Dr. Richard Stoker and his wife Susan first arrived at the lake at the turn of the century and found a valley rich in wildflowers. They had lived in India, where Dr. Stoker was a Lt. Col. in the Indian Army. It was there that they developed their love of flowers and plants.
As amateur botanists, Mr. Stoker collected native botanical plants from Asia and Mrs. Stoker propagated and cataloged them. She also did water colour paintings. Their house and 25 acres of land sat on Marble Bay, across from Honeymoon Bay.
The Stokers built their garden behind the house with the help of Chinese workmen. It was a subtle blending of all types of foliage and bloom. Vegetables, herbs, berries, and tree fruits supplies the kitchen. Rhododendrons flourished and a natural hollow filled with piped-in lake water provided an appropriate environment for native water-loving plants. Surrounding this was heather and a small formal garden filled with tulips and lily of the valley. Pathways climbed through a series of terraces that held native plants.
Mr. George Buchanan Simpson and his wife Jeanne Suzeanne (Susie) first came to the lake in 1912 and camped in the area, living in tents and houseboats. In 1924 they bought a parcel of land from Dr. Stoker. From 1921 to 1927 Mr. Simpson was game warden for the lake area, with a special assignment to look after the Shaw Creek Game Reserve. Both of them had a keen interest in the area and carved out a beautiful garden. It blended wild with the cultivated. Shrubs and flowers from every part of the world nestled beside native alpine and rock plants. South American vines and wild geraniums intermingled.
During the 1920’s and early 30’s the Simpsons had helped the Stokers develop their gardens. In 1931 Dr. Stoker died and Mrs. Stoker, disgusted with the devastation made by the logging companies, left the lake. In time the Simpsons bought the Stoker Estate, which had been neglected by it’s new owners and worked at restoring it. Over the next 20 years the garden grew to 350 plants, including 200 varieties of rhododendrons, many of them species.
Mr. Simpson died in 1958 and his wife continued to live on the estate. In 1966 she realized that she could no longer care for her gardens. She offered the estate to the University of Victoria, with some very strict regulations. She would be allowed to live there as long as she was able. She demanded that she receive no publicity and stipulated that the property be used as a ground unit for scientific observation and study. She arranged for the bulk of the exotic plants to be moved to the grounds of the university. Mrs. Simpson died in 1973 at the age of 87.
In 1976 the official opening of the Jeanne S. Simpson Field Studies Resource Centre of the University of Victoria at Lake Cowichan occurred.
-Courtesy of Kaatza Station Museum and Archives