• Lori Reid, for URListed

The History of Chase River and Cinnabar Valley

Updated: Apr 8, 2019


How the Chase River Got Its Name


Chase River is 11 kilometers long, rich with spawning chub and coho salmon. But do you know how this important river got it's name?

In the winter of 1853, two young native men, a Cowichan Native and Siamsit, a Snuneymux Native, were suspected of shooting Peter Brown, a shepherd working for the Hudson Bay Company at Forest Hill. Governor James Douglas immediately sent out scouts to find the alleged perpetrators. The Cowichan Native was quickly captured, but Siamsit ran, and might even have gotten away since he knew the lay of the land so well. However, snow had fallen that day, and the scouts took "chase" after his footprints along a riverbank. He was caught, and both men were immediately tried, then hung at Gallows Point on Protection Island, all on the same day. After the incident, the river where the scouts took chase was known as "Chase River".

The Starks

In 1860, Vancouver Island was under the Hudson Bay Company jurisdiction, and desperately needed industrious, hard-working settlers to populate its land. They found such an entrepreneurial group in San Francisco; 13 African American families willing to settle in Canada so they could live in freedom. One such family was Louis & Sylvia Stark and their two children, Emily and Willis, The Starks settled on Salt Spring Island, establishing an orchard, planting crops, and raising a total of seven children. They flourished on their 1000+ acres of lush land, and believed they had found paradise.

However,around 1875, their new home became a "house of horrors" several black men were brutally murdered. Fearing for their lives, the Starks fled, landing on a flat, fertile piece of land in the Chase River District in south Nanaimo, close to where Chase Elementary School is today. For 20 years, they peacefully toiled on their land, until one morning, in 1895, when Louis Stark's lifeless body was found at the bottom of a cliff above his farm. Some believe it was foul play, blaming players in the Dunsmuir coalmine expansion. Stark's homestead sat on a rich deposit of coal, and although generous offers were made for his land, Stark had stubbornly refused to sell.

After her husband's death, Sylvia returned to Salt Spring Island, where she lived to the grand old age of 106, passing away in 1944. Stark's daughter Emily stayed in Nanaimo, becoming the first black school teacher in B.C.

Today, the Stark name lives on the Cinnabar Valley. A railway track that passes the point from which Stark shipped his cattle to market is called “Stark’s Crossings, and the ridge above his land is called Stark's Ridge.

Coal Mining

Coal certainly was an important industry the Chase River area because of its rich veins and ideal location close to the water. Population in the area quickly grew when in 1874, the Douglas Slope Mine, located near the Chase River Estuary, opened up. This mine remained open until 1886 when Chase River NO. 3 Pit took over. By 1894, the coal deposits in the area dried up, and farming, which had always been important, became the chief industry in the area.

Finn Hall


Several original farmhouses still stand as a evidence of the area’s original rural character. In the early 1900's, Chase River boasted a large Finnish community, and in 1910, volunteers built the “Finnish Comrades Hall”,or the “Finn Hall”, as locals called it. For forty years the hall hosted all types of social events, from dances to meetings. However, by the 1950's, very few Finns remained in the area, and the building was sold to the The Loyal Order of Moose. Today, the Hall remains an important community activity location.


Of Moths and Men

No, Cinnabar Valley was not named after the unique mineral the colour of cinnamon, and the soil here is not a rust colour (though it IS very fertile, as proven by the deserved success of the soil company, Cinnabar Valley Farms). No, this valley is named after a moth. Yes, moth.


Back in the 1950's, the Cinnabar Valley Farm was not a soil farm but a dairy farm.

And the cows roaming the bottom of the valley were getting sick. Turns out, lush green grass wasn't the only thing thriving; ragwort flourished here also, poisoning the poor cows. Enter Tyria Jacobeae Linnaeus, or as it is commonly called, the Cinnabar Moth, so called because of the red patches on its wings. This bio control agent did its job remarkably well, the moths devoured the ragwort, and in the process, multiplied to such an extent that the Valley was named Cinnabar.

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​Joe Garner


Did you know that BC best selling author Joe Arthur once lived in the valley? Famous for his book "Never Fly Over an Eagle's Nest", among others,the ex-logger turned writer

valued his privacy. He purchased a large plot of land at the top of the valley, and in 1972 proceeded to build a road from South Wellington up the east ridge to his home (now called Plecas Road). If the grave gradient didn't scare trespassers, his sign certainly did. Posted at the top, it read, "Wild Bull at Large, Extreme Danger to All Strangers". Of course Joe never owned a bull in his life . . .!

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Century 21

Harbour Realty
3179 Barons Road

Nanaimo BC  V9T 5W5

email: fred@urlisted.ca

phone: 250.739.0982

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