108 History Quiz #17

Do you know the story of our Clydesdale Barn at the Heritage Site?


There is nothing normal about the Watson Clydesdale barn at our Heritage site, nor about Captain Geoffrey Lancelot Watson, the legendary man who had it built. He was a British Army Officer who had business holdings on Vancouver Island, but he fell in love with the Cariboo. He probably had family money from England.  He was also a shrewd businessman and to the locals, seemed quite eccentric. He was more of an adventurer than a gold seeker and he may have seen himself as a bit of a swashbuckler. He was a tall 6’6″ bachelor, skillful with both guns and horses who could afford to indulge his hobbies. (See Watson Mansion Question # 1).  For example, in about 1907, he purchased one of the first Detroit Cadillacs (for about $850) from Begg Motors in Vancouver and had it shipped to the 108. The story goes that when he got it running, he would drive up Walker Valley and roar out from behind trees and surprise his cowhands who were tending his cattle. He had about 10,000 head at that time, but his big love was horses. He owned polo ponies, sulky horses, and purebred Clydesdale, among others. Some reports say that he had up to 100 Clydesdales, some of which had won awards, ribbons etc. That number seems a lot, no matter, a huge barn was needed and the Watson barn, with 10 double stalls on each side of a corridor was built in 1908 and remains to this day as one of the biggest log barns in Canada. 

After Captain Watson departed during the First World War the Clydesdale barn started to deteriorate from lack of use and repair. Fast forward to 1979, when Block Bros transferred the 7 acre Heritage Site to the Historical Society for $1. The dedication and enthusiasm of that group sought out the necessary funding and grants to have the building restored. In 1988, with money in place, they were able to hire local 108 log home builder Dennis Wick to undertake the restoration project. The building, (160 ft. x 40 ft.) had settled badly, about 40 inches and the bottom 5 feet of logs were rotten and needed replacing. Parts of the roof were missing or had caved in. To begin with Wick and his assistant Kai Remstead had to make the building safe to work in, so they removed the roof and with jacks started to lift the building, inserting hundreds of railway ties.  Many of the original fir logs and beams needed replacement and in the end about three logging truck loads of weathered spruce logs were used where needed. It was tense work at times and every effort was made to preserve the historical integrity of the original barn, including the use of the original materials. As Wick pointed out on completion in 1991, he certainly had a new respect and appreciation for the workmanship, techniques, and dedication of the men who built the original Watson Clydesdale Barn.