For a quarter of a century, the wood-burning steam ‘locies’ of the ‘Cordwood Limited’ hauled trains throughout the Saanich Peninsula. From 1894 to1919, the Victoria and Sidney Railway was vital to the growth of sawmilling and agriculture communities in Saanich. Today much of the line’s abandoned grade has disappeared into an expanding highway system.
Before the creation of the Victoria and Sidney Railway, farmers had to haul their produce from Sidney to Victoria by oxen down a muddy wagon road. In 1874 an application was made for a charter to build a railway. Behind this project was Robert Irving along with Julius and Henry Brethour, whose Saanich farm was producing 4000 bushels of wheat and peas. The charter was granted in 1891 and the railway was opened in 1894.
There were many tales told about the casual method of its operation. It was not unusual for male passengers to dismount at Royal Oak, grab a quick pint at the pub, and race across the field to jump back on board as the train slowly climbed the hill. Stops were made between stations to pick up farmers’ wives going into Victoria with fresh eggs and butter. Trains rarely ran on time, sometimes backed a freight car off the wharf at Sidney, hit a team of horses, or derailed a coach, leaving the passengers to walk to town. Yet for 25 years, the Victoria and Sidney Railway was a main link not only between Victoria and Saanich but Victoria and New Westminster, as there was a connection at Sidney with the ferry, S.S. Victoria, which brought cars and passengers from the mainland.
Originally the Victoria terminal for the V & S was near Hillside Avenue, but in 1902 an extension was completed south along what is now Blanshard Street, then west along Fisgard Street to the Victoria Public Market building (situated on the 600-block between Fisgard and Cormorant streets, where the Fisgard Street Parkade is now). This location proved troublesome, partly because the steam locomtiives had to travel right down the middle of Fisgard Street, and in 1910 the station was moved two blocks to the east, to the northwestern corner of Blanshard and Fisgard streets.
In 1913, the B.C. Electric Interurban Railway started service between Victoria & Deep Cove. Two years later the Canadian Northern Pacific (later Canadian National) began a line to Patricia Bay. Too much competition forced the “V and S” Railway to abandon operations in 1919. Much of the original right of way has been obliterated by roads and other developments, but a section still exists along the west side of Beaver and Elk lakes and is a popular trail maintained by CRD Parks.
Darryl E. Muralt, The Victoria and Sidney Railway, 1892-1919, BC Railway Historical Association, 1992.