How Mill Bay Got Its Start
The first white men to visit Mill Bay were two French Canadians, brothers Francois Xavier and Jean Baptiste Voutray, born in Quebec, and who in the 1830s explored the shores of Mill Bay in their canoe looking for fur bearing animals. Both brothers joined the Hudson Bay Co. in 1834 and were stationed at Fort Vancouver and Fort Victoria where they both married First Nations women.
After the brothers left the HBC they returned to Mill Bay, working for a time in the mill and pre-empting farm land. The south side of Xavier’s 100 acres went approximately along what is Kilamalu Road, across from St. Francis Xavier Church and the Island Highway now cuts across the west side of the property. Jean Baptiste pre-empted a 100 acres next door to the southwest.
Xavier’s eldest surviving daughter Amelie married Samuel Handy whose property was adjacent to what is now Handy Road. Amelie spoke only French and Samuel spoke French at home as well so their 6 children learned English at school. Amelie taught at least one of her grandchildren French swear words that got her in trouble after they repeated these words at home.
After confederation in 1867 Canada wanted immigrants to settle its vast expanse of land and advertised for settlers in glowing terms. So it was that in 1892 Jean Baptiste Deloume left the ‘civilized’ life of Bordeaux France for pioneer life on Vancouver Island. He made the journey with his aged mother, his wife, 3 sons and 2 daughters, plus many musical instruments, household goods, and personal treasures.
What prompted a frail cultured man of 49, an accountant, music teacher and antique dealer to uproot his large family and make the arduous trip to an unknown land? The climate, Jean Baptiste wanted a vineyard and bought land in Saanich.
Well as you can imagine farming life was no picnic and knowledge came with difficulty. Son Lucien found a dead horse, studied the horseshoes, wrenched them off and renailed them rather badly on the family horse. This did not work out as horse shoes are made to fit and you can’t put nails in the tender part of a hoof.
Eventually the farm in Saanich failed and in 1901 the Deloume Family, which now included 8 children, preempted 200 acres of land in Mill Bay (now Mill Springs subdivision). Dad and sons came first and built a little temporary shelter. They felled trees and milled and hand cut them to make careful corners requiring no nails, which were a luxury in those days. Gutter and pipes to channel water from a nearby spring were hand made from wood also. The water ran continuously and was the only plumbing they ever had. In a remarkably short time not only was a two story house ready to welcome the whole family but they built Deloume Road which ran from the waterfront all the way to the farm.
They called their farm The Good Hope Farm and raised seeds for sale, planted varied vegetables, fruit trees, and another vineyard which did produce good wine. Their success prompted others to settle in the area.
The five boys and three girls in the family were all talented artists and musicians and were known to sing while doing chores. Jean gave music lessons and there were memorable concerts featuring the Deloume quartet. They organized a work party to renovate St. Francis Xavier Church, and arranged for a priest to come once a month from Tzouhalem. Travel was difficult in those days as it was a three hour trip on horseback from Duncan over a trail through the forest.
They started a church choir, no matter that son Stephen who was nearly deaf was the choir director and son Lucien who was missing fingers on his hand played the organ, they did what was needed.
Today these French and French Canadians are remembered only by grave markers and road names such as LaFortune, DeLoume, and Handy but their history is the story of real life that gives each of us a connecting thread not only to the past but to each other.
To learn more of the history of this area contact:
www.millbaymalahathistory.com or visit the new Heritage Museum
2851 Church Way, Mill Bay BC.