Last Sunday I took a drive out to Keating Farm Estate, a property acquired by The Land Conservancy about 5 years ago. The farm is located on Miller Road near Duncan and is only open to the public on Sunday afternoons between 1 – 4 pm during the summer, until September 19th.
The property is about 32 acres with a number of heritage structures, the most important one being the farmhouse. The original house was quite small, but was doubled in size when Andrew Keating bought the property around 1888. Keating hired architect John Gerhard Tiarks who designed a huge addition in the form of a great hall. The hall has a vaulted ceiling supported by carved beams that arch across the hall. It is intricately panelled and built with first growth cedar and fir, which maintains its original 1894 finish. There is also a massive 10 ft. tall fireplace.
There are numerous outbuildings on the property including the hay barn which may have been built in 1894, and the attached dairy barn built by the last owner, Hugo Tews, in 1949. There is a orchard with many heritage apple varieties as well as a nut orchard. At the south end of the property are a creek, a wetland and a wooded area. The old CNR right-of-way spur to Cowichan Bay runs through this part of the property and connects to the Trans Canada Trail.
Keating and two of his sons died in 1901 in the shipwreck of the S.S. Islander. Strangely enough architect Tiark also died that same year, from a fall off his bicycle in Victoria. The farm then had a number of owners before Hugo Tews, from whom TLC bought the property.
TLC has started restoration work on the farm house, as there currently is scaffolding in the Great Hall. Much remains to be done, but the farmhouse is also still occupied by a descendent of Hugo Tews. Tews farmed the property and won many awards at Duncan’s Cowichan Exhibition with the grain that he grew on the property. The dairy barn that he built is closed up as it is home to a rare colony of blue-listed Townsend’s Big-eared bats. After the bats migrate in the fall, TLC will install a webcam to monitor their behaviour when they return in the spring.
The farmland is also being put back into agricultural production through the Keating Community Farm Cooperative established by TLC in 2006, to create a multi-functional community farm and heritage site.
It’s great to see this slice of Cowichan Valley history saved for future generations. As a Bed & Breakfast innkeeper in the Valley, I appreciate all the interesting history in the area which I’m then able to share with guests staying at Cobble House B&B.