You may have heard the news last week that the oldest pub in England was closing its doors. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St. Albans has been in business since 793 AD, making the pub over 1,200 years old. Unfortunately, due to financial hardships from the pandemic, the pub has been forced to close.
Which got us thinking, how many people are aware of the oldest pub in BC?
The Six Mile Pub, located just outside Victoria has stood the test of time since 1855. While it can’t boast over a thousand years of history, it does have some stories of its own to tell.
The Six Mile Story begins in 1848 with millwright John Fenton, who built a saw-mill on the site owned by the Hudson Bay Company. The first lumber sawn was used in a barn at the North Dairy Farm. It was also from here that the first export of lumber went to California. It consisted of 8,000 board feet and the price was $80 per 1000 board feet.
The following year Fenton was lured to California by tales of gold. Bill Parsons, formerly a London Bobby, replaced Fenton and he built a bridge over Millstream which in the 1863 gold rush provided access to the Sooke and Leech River areas. He also completed a 40 by 60 ft. grist mill and operated it until the winter of 1854/55 when a flash flood damaged the mill beyond economical repair.
In 1855, Parsons bought 40 acres of land from the Hudson Bay Company and built Parsons Bridge Hotel. The Parsons ran the rambling wooden hotel with its perimeter veranda for a number of years. It apparently opened in 1855 but Parsons didn’t purchase his “country retail license” until the next year (perhaps encouraged to do so after paying a fine of two pounds 10). This made official what is the oldest pub in B.C. still operating today.
The hotel became a handy port of call for British sailors who filled the ships’ water barrels at the mouth of Mill-stream. The tap room rang with laughter and shouts of British tars from Esquimalt naval base established in 1864; there is talk it used to be the headquarters for rum-running at a later date. The Six Mile was the hub of the small community and was used as a postal address by those close by when the stage coaches began to run in the 1880’s.
About the turn of the century there was a fire at the Six Mile House and the present square two story section was built as an addition to the original structure. No one knows how many times the “House” has changed hands but one of the most colourful was surely Jim Price who owned it during the prohibition. Though officially closed, the hotel continued to be a meeting place for many locals, who met to talk politics and drink.
Before Six Mile House was reopened as a pub after prohibition in about 1924, there was a major fixing-up. Liquor laws at that time were very strict. They forbade food in bars, made sitting while drinking a firm rule, and made beer the pub’s sole offering. The fact that neighbouring municipalities including Victoria was still ‘dry’ contributed to good business for the Six Mile for many years. Plebiscites were held after prohibition but Esquimalt was the only area to bring back licensed establishments. Victoria stayed ‘dry’ until 1952. Jim Price retired from Six Mile House in 1931 and sold it to the founder of Silver Springs Brewery.
During the war, beer was rationed and waiters were Kings. They paid for the beer at the bar, then sold it at the tables with the best tippers. Pubs opened at staggered hours and went until the beer ran out. Competition for the foamy brew was stiff and waiters served the most lucrative tables. After the war, things boomed locally which might explain the next glut of buying and selling. Before 1950 the Six Mile changed hands five more times.
During all this time the Six Mile continued to be a “neighbourhood” pub. Wednesday afternoons were especially busy as Victoria stores closed then.
By 2002, the Pub was purchased by the current owners who spared no expense restoring her to her former glory and to continue her tradition as a pioneer, and the heart of this close-knit community. As the “Living Room” and the “Dining Room” of the community, the Six Mile Pub has her reputation firmly rooted in the quality of her products and services.