Marina at Cowichan Bay
(Andrea Johnson photo)


Culture & History

Traces of the Cowichan Valley's rich history can be found throughtout the region.

Museums and cultural centres do the job formally and with style. Dozens of First Nations totem poles are scattered around Duncan itself. And don't miss the Kinsol Trestle, the highest standing wooden railway bridge in Canada and (reportedly) the British Commonwealth.

First Nations and European Settlement

The Coast Salish and the Cowichan peoples have resided in this seaside area for at least six thousand years. Spanish and English explorers first mapped the coastline in the early 1790s. William Chalmers Duncan arrived at Cowichan Bay on the H.M.S. Hecate in August 1862 with a group of men who cleared forested tracts, built cabins and planted crops to feed themselves and their cattle.

Industry and Growth

The local population began to grow with the arrival of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo rail line in the 1880s. Agricultural, forestry and, for a brief period, mining activities followed soon after. The Cowichan Creamery was producing award-winning butter by the turn of the century. Milk shipped from Duncan's Station (aka Alderlea) to Victoria and Nanaimo was rated highly because of the Cowichan's lush grass and mild climate.

By 1913, the valley was home to 3,864 European inhabitants, most were from the British Isles. A year earlier Duncan was incorporated as a city.

Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre

To delve deep into the history and lore of the Cowichan peoples, visit Quw'utsun' Cultural Centre beautifully situated next to the Cowichan River downtown. Interpretive tours, presentations, displays, and dance performances are offered each summer.

Cowichan Valley Museum

The Cowichan Historical Society operates the Cowichan Valley Museum on Canada Avenue in the red 1912 E&N Railway station downtown. The Jack Fleetwood Gallery recreates home life prior to World War One while the Alderlea store is stocked with pioneer essentials.

BC Forest Discovery Centre

Forestry was a dominant industry for the century following the first-ever shipment of logs in BC (sent from Mount Prevost to Chemainus in 1887). The main building at the BC Forest Discovery Centre houses a vintage locomotive and various first-rate displays about forestry practices then and now. Bonus: Catch a ride on the 1910 steam engine "Samson" as it chugs past a blacksmith shop, logging camp and, at the edge of Somenos Lake, a sawmill. A picnic area and kids' playground is in the centre of the property, site of special events like a Father's Day tractor show.

Trestle Bridges

Seven railway trestle bridges are part of the Cowichan Valley Trail, an inland hiking/cycling route that follows the Galloping Goose rail line from the Malahat to Cowichan Lake. The Kinsol Trestle, completed in 1920, is the piece de resistance in the network as it towers 187m/615ft above the Koksilah River near Shawnigan Lake. It's a spectacular sight from both the north and south ends (ask at the Duncan Visitor Centre for directions).