Aerial view of Mr. Butcharts’ Sunken Gardens and Cement Works at Tod Inlet, Vancouver Island

Beyond the Gardens’ Wall

Background to the Project

Today when visitors cruise the sheltered waters of Tod Inlet, walk the tranquil trails of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, or view the floral landscapes at the world-famous Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, British Columbia, it is difficult for them to believe that this area was once the site of a major industrial activity. One hundred years ago Tod Inlet bustled with immigrant labourers, limestone quarrying, ships, loading docks, and cement production. The plant facilities of the Vancouver Portland Cement Company occupied the Inlet and the surrounding shores from 1904 to the 1920s. Part of the now-vanished community of Tod Inlet, over 200 immigrant workers from China and India laboured in the quarries and cement works, and lived in a shantytown, separated from their families by immigration restrictions imposed by the governments of the day.

All that is left of the community is a few crumbling foundations and scattered artifacts. Official records of the Chinese and Sikh workers at Tod Inlet, like those of so many early ethnic communities in B.C., are non-existent. The stories of the white workers at the cement plant, their community, and the history of the plant itself are a little better known. The old limestone quarry was transformed into the spectacular Sunken Garden of the world-famous Butchart Gardens. The community of Tod Inlet lasted into the 1950s, but the remnants of that industrial heritage are now virtually gone. With the designation of the Butchart Gardens as a National Historic Site there is now an opportunity to bring the story of these immigrants, and their contribution to the young nation of Canada, to the greater Canadian public.

The unknown story of immigrant workers from China and India is now being told for the first time through the medium of documentary film. The first film in the series, Searching for the Sikhs of Tod Inlet, tells the personal story of David Gray’s 40-year search for information about the immigrant Sikh workers of Tod Inlet. Funded by OMNI TV (Rogers Media) the hour-long film was screened on OMNI TV in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia in September 2010.

Beyond the Gardens’ Wall, the second film, focusses on both the Sikh and Chinese workers of Tod Inlet and the impact of the harsh immigration restrictions on their lives. The families of these Chinese and Sikh workers were actively prevented from joining them by the Canadian Government's “Head Tax” policy directed at the Chinese and the “Continuous Journey” restriction directed at East Indians.

Although the present focus of the project is on the documentary films, also in the works is a book about the community of Tod Inlet. Beyond the Gardens’ Wall, the book, will tell the whole story of the cement plant, the people of Tod Inlet, their community and their impact on the development of the Butchart Gardens and the environment of Tod Inlet. Much of the book will be based on interviews with the pioneer families of Tod Inlet and their descendants, including the Tsartlip First Nations, the early pioneers and the Asian immigrants. It will be well illustrated with archival photos, as well as colour photos from the 1960s to the present. There will also be new maps and an extensive bibliography.

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