From Michael’s Homestead to present day Maartman’s Soggy Bottom Farm
Sooner or later in our lives, we all move. When we move, we take stock of the location and neighbourhood we are moving to, perhaps it is even more so when we buy a farm. We wonder/ask ourselves: “What was left natural? What was changed?” We learn that what we take over comes with a history of both the land and inhabitants. Walking back through time is a journey worth recording.
When I first drove down Michael Road l was struck by the beauty of the place. It borders on Michael Lake, a small lake that assures water for crops and animals, and a rock ridge runs parallel to the lake providing solid footing for a log cabin and barn. There is a nearby forest for building material, and a seasonal creek runs through the property.
The land, of course, has a history prior to the Michaels’ arrival – a history that shows up in different ways on the farm. Go down by the Hokkanen creek that runs through the property and dig past the deep top soil into the grey/blue clay and you will find bits of old sea shells that hint of long ago when the sea level was much higher. Then, when one considers that, for thousands of years, this land was part of the Stz’uminus traditional territory, it becomes quickly evident the history of this plot of land spans much further. There was a time when the forests were left untouched, and still today there are ancient maple trees, some 15 feet in circumference, and the towering Douglas firs that give a glimpse of the magnificence of an old growth forest.
With colonial settlement came rules on land ownership. For settlers arriving in the area in the later 1800s pre-emption was a method of acquiring provincial Crown land by claiming it for settlement and agricultural purposes. This was how the Michaels first homesteaded the property. The Michael farm was established in the 1880s when the land on the west side of Michael Lake, including a good portion of the Woodley Range, was pre-empted by Edwin Michael and his wife Alice. They settled there to raise their family. No doubt they appreciated the functionality of the property, as well as its aesthetics, since the location of the log cabin gave them a constant breeze and the best view of sunrise and sunset.
The Michaels “improved” their quarter section of land, and met pre-emption requirements, by building a home, barn, outbuildings and fencing. Most, if not all, of the building material came from the property. Today, old split cedar fence posts can still be found, some having been buried for decades under blackberry bushes. After 140 years two structures still stand – a 20 x 40 ‘loafing shed’ and a small shed that was used as a larder/root cellar.
In 1947 Fred Judson became the second owner of the property. He built the existing farmhouse and raised a large family. He was industrious and among many enterprises raised pigs, turkeys and beef. He was described by his late neighbour Irene Trudell as a helpful and knowledgeable neighbour – always there if you needed a hand, or advice. In recent years, the Judson family have come back to visit the place a few times. They speak of the sawmill at Michael Lake and logging trucks of wood being delivered from the area. Today some of these logs skirt the lakeside, some measuring more than 4 feet in diameter.
The locals of Ladysmith and Nanaimo remember the Judson farm as a place to rent horses. Many people have stopped by to tell me of the horses they rode up into Woodley range – and that, whether the rider wanted it or not, the horses turned and headed back to the barn when feeding time was near.
Fred Judson lived to over 100 years old. When I walk around the farm, I can see his legacy – the wide variety of trees: black walnut, crab-apples, black locust to name a few. I can see remains of an old trench across the lower field that was dug each year to encourage the lake to drain faster in aid of crop planting. This process goes on today. It was common back then to have a family landfill of refuse – picking through it I find that the leftovers of yesterday provide many treasures on the farm. Noteworthy, among all the metal and glass, there is not a single piece of plastic.
In the early 1970s the property was subdivided. The farm was reduced to about 34 acres, a large portion of it along Michael Lake. The remainder was subdivided into lots along Prospect Drive, some of which had lake access but not all. The farm was sold to Walter and Mary Brown who were passionate about Labrador dogs. The low wetlands that flooded each year became the perfect place to raise and train their dogs. While they continued to farm and raise beef, their place became best known as Casa Del Ora Kennels. The Brown’s had great success in breeding and showing their dogs. There were many years in the 1990s that their dogs were national champions, and were highly desired as family pets.
Over the years, the Browns replaced the old barn, built the dog kennel, stables, and a large shop. These are the structures that exist today. They had an eye for building things that would last – and there are examples of their handiwork all over the farm: metal gates, latches, fences.
While Walter Brown passed away a few years ago, Mary Brown and her son Kurt still live nearby, daughter Kathy lives in Sooke with her husband. People still contact us asking about the Browns and if there are any more of their dogs available.
Today, the Michael/Judson/Brown Farm is now Maartman’s Soggy Bottom Farm and home to Michael Lake Kennels. When my wife, Jan, and I moved to Yellow Point in 2005, we were invited by our neighbour Irene Trudell for a come-as-you-are potluck dinner. We thought this was a nice gesture and were surprised to show up to a house full of people who lived on Michael Road. We were being welcomed and checked out all at the same time. I was later told their thoughts were: “Hmmm, the wife is a teacher – high school counsellor – we have a teacher already. But she’s wearing bib jean overalls – probably ok. Oh, he’s a paramedic; that’s useful. We could use one of those. He wears jeans too.”
I have since learned that everyone is welcomed into the “Michael Road” community. Being down-to-earth and practical skills are valued. But what had most value to me, a newcomer, was being welcomed into a community. It was such a fantastic feeling and reminded me of my childhood days in Errington. Neighbours were there to help one another, share what they had, and look for ways to help.
Fifteen years later the tradition continues, and the neighbours are all there for each other. Community is a shared experience – one that needs to be nurtured and cherished. Sustaining it takes dedication and action. We make it fun – early access to the blueberries, an annual pumpkin growing contest, and hot dog roasts as frequently as possible.
Today, when people drive down Michael Road they speak of the beauty of the place. I smile, as I think of my first impression. There is a greater beauty here, that of community. We are truly blessed by those who cared for the land before us and our neighbours.
Thanks to Jack Judson for his input and the photos of the farm.
Please send me your stories of Area H. I would love to share them.