1058 Holmesdale Street

This house was originally built in 1881 by Rev. David Holmes and called Holmesdale.

Rev Holmes was born in Old Bolingbroke, Lincolnshire (England) in 1837. He came to Canada in 1867, arriving in Victoria. He was appointed by the bishop to be the pastor at Yale, which is slightly north of Hope. Yale was the gateway to the Caribou Gold Fields. In 1871 he was told by the bishop to“go to Cowichan”.

While in Yale, David had met his future wife, Susan Abercrombie Nagle. Susan was born in May, 1840 on board a ship leaving Australia bound for Canada. She grew up in Victoria, with three siblings. She went to Yale, in 1870 as a schoolteacher. There she met David Holmes. They were married on the 19 June 1871 in St. John’s Anglican Church in Victoria. Susan gave birth to their first child (Harry) in Yale in November 1872.

 The family moved to the Cowichan Valley to work with the Quamichan people. Rev. Holmes, now the pastor for the area, built St. Peters’ Anglican Church. They lived there until 1884.The story of the building of St. Peter’s is told in a book written by the Parish (Pioneer Church-Story of St. Peter’s).

Susan mentions being ill on a regular basis in her diary. Despite this, she gave birth to 5 more children. (Frederick, Beatrice, Susan, Josephine and Phillip). She was quite artistic. Susan wrote several children’s stories as well as poetry and was a diarist of some note. Her diary is in the Archives in Victoria. She lived a long life and died in January 1921.

In approximately 1880, Rev. Holmes acquired 500 acres of land that stretched probably from Cairnsmore Road to Sherman Road and from the Somenos Lake to the falls on Holmes Creek. The house, originally called “Holmesdale”, was built with a view of the lake. The original house was completed in 1885, with a large addition being built a year later in anticipation that Susan’s sister (Isobel) and her husband (Phillip) would move to Duncan. At the last minute, Phillip changed his mind and they built a house in Victoria.

Rev. Holmes also built a lumber mill on the land in order to harvest the timber on the property. Unfortunately, while Rev Holmes was preaching one Sunday, someone left the water tap running at the not-quite-finished mill and the water tower collapsed, crushing the building and the machinery.

It was about this time that Rev Holmes became “burnt out” and following a dispute with the church wardens resigned from the ministry. He apparently left the parish as an “embittered” man. He went to the United States for a brief time but returned to Duncan and became a farmer. For some time, however, he was still involved with the Anglican Church, building the Anglican Church in Chemainus. The records show he built seven churches in total.

Rev. Holmes’ sons, Fred. & Henry were each given a portion of the property, which they farmed. They both built houses on their land. Neither of these are still standing. However, the Seniors’ Manor on College Street was built for one of the daughters. Several streets in the area are named after the family (Mary, Phillip, Clement, Berkeley, Holmes, Nagle and of course, Holmesdale streets). It is interesting to note that Fred was made a Special Constable so that he could supervise the people who came to skate on the lake when it froze during cold winters.

Rev. Holmes donated the land for the building of the Duncan Elementary School which was completed in 1913.

The founders of Queen Margaret School originally leased space at Holmesdale for classrooms (1921). However, the family was unwilling to offer a long term lease and so in April of 1923 the school moved to its’ current location.

The house and all the land that encompasses the cul de sac of Holmesdale Street was occupied by descendants of Rev. Holmes until approximately 1991 when it was sold to a developer. The original plan was to demolish the house, which was approximately 50 feet from its’ current location. Fortunately, they eventually agreed to retain this piece of Duncan’s history. The house was taken off its original foundation, rotated 180 degrees and relocated facing the street. (its present location). It was significantly renovated. Where possible, the original materials were used. The dining room floor, stairs, and the window in the entry way, for example are original.

The house was bought by a private couple in 1992 and occupied by them until it  was purchased by your Hosts in 2009.

A number of sources were used in developing this history, including: T.W. Paterson, a Duncan local historian: Mrs Phyllis Roberts, whose husband is the grandson of Isabel: the diaries of Susan (she kept a diary most of her life), records of which are kept in the Victoria Archives, however, some were destroyed. The members of the Duncan Historical Society also gave input. I also visited the Yale Anglican Church and museum for information regarding Rev Holmes` time in Yale. I was also privy to a portion of a PHD Thesis written by Andrea Lynne Laforet of the University of British Columbia in September 1974, entitled `Folk History in a Small Canadian Community. I acknowledge and thank them all for their courtesy and input.