There was a time when the District of Saanich was about double in size, stretching from its North Dairy border with Victoria, to the North Saanich border near Mount Newton.
But a band of forward-thinking Saanichton villagers changed that. From 1908 (shortly after its 1906 incorporation) until 1949, Saanich was divided into seven wards: Ward 1 was the Shelbourne area; Ward 2 Quadra and Cook; Ward 3 Gordon Head; Ward 4 Wilkinson and Prospect Lake; Ward 5 Royal Oak, Broadmead and Cordova Bay; Ward 6 the Keating District; and Ward 7 Gorge-Tillicum.
One councillor represented each ward, and in Ward 6 that man was Larry Hagan, who held several terms starting in 1921.
Norma Sealey is a local expert on the matter. The longtime Central Saanich resident recently gave a talk on the creation of the municipality at the Saanich Pioneer Society in Saanichton, and has long been passionate about the area. In an excerpt from her work, The Un-Amalgamation of Ward Six – The Birth of Central Saanich, Sealey explained how the secession surprisingly started a lot earlier than some might think.
“Hagan was tasked with leading the fight,” Sealey said.
Hagan, a farmer with a large acreage, was elected to Saanich council in 1921. At that time, not only did Ward 6 want to leave Saanich, but so did all the wards except for Ward 7, as the Gorge area was populated by more residents than all the rest of the wards combined, Sealey explained.
Sadly for Hagan, he never saw the secession despite a 20-year fight, as William ‘Bill’ Kersey was elected to carry on the fight following Hagan’s death. By 1950, the only wards still seeking secession were Ward 6 and Cadboro Bay, which sought to leave Ward 3 Gordon Head.
The initial reason for the migration of residents from Victoria to Saanich’s Gorge neighbourhood was taxes. By 1912 Victoria was incurring huge debt for sewers and other city amenities which tripled the taxes. Meanwhile the mill rate in Saanich was only on land with no improvement tax. Hundreds of Victorians moved to Saanich’s Gorge area to take advantage of the low tax rate. They could build a home of any size and pay only a land tax which did not exceed $10.
Eventually, Ward 7 became so populated it demanded the amenities offered in Victoria, such as schools, police and fire protection, water mains and other services, which the other wards would be contributing to although not receiving the same benefits.
The first Central Saanich reeve, or mayor, was Sydney Pickles, with Couns. Harold Andrew, Ray Lamont, Willard Michell (as in Michell Farm) and Lorne Thompson.
It meant the creation of yet another Saanich, adding Central Saanich to the long list of North Saanich, the District of Saanich (known informally during earlier days as Saanich South), the Saanich School District No. 63, the WSÁNEC School Board, WSÁNEC First Nations Territory, and the informal Saanich Peninsula. They holed up in the modest Saanich Pioneer Log Cabin.
From the days of the earliest Central Saanich (and North Saanich) settlers, who first dug in around 1855, the primary income for the area was farming. Many of those farmers worked the fertile soil for fruit, grains and berries, though it also had an interesting hop production leading into the turn of the century, though it is said the hop louse and centralized commercialization ended this.
Logging and fishing provided some income, too.
So it was with a deep sense of history that the new Central Saanich council took on the role and crafted a new district that understood farming. The community was also based on the village centres of Saanichton and Brentwood Bay, and the growing industry of Keating Cross Road.
By and large, the council soon had the funds to erect a municipal hall and fire hall in Saanichton.
Of the earliest settling families, the Lidgates cabin, built in 1858, and the Bannockburn home, built in 1869, remain standing today.
What ended up becoming Central Saanich’s most notable icon, Butchart Gardens, was actually built two years prior to the creation of the District of Saanich in 1904. Robert Pim and Jennie Butchart opened the Portland Vancouver Cement Factory, a limestone quarry and cement plant that used the deep access of Tod Inlet to ship its goods across the Pacific Coast.
Of course, it later became Butchart Gardens, but for decades, particularly from 1904 to 1916, it also housed a strong but small Chinese community and a brief Sikh population. Both groups of workers existed as their own brotherhoods and performed the hardest jobs on site. That included worker Joe Sing, who, according to the Daily Colonist on Feb. 2, 1911, was ‘literally blown into pieces’ when frozen dynamite ignited while thawing next to a fire one day earlier.
Many descendants of those who moved here to work in that factory remain today.