot of freight in those days, we used to ship a lot of produce. You know, cattle, beef, vegetables, apples by the tons and tons and tons. There was something like hundred herds of cattle, a hundred different farmers,  that really produced, had good farms. So as you can imagine, there was a lot of produce. Also at that time Mr. Bullock and a number of others including the Mouats and a number of others, started a creamery, and the Creamery produced wonderful butter, and it was famous all over British Columbia, Salt Spring Island butter. The Dairy survived until about 1955, and at that time the department of Agriculture made restrictions so great that people had to put in new barns, and paint them specially, and put in cement all over, and then special dairies, and the pasteurizing, and the rest of it, and people just couldn’t be bothered to.

Q A tremendous expense.

DesC: The expense, so most of them went out, and the tourists really came in. It was the ferry, the Cy Peck that started to really get the tourists to the island. So it became from a farming community to sort of tourists, and a lot of retired people came about that time.

Q. Up until then it seems to me from what you’ve said that ... big changes came.

DesC: Yes, that’s right, the big changes came, that’s right. Yes, there was a tremendous change in  the 20’s.

Q. It’s a shame. because there must have been so much fertile land.

DesC: I know, that’s right.

I would like to say that when the Ford cars really started to come on the island, especially Mr. Bullock’s car, all these farmers bringing all their produce in to Ganges, Mondays and Thursdays, were the two days for the Creamery, to receive cream and all the other produce, on the boat days.

On one occasion, right outside Harbour House, Mr. Heaton and Norman Wilson had a big wagonload of eggs and cream, I think something like a hundred dozen eggs and something like nine big cans of cream, huge cans of cream. Well anyway these horses shied, turned around fast, upset the wagon, and you can imagine,(laughter) a hundred dozen eggs and nine hug cans of cream on a summer’s day, in about two days time, it was terrible.

But that’s just to give you an incident of when the old horse and buggy days went out and the cars came in.

Q. Who had the first car, Mr. Crofton?

DesC: That was Mr. Blackburn, and Mr. Bullock I think was the second. They were really old Tin Lizzies, they were just the old Ford cars, you know, sort of open, with the hood. They weren’t enclosed, and of course it was pretty cold to travel in them in cold weather.


DesC: I’ll go on to the Agricultural Shows. We had as I say a tremendous farming community here, and they’d have these Agricultural Shows. They would have perhaps Premier Tolmie or Sir Richard Mc Bride would come and open up the Agricultural Show, and everybody from all over the island would put up picnic lunches and come by with the old horse and buggy, or the old Model-T Ford car, and spend a day. It was in September usually, so that you were able to show all the vegetables and all the fruit. They were wonderful shows, they ranked with perhaps the Saanich Show, or the Duncan Shows, or Nanaimo Big Fall Fairs, that’s what they were.

Q. Did your family ever show anything?

DesC: Yes, my dad had a prize, a number of cows, and he often won prizes for them. The cow, or the bull, or the horse, or some sheep, or something like that.

Q. Did your mother ever show any farm goods.

DesC: She used to, but she was too busy bringing up seven children and running the hotel, the lodge.

But those were the good old days, but gradually that all sort of went, and now is no more.

DesC: The Lady Minto Hospital, the first one was built in 1912, and my aunt,  Nancy (sic - Annie R.) Colquhoun, who married Frank Crofton, was the first matron. And then about 12 years ago we built a new modern one, right here in Ganges.

Road Development

DesC: During the thirties the population grew to about 2000, and so you can imagine the roads received a lot of attention. There were a lot of windy (winding) roads and they were all straightened out, and they did some black-topping between Vesuvius, Ganges, and Fulford, that was black-topped. And the ferry, Cy Peck, had to make more runs than just a couple of runs a day, and so therefore it was subsidized by the B/C. government, and they gave them something like $5000 - $6000 a year just to help out with the running expenses. We had a very good ferry service. And then we gradually, it was just between Swartz Bay and Fulford, and then we formed the Gulf Island Ferry Company. Mr. Gavin Mouat was the president, Captain Maude was vice president,

myself and Joe Lautman were the two directors. That would have been about 1952, 1954.

And then we went to the other islands, we took in Maybe Island and Pender Island, and Galiano.

Q. Were you aware then of the probable growth?

DesC: Well we were then, yes. Yes, we saw the potential. And then we finally asked the provincial government to take over, but Mr. Bennett and Mr. Galardi weren’t interested. Many trips we took to Mr. Galardi’s office, asking them to take over, but they weren’t keen. They had enough problems at that time, but eventually, as you know, they did, they took it over. I enjoyed Mr. Galardi, he was full of fun. We used to go and sit in his office and he was shooting straight from the shoulder. He didn’t beat about the bush or promise us, or anything like that, he gave it to you. I admired the man. Yes, I admired the man.

The Second World War

DesC: Now, I’m coming to 1939, and of course war was declared and all the young chaps volunteered. Just before that, in the early 30’s Hitler was sort of rattling the sabre, and we were able to get a platoon of  Canadian Scottish here on the island, I was the officer commanding.

We had a very strong group of boys, and they, in the hungry 30’s they were glad to come in and do their drill, and they got, you know,  free clothing, and they would get free cigarettes, we gave them cigarettes, And Harry Nichols who was my platoon commander would, we’d go and get some applejack or loganberry wine, and after a drill we’d have a party, and so we had no difficulty getting votes (?). So we had, as I say, about 37-38 boys, allowing (?), from the island. And then we used to take them to Victoria to the Armories, and have some social do’s, and then we’d go to annual parades up in Nanaimo, or Victoria or Sidney, and to the annual camp and they’d get paid for it, and they’d have a wonderful time!


Q. Mr. Crofton, where did you pick up your personal experience, as a soldier?

DesC: As a soldier I received a commission, I received about 35 uniforms and they said “Now get with it.” And so, I did take a Royal School (?) at Esquimalt shortly afterwards, and so I was able to qualify. But, in the first world war, out of the 125 men (who) went overseas, they were all young Englishmen, they all volunteered, and 24 were killed, and they had a terrific record And I might say the same thing happened in the Second World War.

Q. That must have been hard on the families here.

DesC: It was very hard on the families, yes.

Q. When you came back, did you see the families personally, some of them, of the men who had served under you?

DesC: Oh, yes. I still have them calling on me now! People from Toronto or Ontario, or from Prince George, all over the place, Alberta. They’ll say, “Well, Des Crofton lives on Salt Spring, we’ve got to go and look him up,” and so we’ll have a good long chat together, and so I renew many old acquaintances.


Q. Could you tell me, just briefly Mr. Crofton, what your service was during the war, and what countries you were in?

DesC: Very briefly, we went to Debert, in early 1940, and went to the Debert camp, which is in

Truro, Nova Scotia, and the conditions were very bad there, and we spent a few months there, training.

And one morning we were out on the range, and suddenly a word came through, “Stop all shooting on the range, the Germans have invaded Belgium, Holland, and France, and they’d captured all the ammunition, so they had to grab all the ammunition from all of us in Canada and send it, of course, to help out. It was that bad. 

And then we went soon, very shortly, overseas, and we were stationed in England, and we guarded the south coast of England, because we were expecting the German invasion any day, and of course the terrific air raids, we witnessed many of those.


Q. Excuse me, just to go back a bit - you said the conditions in Truro were quite unpleasant.

DesC: Well they had something like 8000, 9000 men heading for this Debert military camp. Well they hadn’t really started to put in any windows, it was just open, and it was October when we arrived, and it was bitterly cold, and mud up to our knees, so the conditions were very bad, no water. And finally they did get heat on, and water on, and the roads fixed.

Q. Did you have quite job looking after you r own men, from Salt Spring

DesC: Well, actually I became a company commander, before we went to Truro. And I had quite a number of my Salt Spring men, but some of them went into Signals and that sort of thing, specialists, so I only saw them occasionally.

Then we went overseas in the Spring of  1941, and then as I ay we guarded the coast of England until the threat of invasion was over. And then we prepared for D-Day, spent a lot of time up in Scotland, combined operations, really working hard, and of course the Dieppe Raid, which I wasn’t in, but that taught us a lot, and we learned from that.

39.35 D-Day Landings

DesC: Then on D-Day in ‘44 I commanded the right of the Canadian forces, I had a special company (Charlie Company of the Canadian Scottish) that took the right flank, and we landed in HR on D-Day and cleared out a big area and made it safe for the troops coming in later, secured the ground, or a beachhead as they called it. 

Q. Could you tell me the name of your company?

DesC: It was Charlie Company of the Canadian Scottish

Then we had many hard battles capturing Caen, and Falaise, and all the way across, and before we got to Calais, the first thing I knew I was the commanding officer. Colonel Caberdew (sp?) had been made a Brigadier and went away, and so I was in command of the Canadian Scottish Regiment.

Q. You were relatively young to be holding that position weren’t you?

DesC: I was 38. And we had many battles, we captured Calais, and I can remember getting to the citadel in Calais and all those forts, and the cross-channel guns were shelling everso badly, and they were very delighted and celebrated after we had captured Calais, and cap(tain?) couldn’t hear the big cross-channel guns (?inaudible)

Q. Your father, Fred Crofton, his family, didn’t they have a history of service?

DesC: Mostly in the Navy, the Royal Navy. mostly.

Q. Did you ever talk with your father about your experiences?

DesC: Yes, oh yes. Well, actually I had to write, because my father died in 1943, he was badly wounded in the First World War, and in 1943 when we were still overseas he died, unfortunately. But then when we got into Holland and had many battles there, and then I was wounded just on the German border, just got into Germany, and I was in hospital in England for about five months, and then I was in Shaughnessy hospital for two and a half years. And then after I was better about 1948, 1949, I came back and helped my brother with Harbour House and then I took over about 1951, and ran Harbour House for about 15 years. And I’ve just retired, and I love it. There’s nothing like retirement!


DesC: Now, do have you any questions for me?

Q. Yes I do, Mr. Crofton. Have you been abroad since the war?

DesC: I’ve only been down to Honolulu, and through the United States and down in Mexico, just across the Mexican border.

Q. Had you had any plans for an occupation, apart from - had it just been assumed that you’d go into management of Harbour House, until the war came along?

DesC: Well, I’d done a little real estate and insurance before, in the thirties.

Q. And did you yourself, Mr. Crofton, have any children?

DesC: Yes, I have a son and daughter. I have a son, John, who went into the Air Force at a young age, he was at UBC and got his degree, a B.A. and he was given a commission in the Air Force and now he’s a Wing Commander. But now they call them Lieutenant-Colonels. Mr. Hellier was the one that changed that all about.

Q. When they joined all the forces.

DesC: Yes.

Q. I’d like to go back quite a bit if you could - to the Market Days.

DesC: The market days were Monday and Thursday chiefly, because it was the boat days, the CPR boats, and the Creamery days.

Q. Was there an open market where you could buy produce?

DesC: Not really, no. People used to take all their produce down to the stores, or ship it to Victoria, actually we usually took it to Victoria, and Vancouver, to a lesser degree.

Q. Were those market days still occurring in the mid-fifties?

DesC: Ye-es.

Q. (talks of the Saanich Peninsula market days several times a week) I wonder if the produce came from the Gulf Islands?

DesC: We actually had a stalls, when the Cy Peck, and a number of our men had their cars, trucks, and they’d take all their produce into Victoria, and they used to have a market in Victoria, and they used to have stalls there, and they’d sell a lot of their produce there, lamb and meats and vegetables, and all that sort of thing.

Q. Tourists started to come in the 50’s, and the roads were paved, and the automobile was everywhere. How were the older islanders reacting to this? 

DesC: They didn’t like it, it was too much of a change, too quickly for them, they didn’t appreciate it.

Q. You were prepared for it though, weren’t you?

DesC: Oh, definitely, oh yes. Well I was the president of the chamber of commerce for about 4-5 years, and vice president for 3 or 4 years, and the head of many delegations into Victoria to see different government departments to get better ferry service, better roads.

Granny Mouat 

DesC: Granny Mouat was a wonderful person, she was one of the most Christian people I’ve ever met. She operated the Ganges Inn, right next to Mouat’s Store. It used to be the old store, but they enlarged and built a new store, and then therefore they turned that into an inn, and Granny Mouat sort of operated that.

Q. She was in competition with your family then!

DesC: A little bit, but not to really any degree. But she was as I say a wonderful person. She worked so hard for her church, when she was the United Church, and she brought her family up.

Q. Would your grandfather have approved of her?

DesC:  Yes, they were friends. Oh, they were great friends, in fact they used to come to our church in the old days, and sometimes they’d have Christmas services and Christmas parties. So he Mouats and the Croftons were always very good friends.

The Ruckle Family at Beaver Point

DesC: Old Mr. Ruckle came in the early 1880’s. And he had a couple of sons, Alfred and Henry. And they have all died. But there’s Gordon Ruckle  still living there with his wife and daughter. They still operate the farm. They have been very generous donating some of their land for people to picnic and camp, right at Beaver Point, right out at the point.

Alfred Ruckle had a collection of guns. I believe it’s very famous all over B/C., and they of course did a lot of fishing.

The hospital and doctors

DesC: The Lady Minto Hospital was named for Governor General’s wife; he was Lord Minto, the Governor General.

There was a Dr. Baker came very shortly after my grandfather, and Dr Baker was a wonderful person, and a good doctor, and he went and had a better opportunity up at Quesnel, and he was practicing up at Quesnel for many years, but for a long time Doc Baker handled everything on the island, yes.

There was a Dr Sutherland I remember very well, and she came in the early 20’s, a woman doctor, and she was a wonderful doctor.

Q. Was she well received?

DesC: Very well received. She was a wonderful doctor.

We did have one or two other doctors, I’ve just forgotten.

Q. There aren’t hospitals on the other islands?

DesC: No. Ganges is quite big centre here, I mean we have the liquor stores here, and the doctors, clinics, dentists and the RCMP, and all the other -

Q. What were the main occupations?

DesC: Farming and logging and fishing. There was a lot of men that had their boats, that used to do the trawling, and the netting. Commercial fishing, oh yes.

Q. But would you say that the tourist industry was the largest contributor now?

DesC: Now it is, yes.

Q. What kind of people are attracted to live on Salt Spring?

DesC: I think it’s to get out of the city, you know, the traffic jams, and the pace, and I think they like to lead a little quieter life. Of course a lot of them have their own sea frontage and they have their own boat to do their bit of fishing, and go picnicking in.

Q. You don’t think then, do you, that the changes have been particularly negative or harmful to the island?

DesC: No, I think it’s a good thing, especially with the ferry link between Long Harbour and Tsawwassen, that’s a wonderful link, and then also the Vesuvius-Crofton ferry which, also, is another link for the north end of Vancouver Island. We were rather restricted on an island here a few years ago, with the little Cy Peck going from Fulford to Swartz Bay, and sometimes you’d have overloads, and you’d have to get there an hour beforehand to get on the little ferry. So I do think -. It’s progress, no question about it. I’m all for it.

Q. How many more people do you think the island could take?

DesC: In my personal estimation, opinion, 4000 or 5000, 6000, that would be enough.

Q. There’s water to accommodate that many people?

DesC: Yes. We’ve got eleven lakes on the island, we’ve got eleven lakes but it’s the sewage system (you have to consider). It naturally empties out into the bays and along the coastline.

Q, When was the first sewage system installed, do you recall?

DesC: Well we really have no sewer system. O mean Harbour House Hotel has a special sewage system, and Lady Minto Hospital has one, and the school has one.

Q. But the settled side above Ganges, there isn’t one?

DesC: No, there isn’t. No. So that is something that is going to have to be attended to, sooner or later. It’s going to cost round about $400 000 you know, to put in a sewer system just in Ganges alone.

Q. What accounts for all that expense? You have to bring in all the equipment?

DesC: Yes, you have to bring in all the equipment

The Ganges Private School for Boys 

DesC: Mr. Leonard Tolson was an Englishman from Oxford, and he started a boys’ school during the First World War (sic: 1907-1917). And my brother and I both attended.

He had lived here for many any years, and he had a brother who was here before him, and he came out, and he needed some sort of an interest, and so therefore he started a boys’ school. A number of his friends here felt, “Well would you? You have the qualifications, start a boys’ school?” and he did. He had around about 30 boys, all local boys here living on the island. There was no grades, I was, you know, in the first form, second form, the third form, then my brother was in the fourth form.

Q. Were either of you ever Head Boy?

DesC: Not really, no.

Q. Where did he get his teachers from?

DesC: He did it all himself, he had one, I’ve forgotten the name of the teacher that he had with him, we’re going back a long time (sic - apart from Beryl Scott, none?) But anyway he did most of it himself, in the one big classroom, with all the different boys in it, And he was an excellent teacher.

Q. And did you have summer vacations regularly?

DesC: Yes, instead of stopping in the middle of June as we do in the grade schools, it used to be on the 1st of July, and start again in the middle of September.

Q. Where did your clothing come from when you were young? Did your mother sew, or was it bought for you out of the island, because I’m sure apart from a local merchant, you wouldn’t -

DesC: I can see my dear mother when we were little children getting ready for bed, at the old sewing machine, you know, peddling, working away, and upstairs we’d hear her still working by the time we went to sleep, perhaps it would be 10 o’clock. She made clothes, shirts and everything. But we used to naturally get some from the Mouat’s, the local store here, or in Victoria. They used to go into Victoria occasionally.

Q. I’d like to know about this house, your home.

DesC: Well. in 1925 when I got married my father sold me part of the old farm, and then I built a barn here and had some stock, and some sheep. And then a Mr. Springford and I built the house, we designed it between us. He’d lived here for many years, and he was a good carpenter. (The lumber for the home) came from Chemainus, from the Chemainus Mill, it was brought over by a truck. Yes, (this is the home my children grew up in.)

I had a stepson, Donald Corbett, who came out with his mother from England, and then I had a son, John, and my daughter Sylvia. And incidentally my daughter Sylvia married a Major Gale of the Princess Patricia’s and they’ve been stationed all over the world, especially in Tanzania, East Africa, and St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Europe.

Q. Your family’s really intertwined in the services.

DesC: Yes.

Q. Well, I think that completes the information that I wanted, Mr. Crofton.


[wikipedia] Debert Military Camp

Following the outbreak of the Second World War in the fall of 1939, the first Canadian units began shipping through the port of Halifax however the end of the Phony War in spring 1940 required a massive ramp-up in Canada's land forces in Europe. The sheer volume of soldiers who would be embarking through Halifax required staging facilities for training and marshalling combat units before embarking on the troop ships.

To meet this requirement, the government announced that existing facilities at Camp Aldershot near Kentville, Nova Scotia and Camp Sussex near Sussex, New Brunswick would be upgraded to handle the requirements of housing and training brigade-size units. In spring 1940, the government also began purchasing additional land in Debert for a division-size training and marshalling facility adjacent to those lands previously purchased in 1938 by the Royal Canadian Air Force for an aerodrome.

Located on the Montreal-Halifax main line of Canadian National Railways, the flat plain surrounding Debert Station were considered ideal for an army staging facility in addition to an aerodrome. The additional benefit that it was located only 100 km north of Halifax.

On August 9, 1940 the first engineering units arrived at the site and began work at clearing the forests and laying out what would become the Debert Military Camp (also referred to as Camp Debert). Employing 6,000 civilians and thousands more military members, the engineers cleared the trees and burnt the plain before building streets, sewer and water services, electricity, and buildings over an area of 80 square kilometres. The camp was bisected with named avenues and numbered streets having innumerable quonset huts, mess halls, warehouses, canteens, and other buildings.

The surrounding community of Debert virtually exploded in growth overnight with movie houses, restaurants, bars and other businesses being set up and the economic effects spilled over into neighbouring Truro.

Camp Debert was the final staging area for units embarking from Halifax and was the location where the majority of troops received and trained with their personal weapons. For these purposes a large ammunition depot was built as well as extensive firing ranges. Component units arrived at Camp Debert from across Canada and were organized into larger formations before being carried by trains to troop ships at Halifax, usually at night in black-out conditions.

All five divisions of the Canadian First Army were housed (all, or in part) at Camp Debert prior to departure for the European Theatre during the Second World War. In addition, the Canadian 7th Infantry Division was formed at Camp Debert, although its volunteer troops went overseas as reinforcements rather than an intact combat unit.

Following the war, Camp Debert was used in the repatriation of troops returning from Europe before undergoing significant downsizing with the majority of training and marshalling areas being decommissioned.


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




III. BUSINESSES: Harbour House Hotel

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

Transcribed by Usha Rautenbach