William Shearing

In 1862 William J. Shearing, aged 18, arrived in Harrisville (now Cowichan Bay). He journeyed here from Victoria along with 62 other passengers aboard the HMS Hecate. These hardy people had come to settle in what must have seemed a very challenging place.

After a search for suitable farmland, Mr. Shearing chose and began to settle property one and a half miles southeast of Cowichan Bay, but it was not until a settlement was reached between the government and the local First Nations in 1873 that he was legally permitted to pre-empt it. The original holding was 320 acres and stretched almost to Dougan Lake, however, W. J. found that the northwestern portion was very gravelly and not at all suitable for agriculture and so returned a 100 acre tract to the government. The farm was roughly along both sides of what we now know as Telegraph Road and extended from Cowichan Bay Road south to Cherry Point Road. He built a cabin on the gravelly hillside (the present day Douglas Hill subdivision) overlooking the valley and married Mary Jack from the Cowichan First Nation. They had five children: William (1873), Dolly (1874), Louise (1878), Edward (Ted)(1883) and Herbert (Bert)(1886). The land was first logged, then cleared and became a mixed farm on the 220 acres of the property. A large flock of sheep was kept along with pigs, cows, draft horses and chickens. Lamb was sold to the Cobble Hill Market as well as to local purchasers. Wool was sold to First Nations knitters and there was a beautiful 5 acre orchard with cherry, plum and apple trees.

Although Mr. Shearing owned a substantial farm, agriculture was not in his blood and he hired a Mr. Richardson to manage it until the younger Shearings were old enough to assume the responsibility. W.J. worked in Sayward’s Sawmill in Mill Bay for five years and then owned and operated a sawmill in Nanaimo until in 1883 he returned to live on the farm. He was very mathematically inclined and continued to do seasonal construction work in the Cowichan area. The Columbia Hotel in Cowichan Bay (now The Masthead), the first Bench School and several bridges; the most notable over Copper Canyon, were among the many projects designed and built under his direction. He died in 1917 after a busy and prosperous life.