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The Beginning: COOMBS and the E&N Railway

Com. Thomas Coombs and wife c.1900.jpg

Around 1905  James Dunsmuir, son of Vancouver Island Coal Baron, Robert Dunsmuir, sold the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railroad ( E & N)   to the Canadian Pacific Railway (C P R), who extended the line to Parksville, Alberni Valley (by 1911),  Qualicum ( by 1914),  Courtenay and  also out to Lake Cowichan.

General William Booth who created the Salvation Army in Britain in 1875 recognized the need to help the people living in seriously poor conditions in the over- crowded industrial cities of his country.  This religious group relocated many people to Canada and other parts of the world. The CPR, wanting settlers living along their newly created railroad lines on Vancouver Island, offered land to General Booth- a straight tract of a mile in length east of the French Creek, and adjacent to the new rail line .

Walter Ford (of Ford logging) from Duncan, was engaged to prepare the properties  in anticipation of the families coming from England. A group of 50  Sikhs who left the  Beban/Cumberland coalfields were hired to fell  the giant trees in the railway’s proposed roadbed, and to clear land for the colony houses. On each of the twelve 22 acre properties, they cleared and stumped 2.5 acres, built houses and out houses, planted fruit trees, and dug wells.


In 1910 a handful of families from Britain settled in the Coombs’ Salvation  Army Colony under the leadership of Salvation Army Ensign Crego, who was trained in farming skills. Coombs was unique as it was the only settlement originating as a new town, a Salvation Army Colony, being named after Commissioner Thomas Bales Coombs who, at that time, was the retiring chief commander of the Salvation Army network in Canada.

In this same time frame, the CPR created the attraction of the Mt. Arrowsmith Trail and the 10 bedroom Cameron Lake Chalet beside the rail line at Cameron Lake offering a serene holiday spot for visitors coming up the line from Victoria. The railway played a key role for the Vancouver Island residents. Until the rails had been laid, horse and buggy were the main source of transportation. The railway line also provided much needed employment  and connected communities.On Vancouver Island , at its peak, the railway had 45 stations on the main line ( Victoria to Courtenay)  8 on the Port  Alberni line, and 3 stations on the Cowichan line.

The Ford Log house in Coombs was built around 1908, the Coombs  General  Store opened in 1911,  French Creek School opened in August 1912 as the first government built  school in the district through the request of the Coombs’ Salvation Army Colony, and the Coombs Fair had its official origins in 1913.


Ford Log House built around 1908

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Coombs General Store - opened in 1911

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E&N Railway - "Click on map for larger map"

William Booth S.A. founder& Thomas Coomb

Salvation Army General William Booth

and Commissioner Thomas Coombs

Salvation Army Commissioner Thomas

Coombs and wife Nellie (Cope) Coombs

Cameron Lake Chalet 1912

French Creek School opened in 1912

Information provided by Sharon Cox-Gustavson, B Ed.,

On Sept. 18, 2019
Sharon grew up in Coombs, is a retired teacher, and was curator of The  Coombs Centennial Museum 2011-2013....

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