Daily Colonist, The Islander. (Date unknown )
Jean Thompson’s Craigflower.
By Gary Green.
On February 24, 1982 at 4 PM in the afternoon, Jean Thompson closed the door to Craigflower Manor for the last time ending a 20 year career as owner and curator after the provincial government took possession in 1967. It was two decades of deep personal involvement and love for an important part of Victoria history.
Craigflower, the prestigious Manor house on the bank of Portage Inlet, may have fell victim to the bulldozer had it not been for the stubbornness of Mrs. Thompson. Due to her valiant struggle and hard work Craigflower Manor stands representing the pioneer spirit of colonization of Vancouver Island by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company, subsidiary of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Of the four original farming communities, only Craigflower Manor remains to remind us of Victoria’s colonial grandeur.
Craigflower Manor was built by a hearty Scott, Kenneth McKenzie, and his fellow settlers during the years of 1854 and 1856. The design was after his former home of Rentonhall in Scotland which he and his family sold due to heavy debt. Craigflower would subdue the homesickness and take away the chill of a dreary West Coast climate in the land several thousand miles from his native homeland.
May 1, 1856, saw the McKenzie family moved into the home. His prediction at that time was at the regal Manor house would stand longer than any brick house of comparable design.
During the ensuing years Craigflower passed through many hands. It was a home for farmers, a girl’s camp, a clubhouse for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and part of a motel complex. The passing of a century was taking its toll on the Manor House. Pristine farmlands were now choked with service stations, hotels, and a drive in hamburger stand.
Jean Thompson first saw Craigflower Manor in November, 1961. Searching for a rustic home to purchase she was taken to Craigflower by a friend. It was love at first sight. To her amazement the door did not creak when swung open. Going from room to room her excitement grew. She knew that this was a home for her and that it needed a family to take the coldness away.
It was a persistent effort on her part but she was able to convince her husband Jerry that it was the home she wanted. Despite the protests, Jerry, Jean, and her two boys, David and Ian, were able to move into the Manor House on a 10 year lease with an option to buy.
The old saying that hard work makes easy chairs was soon to be applied by the Thompson family. Taking their life savings they set out on the mammoth task of restoring the Manor with the prospect of sharing it with fellow Victorians and visiting tourists. Whatever Jean could beg, borrow or con was utilized to outfit the Manor House. Hard work had brought the Thompson family closer together; Craigflower was taking possession of its occupants.
Six weeks after moving into the house the Thompson family was ready to open the doors to the public. Jean was able to speak on a local TV show and have brochures printed to inform the public about Craigflower.
Due to the tourist overload several rooms at Craigflower were set up to provide sleeping quarters. During the period of 1962 to 1965 the Thompson’s hosted many overnight guests. One stipulation however that was the rooms would have to be vacated before 9 o’clock in the morning as the Manor was open to show. Jean recalls the three young men visiting from the United States and indulged in the spirits, turning in at 3 o’clock in the morning. When she came to clear the room there was no response. The situation was quickly rectified by her entering the room hitting a pan with a wooden spoon. The young gentlemen made a quick exit holding their sore heads.
Providing overnight accommodation in a house of historical value does have its hazards. A family of five visited the manner and decided to stay overnight. Each member of the family weighed more than 200 pounds. During the night Jean was awakened by a loud crash. The following morning after the family had left, Jean located the origin of the disturbance. One of the old beds could not bear up to the weight of its occupants and had collapsed.
It is felt by many that every old home possesses a ghost which haunts during the late night hours. The Thompson’s began to feel the Craigflower was not to be the exception. During the night they often would be awakened to the sound of slamming doors and footsteps. It was soon realized that their ghost was a sleepwalking housekeeper. When she left the haunting and mysterious sounds went with her.
Christmas was always a favorite time at Craigflower Manor. A large tree filled the living room decorated with an assortment of homemade decorations. The arbutus staircase railing was wrapped in cedar and holly. Sitting before the crackling fire popping popcorn the thoughts of the Thompson’s wood drift over the past century to when the McKenzie family shared Christmas in a new land. Jean would cook supper over the large fireplace as was done in years past, the sound of Christmas carols drifting through the Manor House.
In 1963 the Manor was purchased by another motel owner. His thoughts were not in the preservation of the Manor of the value of the land on which it stood. An effort was made by him to break the lease with the Thompson’s and tear down the Manor House.
Jean took action immediately contacting representatives from the historic sites and archives. The government had passed legislation that they could override a person’s right to a historical site. Such was the case at Craigflower, the motel owner admitting defeat.
In 1965 the Thompson family was able to purchase Craigflower. At last the Manor House was safe. Soon after the purchase Jean and Jerry found that the expense of running the Manor was beyond their budget. Also they felt that a building of such historical importance should not be owned by one person. As a result, after two years of ownership they sold the Manor to the provincial government. In 1967 the Manor House changed hands and Craigflower belonged to the people of BC.
November 17, 1967 saw the last social functions to be held at Craigflower. In a home which hosted events in the company of Sir James Douglas, officers of the Royal Navy, and visiting dignitaries. The wedding reception of Jean’s youngest son David, and his wife Connie, was held. 40 guests attended bringing to a close another chapter in the history of Craigflower.
It was with a great deal of sadness that the Thompson’s moved from the Manor House in December, 1967. The best years of their lives had been spent in this home, yet it was more important that all people should enjoy the Manor House.
Jean was appointed curator of the Manor moving to a house close by. She could share the memories with others and all the historical information she had researched over the years. Craigflower Manor was restored by the provincial government under the direction of Peter Cotton a prominent Victoria architect, in 1969 to the period when it was occupied by the McKenzie family.
Surrounding land was purchased and the motel, service station, and hamburger stand were torn down giving the Manor House some breathing room. Today it stands at the corner of Craigflower and Admirals Road, the testimony to the pioneer spirit which made Victoria and of Jean Thompson whose hard work help preserve it for all peoples of BC.
Jean reflects the past 20 years at Craigflower as the most memorable of her life. She gives most of the credit to her husband Jerry who died three years ago. “It was his love and understanding which allowed me to work with this project.”
Jean’s hospitality has been shared with people around the world, her scrapbook full of hundreds of cards and letters. She has made history come alive with thousands of schoolchildren retelling the stories of the grand days at Craigflower.
Celebrities such as Susan Day, Vivian Vance, Fred McMurray and others have trod the halls of Craigflower listening to the joyful narrative of Jean.
Jean retires to other pursuits it she leaves behind Craigflower for all Victorians to enjoy as their heritage.