The Salvation Army Colony
Written by Kerry Parker (8 February 2005)
I attended a meeting of the Parksville Historical Society to listen to the lecture on the “Coombs Colony” given by Sharon Cox- Gustavson and Marlene Stahley. Here are some notes from that lecture.
The 12 Salvation Army Colony Families
A Chance meeting with Bert Topliffe
by Kerry Parker
The Coombs Colony was established by the Salvation Army, who helped families with no future in England immigrate to places throughout Canada, USA, Africa, Australia. The Salvation Army had sent ahead one of their members, Ensign Ariel Crego to work with Walter Ford and brother-in-law John West and oversee the preparation of the Coombs Colony. Mr. Ford and Mr. West along with 50 East Indian helpers were to clear land in preparation for these settlers. This was around 1909. Each settler was able to purchase on terms the SA 20 acres. These 20 acres were to have 5 acres cleared, another 5 acres partially cleared and 10 acres treed. These 20 acre parcels were on the mountain-side of the straight stretch from Station Road in Coombs to almost Errington Road. “Coombs” received its name from one of the early prominent Salvationists. It is not known if Mr. Coombs ever did see the area.
The land was cleared and the settlers arrived. The first two settlers were the Foster family who took Lot #1 and the John William Parker family who took Lot #2. This was July of 1910. The Esquimalt to Nanaimo railway stopped at McBride (Parksville). The Canadian Pacific Railway was busy building lodges (like Banff lodge) and wanted to construct a lodge at Cameron Lake. The railway linked the railway from Parksville to Cameron Lake and then on to Alberni. A lot of the settlers along with the East Indian men worked under the guidance of Mr. Ford and Mr. West in logging the area to build the railway. John William Parker was one of those men. In addition, a thriving sawmill called the Virginia Sawmill was operated in the area of what is now known as Virginia Estates.
A lot of the original buildings can still be seen in Coombs. The little house at the corner of Station Road and the Coombs highway was the original Salvation Army Church and was built in 1912. The Coombs General Store was owned and operated by Walter Ford and his 3 story home is located across the street. The old Coombs Bakery was once another grocery store owned and operated by Mr. Ford’s daughter and son-in-law. The West family owned a large home behind the Coombs Market. The French Creek School still stands in the original place. Some of the original teachers were: 1911 Mabel West Mottishaw, Lizzie Houssan, Zina Wilson West, 1912 Miss McLean and Elizabeth Mitchell Kinkade, 1913 C. L. Walters, Kate Frances Ede and Clara Ruth (May) Jones, 1925 Millicent Marshall and in 1943 a Miss Dick (daughter of Archibald Dick, mine manager in Nanaimo). You can see some of the old names repeating themselves. The West mentioned were daughters and daughters-in-law of Mr. John West.