The Pioneer Banquet

1971: It was British Columbia’s centennial year and the Lake District Centennial Celebrations Days.

The novel idea of a wooden quarter

The novel idea of a wooden quarter

The excitement throughout the village was palpable. Many months of preparations and hard work by the townsfolk were almost complete. The new community hall, aptly named Centennial Hall, would be the focal point for the upcoming community events scheduled for June 4, 5 and 6, 1971. It was British Columbia’s centennial year and the Lake District Centennial Celebrations Days had finally arrived.

One of the main events was the pioneer banquet. It was also one of the most historically important events to take place in our community. Many centennial events and festivities were planned throughout the community including the banquet for area pioneers and other early residents. It was also the year the Lake Cowichan community hall, Centennial Hall, was built, mostly by volunteer fundraising and labour.

Receiving one of the invitations to the banquet was pioneer family member Trevor Green who later recorded the event in his daily journal. Upon arriving at Centennial Hall, the Greens and others who had received invitations, found the parking lot nearly full. Once inside the Greens found a table near the stage, with pioneer family member Charlie March and old-timer Joe Buote (for whom the corner Chicken Joe’s was named because Joe, who lived near the corner, kept chickens and sold the eggs). Trevor described Joe as a “wry and witty octogenarian” who had lived at Honeymoon Bay for 20 years. Each table, wrote Trevor, was filled with “a galaxy of old friends and acquaintances,” many unseen in years.

At one of the tables sat John and Vera Saywell, long time principal and schoolteacher ,who Saywell Park was named after. The Howe’s were also in attendance — Gladys Howe was born across the street from the old Riverside Inn and has been cited many times as being the first white baby born here. Her husband Art, who for many years operated a butcher shop in town, accompanied her. Seated nearby were Colonel and Mrs. Boyd (Liz) who attended pretty well every event the town hosted. The guest list also included Mrs. Fred Reed and her son Jimmy (presently a regular reader of this column). Many years prior, Mrs. Reed, the former Miss Marguerite Marsh, had arrived from England with the Ashburnham family to take up residence near Honeymoon Bay. Trevor enjoyed visiting with her because of her delightful bubbly “good spirits”.

Seated at the head table were local MLA Bob and Mrs. Strachan, his Worship the Mayor of Lake Cowichan, Moe All and his wife, the former Rene Castley.  Henry and Ann Lundgren and other members of the centennial committee were also seated there. Being a well-attended event, those listed were just a “mere fraction” of those who Trevor noticed.

The dinner, deemed “excellent” was prepared by the most sought-after cook/caterer in town, Mrs. Doris Johnson. By then, Doris had spent many years as head cook at the elementary school cafeteria and at many other venues.  Her menu included “sweet Sherry followed by roast beef, vegetables, hot rolls then a dessert of pastry shells filled with strawberries topped with whip cream”.

After dinner emcee Henry Lundgren, (whose son Allan is presently a regular volunteer at Kaatza Station Museum) “attired in a mustard coloured frock coat,” presented each of the (mostly) elderly guests with a specially minted Centennial Medal. A few of the medal recipients included Andy Atchison, Ken Gillespie, Mrs.Voas (who was the former Mrs. Roy Scott and mother of local resident Bob Scott), Joe Buote — who, according to Trevor, “maintained a constant flow of wry and barbed comments” throughout, and Mrs. Marie Morton, thought to be the oldest of them all.

Entertainment, which followed the banquet, was presented by the local Scandinavian Club and included Nordic dancing and a rendition of a “song to the pioneers composed by the versatile” Henry Lundgren and Bertha Lowe (mother of Bonnie Willey). Later upstairs, some of the pioneers along with others enjoyed a drink and entertainment at the Hog and Horn — according to Trevor, an attempt at a replica of an Old English Pub.

—Research: Kaatza Station Museum and Greendale Journals.