Been there... well.. maybe once or twice....

Langford history, on Ma Miller time

Published: December 15, 2009 1:00 PM
Updated: December 15, 2009 3:28 PM

It’s been a country getaway for Victoria socialites, a beer parlour for lumberjacks and a quaint neighborhood tavern.

The site of Ma Miller’s pub has been a fixture and reference point in Langford for more than 100 years, and its history isn’t finished yet. After his long tenure with Western Speedway, Coun. Matt Sahlstrom has taken the reins of one of Langford’s rare, if unofficial, heritage sites.

Sahlstrom said owning the pub is a dream come true. He plans to give the pub a facelift and a few upgrades, while maintaining its heritage character. He plans to call it Fat Matt’s at Ma Millers.

“You’ve got to be careful. There’s a line you can’t cross,” Sahlstrom said. “You can’t take the history away from the place.”

Tony and Cindy Piga own the building and have leased the pub to Sahlstrom after running it for 18 years. There’s a lot of regulars that have stayed loyal over the years, and a number of owners that have put their own stamp on the pub, they said.

“There’s a lot of history here. A lot of people had their first beer here, or at least their first legal beer,” Cindy said.

One of their favourite stories is about a 80-year-old woman who came into the pub and asked if she was still banned. “The last time she was in was on VE Day,” Cindy said laughing, referencing May 8, 1945, the end of the Second World War in Europe. “She was dancing on the tables and Ma Miller threw her out. There’s a lot of stories like that.”

The building is old enough and has enough odd happenings to hold a few ghosts too, the Pigas say. “Some say it’s haunted with a resident ghost,” Cindy said. “There’s been some good ghosts stories over the years.”

The building isn’t an official heritage site, but it’s listed in City of Langford’s heritage inventory and gets a few mentions in Maureen Duffus’s book, Old Langford an Illustrated History from 1850 to 1950.

The site held a coach house on the rutted, rocky wagon road that was the Island highway. An Irish entrepreneur named James Phair built the Goldstream Hotel in 1886 once he knew the route of the E&N railway. The train delivered hundreds of well-to-do day-trippers for picnics and hunting in the countryside.

“It was a fantastic country resort for people from the city. It was a destination,” Duffus said. “Well dressed ladies got all dolled up, got on that miserable train and arrived all sooty. It was the posh thing to do.”

William and Mary “Ma” Miller bought the hotel in 1910, which burned to the ground in 1923. She built the Goldstream Inn near the original site and controversially opened up a beer parlor in 1930.

Prohibitionist leagues objected to her parlour as “a menace to the welfare of the people.” Logging companies objected that beer would be an irresistible temptation for their employees.

“The (logging association) objected in the interest of accident prevention,” Duffus said.

Despite vocal opposition, Ma Miller got her liquor license and the location has slung brews for 80 years and counting. An oft repeated rumour is that Ma Miller’s has the longest continual liquor license in B.C., but Duffus said that’s not true. Several other old pubs in Greater Victoria claim the same honour.

Once squarely in the backcountry and once a somewhat unsavoury joint for lumberjacks, the city and suburban neighbourhoods have caught up with Ma Millers.

“It was a beer parlour before it was a respectable neighbourhood pub,” Duffus said. “But it certainly is an iconic Langford place.”