-by Cynthia A Carlsen, moderator of the HWY 14 History Facebook group
To think that the total European population of the Sooke and Metchosin Districts on record as of December 31, 1854, was a mere 20 people – included in that count of course were the Muir brothers and family (now Woodside farm – 7117 West Coast Road). Captain Grant was the first European settler, who sold his farm to John and Ann Muir… in 1853 Captain Grant returned to Europe.
Over a century later Ted and Elsie Shaw would become farming neighbours at 7166 West Coast Road.
But, prior to this, in 1945, Ted and new bride Elsie made their home at Maple Avenue. There, Elsie cleared a garden site for vegetables. The soil was relatively unproductive but she managed to maintain a small garden, while raising two youngsters, until 1956 when the Shaw family made new roots on West Coast Road. Ted got started right away with plowing and cultivating the land to increase the family’s food supply. But again, the soil wasn’t ideal and drained poorly. It was an annual task to break new ground to maintain a decent crop. As it’s not hard to figure out, proper nutrition is essential for satisfactory crop growth and production. It took a lot of fertilizing and years of ploughing and cultivating to yield a decent crop.
In 1960 Ted decided to try another form of sustainable farming and purchased two steers. He continued raising and finishing steers until 1968. It was also 1968 when Ted purchased 7096 West Coast Road – he built a barn and started building a herd of beef cattle by buying breeding stock. To feed the cattle, the lack lustre soil on 7117 West Coast Road was turned into seven acres of hay fields. Farming can be tricky and very dependent on weather patterns – some years hay crop production was pretty good, while some years pretty bad. Growing conditions determined the size of the herd – if the crop was small it had to be supplemented by commercial grain which provided the nutrients needed for their growth. Although there was never a profit to be made, Ted did enjoy his cattle. He would pass in 2001, but Elsie continued to raise the cattle with help from son Ed and friends.
Unfortunately, in 2005, a letter was sent to Ed Shaw from the insurance agency stating they could no longer receive liability insurance to cover the cattle farming operation. According to the insurance agent, Mad Cow disease was the excuse for the immediate stop in coverage. The family was given a small window to have the cattle removed before the insurance was void. It was learned later that all farms with housing nearby were affected – no development adjacent and farms were still covered. This left the family restricted to hay sales for gate income only. Trying to farm or carry on agricultural activities were already limited, and now Elsie was pushed into a corner. Despite years of throwing good money after bad to try and get the soil sufficient enough to produce decent crops, they continue to deteriorate and deplete.
Aside from tending to the farm, Elsie loved to grow flowers, and she also loved to volunteer her time in the community with her dear friend Mae Linell. Both ladies used to put in hours for the Sooke Community Association – this included helping with the salmon and beef bbq for decades down at the Flats for All Sooke Day. But her volunteerism didn’t stop there, like Ted, Elsie enjoyed her vibrant and growing community – she volunteered with the Sooke Regional Museum, and the Sooke Festival Society, amongst several other community events. Sadly, Elsie’s days of volunteering are no longer as she is in full-time care with son Ed and his wife, Marion. Elsie is 92 years old now and dementia has taken control – she still resides in the home she and Ted spent decades together in.
Although it has been a honour and privilege to cover the decades of hard work ethic, and endless community involvement contributed by the Shaw family, I find myself saddened to learn that despite Ted and Elsie’s years of dedication the family may lose their land due to the financial pressures put upon them to make their land sustainable without yielding a return. Development of homes around the land has caused improper drainage, due to lack of buffer zones – thus also causing contamination of soil, among other things. It is indeed important to preserve farmland when we can, but when the financial burden far exceeds the ability to maintain sustainability I believe common sense must prevail with an objective and unbiased view based on facts. I certainly hope that Elsie, now 92, can retain fond memories of her time with Ted, children, cattle and flowers, and not have to say goodbye to her pasture.
(History provided by Shaw family with file and b/w photos included in the Facebook post come from Sooke Region Historical Society)
Please note, HWY 14 History is a closed Facebook Group. To become a member, just visit this link and ask to join. SPN will be posting these with the expressed permission from Carlsen; to get the first scoop and participate with the online conversation, consider joining HWY 14 History. -SPN
- Part 5 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Farming Days
- Part 4 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Tripp Creek Pole and Piling Ltd.
- Part 3 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Logging Days
- Part 2 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—World’s Tallest Totem Pole
- Part 1 of 5: History of the Shaw Family—Cougar Hunting Days
- History of the Shaw family coming soon to the Hwy14 History group
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