– Story by Pieta Vandyke Photography by Don Denton
From farming to the gold fields, from cattle ranching to The Great War and from fish canning and now to yoga, the adventures of a Saanich Peninsula pioneering family — the Brethours — are interwoven with the history of the area itself.
And for descendent Jennifer Rausch, who was born and raised here, and who is now the owner of a new yoga studio in Sidney, a strong connection to the Brethour family is all she’s ever known.
The Brethour family arrived from San Francisco on the steamer Prince Alfred, disembarking in Victoria on April 10, 1873. There were 11 in the party as Samuel and Margaret Brethour brought with them six sons and three daughters, ranging in age from less than four (Georgina) to 26 (John).
But the Brethour family’s around-the-world journey started much earlier, in 1709, when a group of Huguenots living on the banks of the Rhine River followed an arrangement by the British government to escape to America. But their vessel was wrecked at the mouth of the River Shannon in Ireland, and they remained in County Limerick for over a century. Samuel Brethour was born in Ireland and, in 1834, his family set off for America. They eventually reached Montreal and settled in Upper Canada, in County York, near Lake Simcoe. He married Margaret St. John and they lived on the farm for 29 years, before they got on a train for San Francisco and later travelled to Canada’s West Coast.
Upon the family’s arrival on the Peninsula, Samuel bought 500 acres that stretched from what is now Ocean Avenue to Mills Road and from East Saanich (MacDonald Park) Road to the sea. The land was purchased from Alexander Munro of the Hudson’s Bay Company and James Menagh.
In the first year, the menfolk slashed and burned 60 acres, ploughed 40 acres with a yoke of oxen and threshed 1,800 bushels of grain. The family home became the site for Methodist church services and Sunday school, until a school was built on Wain’s Cross Road. Samuel Brethour senior lived only four years after settling here and was the first to be buried in the Brethour Family cemetery on Canora Road in Sidney. Margaret caught pneumonia while nursing her youngest son, Phillip, who had typhoid fever, and both mother and son died within three days of each other.
Going to the Sidney Museum to research the Brethour family, I was barely inside the door when my eye was caught by the story of “Old Katie,” who was the wife of Chief Jim of the W̱SÁNEĆ people. Katie was present when the Douglas Treaty was signed at Deep Cove. She made regular visits to the home of Julius Brethour, son of Samuel and Margaret, opening the back door and sitting down to have lunch. Then, according to author P. Grant in The Story of Sidney, she and Julius would settle in for a chin-wag in Chinook, the coastal trading language. Clearly the Brethours developed friendly relations with the Indigenous people of the area.
In 1891, four of the Brethour brothers incorporated their waterfront land and registered the village of Sidney, naming it for the island immediately to the east of it. The Brethours operated a lumber mill that made railroad ties for the Victoria and Sidney Railway, as well as a canning plant — canning clams and later processing fruit. They also donated land for the Sidney Roofing Company.
Samuel and Margaret’s eldest child, William, lived with the family until he and his cousin decided to try their fortunes as homesteaders in Kansas. He married a widow and they became successful cattle ranchers.
Their son, Henry Brethour, the first teacher at an early Peninsula school, was a member of the school board when the famous General Sir Arthur Currie was appointed as a teacher. Henry served several terms as councillor for the Municipality of North Saanich. His brother John Stanley Brethour ran a successful contracting business in Vancouver. A sister, Marjory May, graduated in nursing from Royal Jubilee Hospital and was active with the Rebekah Lodge and the Pythian Sisters. Brother Phillip served in the First World War and then came back to settle on the family farm. He received many trophies and awards for fruit and flowers at the annual fall fair. Samuel Junior, the Brethour’s seventh child, lived on East Saanich Road for 68 years.
Son Wesley — the great grandfather of Jennifer Rausch — also served in the Great War and then took up the study of mining engineering. He lost his life on the Atlin Trail near Carcross in the Yukon. The youngest surviving son, Raymond Julius Brethour, followed a career as a commercial artist in Ohio, Seattle and New Zealand.
A more recent and well-recognized member of the family, Moran Brethour, was born only 21 years after the town of Sidney was established. He was integrally involved in the development of Sidney as we know it today, having worked at the cannery and the lumberyard and then having assisted in the construction of the original Pat Bay Airport buildings. He later worked on the John Hart Hydro project and various other sawmills. Among other accomplishments, he wrote a Brethour family history. On the 100th anniversary of the founding of the town of Sidney, Moran was made Citizen of the Century in recognition of his long-standing contribution to the recording and preservation of the local history.
Now, several generations later, Jennifer, her kids, brother, sister and many of her cousins are very active in the fishing and boating community. They all love the ocean and spend much of their free time boating. An uncle, brother and a couple of cousins are still in the commercial fishing business.
Jennifer, the latest member of the family to embark on a new business — Sitka Yoga + Pilates — was 15 when her grandmother Catherine Jessie Brethour Campbell (daughter of Wesley and Jessie Brethour) passed away.
“She was 95, so pretty old already when I was a kid. I only have faint memories of visiting her in her condo across from Tulista Park,” recalls Jennifer. “Her son, my granddad, Mervyn Campbell (Brethour) and I were very close my entire life. He passed away from cancer in 2011 and we buried him at the Brethour cemetery. He was an old fisherman and quite the character.”
Jennifer adds: “Our family truly is a west coast family. When naming my yoga studio I wanted a west coast name and feeling incorporated into the studio. Several family members hiked the West Coast Trail a couple years ago, and this is is where I took the beautiful picture of a grove of trees that is hanging up in my studio.”
Sitka Yoga (sitkayoga.ca) is located at 9819 Fifth Street, above Boondocks. P
Many thanks to Alyssa Gerwing and the Sidney Museum for providing access to the files.