Kenneth McKenzie of the PSAC Farm at Craigflower

The enterprising spirit that drew many from the economic and social stagnation of Victorian Britain to the developing colonies affected a wide-range of British society. Labourers and skilled craftsmen were not the only ones feeling the squeeze of the changes in agriculture. The changing economic situation was the impetus behind the emigration of Craigflower farm founder and bailiff Kenneth McKenzie and family in 1852.

McKenzie, as the university-educated son of a landowning surgeon, was a class apart from the other characters in this story, and as such was accepted by the Puget’s Sound Agricultural Company to manage one of their farms in the far off Vancouver Island colony.

The Colonial Impulse

When the British lost control of the Oregon Territories to the United States in 1846, greater impetus was placed on securing the more northern colonies in British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The HBC acquired rights to the Vancouver Island colony in 1849 under the condition that it direct settlement of the colony. The PSAC, the HBC organ now concerned with colonization, set up four farms around Fort Victoria, at Craigflower, Constance Cove, Viewfield, and Colwood. The bailiff—or manager—of each farm was to receive all capital and equipment needed for the running of the farm, and was placed in the social position of master over his labourers, as per the Wakefield system. [more info]

Though the PSAC would equip McKenzie with the equipment and material needed for building a successful farm, the bailiff himself would have to ensure that he had the workers to do so. When they departed on August 20th, 1852 McKenzie was accompanied by his wife Agnes, his six children (two more would be born at Craigflower), three servant girls, and 22 men enlisted to work the PSAC farm. Many of these were joined by wives and children, and the total party comprised 73 individuals on the barque the Norman Morrison. [note]

Arrival at Vancouver's Island

The McKenzie family’s hope for a pleasant future during a long, rough and stormy voyage were somewhat dashed when they arrived in Victoria in January of 1853. According the reminiscences of Miss Wilhelmina ‘Goodie’ McKenzie, who was less than a year old on arrival in Victoria, the family history told of promises by the HBC that a large, comfortable house awaited them upon arrival. This was definitely not the case. Anyone who has spent a January in Victoria knows the cold-dampness prevalent to the city. Knowing this weather, it is perhaps easy to imagine the disappointment felt by the McKenzie family on realizing that, after a long, seasick voyage halfway around the world, they were to be temporarily housed in a draughty storehouse within the bastions of the young Fort Victoria.

According to Goodie McKenzie, her father was so outraged that he was ready to return to Scotland, but she suggested that his anger was tempered immediately as he was introduced to the proposed location of his PSAC farm. Located on what was once known as Maple Point on the Gorge Waterway and surrounded by oak, maple and fir trees, Miss McKenzie remembers that “the site they had chosen was so beautiful that my father’s resentment was appeased.” [note]

Work immediately began on temporary accommodations for the families at the site of the Craigflower farm, and the McKenzies moved into their first home there on April 1st, 1853.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Though McKenzie was—by some accounts—an adept manager and a shrewd entrepreneur, many problems plagued operations at Craigflower. By 1858 the farm had grown from simply an agricultural venture to one including a tile and brickworks, a limestone quarry and kiln, a sawmill, a blacksmith shop, a bakery, and a schoolhouse for the worker’s children. Reasons for this diversification were both due to the poor agricultural quality of the land at Craigflower, as well as the myriad of other opportunities in the area.

Having grown up on a farm, McKenzie was likely well aware of the poor agricultural quality of Craigflower, and his forays into other business ventures are strong evidence of this. His endeavours to supply the navy with biscuits, and his creation of brickworks and the limekiln facilities to make whitewash and plaster help to create a portrait of Kenneth McKenzie as a man who realized the limitations facing the PSAC venture and sought to improve conditions through diversification.

Yet labour issues were always a problem on the farm. The shortage of labour that led to the use of Royal Navy men and the employment of some of the neighbouring First Nations people—once feared by McKenzie—were part of a greater problem of labour on Vancouver Island that is partially revealed by the story of blacksmith Peter Bartleman.

The End of the McKenzie Era at Craigflower

Erratic management of the PSAC, and between the Vancouver Island colony farms made for poor overall performance of the agricultural venture. In an attempt to fix the situation McKenzie, judged the most experienced of the PSAC bailiffs, was appointed general supervisor of the area farms in order to unify efforts. This did not reverse the fortunes of the PSAC, plagued by both inexperienced farm managers occupying substandard agricultural lands. In 1866, McKenzie’s contract with the company expired, and the family moved to his own property at Lake Hill.

Though the agricultural venture of the Craigflower farm might have been a failure, it did fulfill its promise as a mechanism of settlement. The McKenzie venture alone brought 22 familes to the young colony, recreating social networks of the home country between organs of empire, and among the ordinary people who now called Vancouver Island home.

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