Cormorant Point, Gordon Head

Cormorant Point, Gordon Head

by | Feb 19, 2022

Cormorant Point is a headland located between Cordova Bay and Margaret Bay, in the Gordon Head neighborhood of Saanich, about 11 miles (18 km) south-southeast of Sidney and 5.5 miles (8.9 km) north-northeast of Victoria, British Columbia. Gordon Head is named after Admiral John Gordon, who in 1845 commanded HMS America in the North Pacific. Margaret Bay was named by Dr. John Ash for Margaret Pollock whose family had lived in the area since 1874. Cormorant Point is named after the common diving bird that will go ashore on rocky points after fishing and hold its wings out in the sun to dry. Cormorant Point is formed by exposed bedrock of the Wrangellia terrane that underlies most of Vancouver Island. The Wrangellia terrane is a mixture of Devonian rocks composed of volcanic arc-related basalt and sedimentary rocks that accreted to the North American continental margin in the Late Jurassic or Early Cretaceous time. Wrangellian rocks are also found on the Gulf Islands and along the coast of the mainland. The bedrock at Cormorant Point is part of mid-Paleozoic volcanic arc rocks associated with the Sicker Group that includes quartz diorite and quartzfeldspar that formed about 365 million years ago. The land surrounding the point is mostly glacial till deposited after the retreat of the Cordilleran ice sheet of the Fraser Glaciation during the Pleistocene. The till deposits are often greater than 33 feet (10 m) thick and can exceed 100 feet (30 m) along eroded bluffs and sea cliffs. This land was inhabited by the Lekwungen people for over 4,000 years. They were known collectively as the ‘Songish’ or ‘Songhees’ by European settlers but were never in any political sense a single tribe, instead comprised of many semi-autonomous household groups whose sprawling plank houses were clustered in a number of winter villages, and who moved regularly from place to place in the course of their annual round of subsistence hunting and foraging. Specific resource areas and house sites were owned and used by specific households. The clusters of Songhees families spoke similar dialects of the language known as Coast Salish or Lekwungaynung, and the collective name for themselves seems most often to have been Lekwungen. The family group inhabiting present-day Gordon Head was known as the Chekonein and their territory included the area between present-day Point Gonzales and Mount Douglas and extending to the shoreline.

The Hudson’s Bay Company fort at Victoria was six years old when, in 1849, the lands of Vancouver Island were granted to the company on condition that they be opened for settlement as a Crown colony. But before any settlers could be given title to lands the proprietary rights of the native people had to be forfeited. The task fell to James Douglas, chief factor of the company, and by 1852, a series of agreements called the Douglas Treaties were signed between some Indigenous Peoples and the British Colony of Vancouver Island. That same year, James Todd was the first pioneer in the Gordon Head area where he established Spring Farm and made a living by selling cordwood cleared from the land. By the summer of 1860, there was no unregistered land left in Gordon Head, and ownership of about 2,200 acres (890 ha) was shared between thirteen men including Charles Dodd, and John Work. Captain Charles Dodd was a ship’s captain and fur trader originally from New Buckenham, England. In 1840, when Dodd was a junior officer on Hudson’s Bay Company ships, he married Grace McTavish, age 14, daughter of trader John George McTavish and Nancy McKenzie. In 1845, Dodd was placed in command of the steamship Beaver which played an important role in the collection of furs from northern British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. By 1859, he was a valued captain, and the family with seven children was resident in a mansion on Government Street in Victoria. But Grace was not happy there and preferred to live in a quieter rural area, and her husband bought Section 84, about 200 acres (81 ha) at Gordon Head between present-day Torquay and Pomona Way and extending north from Kenmore Road to the sea. They lived in a house on the corner of Kenmore and Torquay and a trail went from there northeast to Cormorant Point. In 1860, Dodd became severely ill with a kidney infection and before he died requested that his two fellow officers, William F. Tolmie and Roderick Finlayson, take care of the property for the widow and children. In 1883, Tolmie and Finlayson finally divested themselves of their responsibility when the tract was divided among Dodd’s children.

By this time, the Dodd family had left the neighborhood, and the Pollock family was living in the pioneer Dodd house. In 1884, one of the Dodd sons sold his share of the property, about 20 acres (8 ha) overlooking Cormorant Point, to Dr. John Ash. One day Ash took a group of children that included a young daughter of the Pollocks, down the trail to Cormorant Point for a day at the beach and he reputedly named the bay after Margaret Pollock as a birthday present. In 1890, William C. Grant planted the first strawberries at Gordon Head and this became a very successful commodity. The first strawberry pickers on Grant’s farm were First Nations, mostly Songhees and some Koksilah from up-island. Each June, a dozen or more canoes might be seen drawn up on the beach at Margaret Bay. Grant was a Saanich councilor in 1906 and 1907 and built a house on the property overlooking Cormorant Point called ‘Craigellachie’ meaning ‘hill of rock’. The location was probably selected for the never-failing freshwater springs nearby. This house burned down in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1924 by Colonel S.L. McMullen and his wife Lois as the ‘Strangewood‘ house. The name refers to a collection of petrified wood on the property brought in from Drumheller. They also built a blockhouse on the rocks at Cormorant Point where Lois McMullen would climb the spiral staircase and write letters. Even when winter waves crashed in on the rocks below, a pot-bellied stove made the blockhouse a peaceful and comfortable refuge. In 1891, the Gordon Head School was built on land donated by William Dean near Cormorant Point. In addition to operating a successful farm, William Grant was also one of the first school trustees of Gordon Head School, holding the office for 13 years. William Travelick Edwards became the first commercial grower of daffodils at Gordon Head and he also taught swimming lessons at Margaret Bay, possibly for the Gordon Head School children. Local lore attributes the construction of a saltwater swimming pool at Cormorant Point to this time. The pool was created by a concrete dam with holes near the bottom that allowed saltwater to flush the enclosure with every tide. A trail still exists from the historical location of the school, past Strangewood house, to Cormorant Point. The blockhouse is gone but the pool still exists although it has fallen into disrepair. Read more here and here. Explore more of Cormorant Point here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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