Shawnigan Lake Museum


Filled out 60%


+1 250-743-8675
Box 331, 1775 Shawnigan-Mill Bay Rd, Shawnigan Lake, BC V0R 2W0, Canada



Branches and Fallen Leaves (6th printing in 2009) – another, to provide a home for the collection of memorabilia that had been preserved by the local trustees of the village-owned library - in other words, to establish a museum.

For six years, the Society was without a permanent base. Volunteers collected artifacts and archival material; registrars and curators documented and catalogued the items. The Society held open houses; arranged interesting and informative speakers; sent representatives to seminars and conventions; interviewed and recorded old-timers; arranged field trips; and paid visits to local schools. Time well spent – they were learning how to run a museum. In 1983, the preparation was put to good use when a suitable space became available in the village. The old Firehall (c1950) became the new home of the Shawnigan Lake Museum.

The collection has grown; the building has been modified; and many dedicated volunteers have come and gone. The original purpose is still the same: to preserve and celebrate the history of Shawnigan Lake; and to provide a permanent repository for information, records and objects of historical and cultural value associated with the area. A local museum is a resource for the benefit of both the community, and visitors. On behalf of the community, we continue to receive a steady stream of donations of artifacts, written material and photos. With these generous donations, the story of Shawnigan Lake continues to develop.

You can see an elaborate light fixture that once hung in the lobby of the Strathcona Hotel (c 1900); hear the unique sound of a gramophone; tap out a message on the telegraph keys; learn about the early settlers, and enjoy the ambience of an old-time theatre while watching slideshows.  The displays, which strive to highlight the social, industrial and recreational aspects of the area, continue to evolve and change. We invite the community and visitors to enjoy the museum – and, bring your friends and family.

The first known visitors to Shawnigan Lake hunted and fished near the lake but never settled permanently. Arrowheads and small Native artifacts have been found around the lake providing material evidence of their activity in the area. The East Shawnigan Lake Road, which was part of the Goldstream Trail (built in 1862), is based on a much older Native trading route.  

Late in the 19th century, homesteaders were encouraged by the Government to settle in the Cowichan Valley. Only a few hardy settlers made their way toward Shawnigan Lake. Then, in 1885, a year before the E & N rail line was complete, Charlie Morton built a hotel on the waterfront at Shawnigan Lake.

The E & N rail line was instrumental in the development of the community of Shawnigan Lake. By 1890, a sawmill on the lakeshore, and logging operations around the lake attracted workers from India, China, Japan and other countries. Many of these workers had come to British Columbia to build the railroad and, with that done, turned their efforts to sawmilling and logging. The Shawnigan Lake Lumber Company was an integrated company that owned its timber, and the mill which processed it. The E&N Railway was used to transport the dressed lumber to markets.

By 1900, a second large hotel, Strathcona Lodge, was in operation on the lake. Both of the Shawnigan Lake hotels relied on the railroad to bring hundreds of people, from Victoria, every weekend. The lake became a popular resort destination.

The area also attracted a large group of upper-class British Colonels who had served in India and China, for the British Army. They chose to settle at Shawnigan Lake, on their retirement, rather than returning to Britain. According to the 1901 census, Shawnigan Lake had a permanent population of 265 people at the time.

The sawmill, and the logging activities, played a significant role in the economic development at Shawnigan Lake. Many employees chose to buy property, marry and raise their families in the area. It was a tough blow to the community and the local economy when the sawmill burned down for the third time, in the mid 1940s, and was not replaced.

Private Schools also attracted people to Shawnigan Lake and continue to provide employment. Since 1916, Shawnigan’s many well-respected boarding schools have brought students and educators to the area. The clean air at Shawnigan Lake with its purported health benefits was one reason that parents chose the schools here. Many properties around the lake were also bought based on the same premise. Shawnigan Lake was known as a recuperative place for health issues.

The Malahat Drive portion of the Trans Canada Highway, built in 1911, improved access to Shawnigan Lake. However, the train continued to be the important transportation link until well into the 1930s as most people did not own automobiles.  The Malahat Drive, which was

Shawnigan Lake has had a small, but permanent, population since the turn of the 20th century and the community has always been strong and vibrant. A 1960s and 1970s residential housing boom made the Cowichan Valley one of Canada’s fastest growing areas, and Shawnigan Lake felt the impact with a large influx of residents. Since that time, many summer homes have been transformed into permanent residences.

Shawnigan Lake’s proximity to urban centres and amenities continues to attract residents seeking a mild climate and semi-rural lifestyle. Now, with a population of just over 8000, and rampant residential development in the area, the community of Shawnigan Lake is poised for yet another major growth spurt.

Stop by the Museum on your way to/from the Kinsol Trestle. We have two scale models: one 3 foot and one 10 foot! There are also historical and restoration videos of the Trestle for your enjoyment.

In 1883, the British Columbia Government appealed to Robert Dunsmuir to build a railway between Esquimalt and Nanaimo. In return, Dunsmuir received a substantial amount of money and a land grant that amounted to 20% of the land on Vancouver Island. The project took 3 ½ years. The 72 miles of track, which was laid starting from both ends, met at Mile 25 (Cliffside, Shawnigan Lake). In 1886, the inaugural train left Esquimalt with Robert Dunsmuir, Sir John A. MacDonald, their wives and other dignitaries. At Cliffside, Sir John ceremoniously placed the last spike. He used a silver hammer and pounded a gold spike. A cairn was built at the site to commemorate the event.  In 1986, the 100th anniversary of the E & N was celebrated with a second plaque. The original cairn and two plaques can be seen after a short hike north along the rails from Cliffside Road.