Comox Road, it should come as no great surprise, is a remnant of the old road from Nanaimo to the Comox Valley.
It's a road with two ends and one beginning. While one Comox Road ends at Machleary Street becoming Bowen Road, the second Comox Road runs side by side with the first Comox Road between Machleary Street and ends at Pine Street, one block further 'north' than the first Comox Road.
Are you as confused as I am? So, where does Comox Road begin? According to Nanaimo city hall, Comox Road starts at the apex of the curve which Front Street takes overlooking Swya-Lana Park. There, the road makes a sharp turn leading down towards the Foundry Pub, built on the site of the old Newcastle Hotel (1876). The road is built on the side of a cliff and was not an easy road to build at that time. Why it was built there is easy enough to explain.
Nanaimo was constructed on a narrow peninsula. Where Terminal Avenue now lies was once a tidal inlet. The only land access off the peninsula was at the north end of Front Street, leading down to a narrow stretch of land between the head water of the inlet and the Millstone River.
The original Comox Road, begun in 1862, was the start of a Vancouver Island road from Victoria northward to Comox. At best it was a wide trail or cattle road winding northward through the Cowichan Valley to Nanaimo and then to the Comox Valley.
It became an endless work in progress. Bridges washed out or burnt out, trees fell across the road, and mud and snow often made the passage impossible for horse-drawn wagons, carts or buggies. It must have seemed that only the desperate or foolhardy travelled on roads outside of towns.
Most sensible folk sailed up the coast in steamships stopping at "way ports" on the way up-island. It was farmers who wanted and needed the roads to haul their produce to markets in towns.
It's clear that the original Comox Road continued beyond Pine Street and crossed the Mill Steam (Millstone) Bridge following what is now Bowen Road northward.
Everything changed after 1869 when Robert Dunsmuir discovered his coal seam near Divers Lake. In quick time, Dunsmuir was able to open a highly successful mine and bring in a labour force requiring housing and feeding.
The town of Wellington was born. By 1872 people began to call these six miles of the Comox Road "The Wellington Road." What had been a nine foot wide road or trail through the woods now was a real thoroughfare for the coal miners of Wellington.
By 1876, the Wellington Road was "the only road in this district (Nanaimo) outside the city limits worth calling a road.. ." There was even a stage coach operated by a Mr. Wilson and later a Daily Mail Stage run by Joseph Ganner.
The six miles to Nanaimo proved taxing for the horses, requiring stop-overs to water and feed them. The passengers too, often miners, required similar services but wished stronger refreshments for thirsty throats.
Help arrived on June 10, 1879 with the establishment by George Mitchell of the Talbot Hotel next to the Millstone Bridge.
The hotel/saloon was later christened the Quarter Way in 1887 due to the fact that it lay one quarter of the way to Wellington and, permit me to say, still continues to this day to help thirsty travellers on their way to and from Wellington.
Dave Hobson is President of the Nanaimo Historical Society.
© Copyright 2013