Visitors to the Sooke Region Museum sometimes take in a tour of Moss Cottage, built around 1870, the oldest standing building west of Victoria.
Though its history had begun earlier, the society decided, when we moved the venerable dilapidated building from its site on West Coast Road (near the Baptist church) to the museum grounds, to restore the interior to the 1902 time period.
At Christmas time in particular, a Moss Cottage tour will feature not only the house’s chatelaine, Aunt Tilly Gordon, but her six-year-old daughter Alice, in a period frock with pinafore. Little Alice and her brother Harry grew up in Moss Cottage, and are an important part of our pioneer history.
Matilda Muir Gordon and her husband Jack Gordon had been living with her family at Burnside, on Maple Avenue, where Jack worked on the family farm started by her father, Michael Muir. In those days, tuberculosis, or consumption as they generally called it, took a heavy toll of life in the Canadian west, and Jack Gordon contracted the illness.
In 1901, when Matilda suffered the loss of her husband, Burnside Farm itself changed hands as well and it was necessary for Matilda to move into the four-room cottage standing on neighbouring land, along with her two little ones.
Alice and Harry grew up surrounded by Muir and Welsh relatives as neighbours, and walked to attend Sooke School (on the present location of Sooke Elementary).
To make ends meet, the frugal Aunt Tilly took in boarders, a boy and five sisters in the Ross family of Goldstream, in order for the Ross children to be able to attend school.
Alice helped out with household chores of course, and also helped on the neighbouring John Muir farm of Woodside. She grew up to marry a young man from Victoria, Jack Patterson. During the First World War, younger brother Harry served overseas in France, where he was lost on the battlefields, and is now remembered on the War Memorial at Sooke’s Cenotaph.
With her son gone and her daughter married in Victoria, Matilda Gordon also moved into Victoria for her senior years. Along with grown up daughter Alice and Alice’s husband Jack, though, the pioneer family continued to come out to visit at Sooke when they could.
Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.