Learning and Growing in the Cowichan Valley

By Enise Olding

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The Cowichan Valley with its lush countryside, abundance of agriculture, mountains, lakes and seashore was for Alison Philp, Dave Stanley and Marsha Stanley the stage upon which their childhoods were played.

While Dave was born in Duncan, Alison moved there when she was four years old, and Marsha when she was six. The start of which was to become a lifelong friendship began when Alison and Marsha went to Bench Elementary School, albeit they were in different classrooms. Later, they had several classes together at George Bonner School, and eventually Cowichan High School from which they graduated in the same year.

Other than going to the same schools, the two, who lived about three miles [4.8 km] apart, would walk to and from each other’s houses a few times a day spending countless hours together. They were both Girl Guides, members of the Pony Club and rode their horses together exploring further afield and becoming even more familiar with the Cowichan area. Unbeknownst to them, their horses were actually taking them into the very location that was to play a significant role in their futures. But in those halcyon childhood summer days, they weren’t much troubled with what might happen when they retired.

Apart from living lives that seemingly ran parallel to each other, Alison and Marsha shared other interesting coincidences.

“We are both Libras and think very much alike,” says Alison. “We often finish each other’s sentences,” laughs Marsha. They were born one day apart; “well, it’s really only five hours,” interjects Alison. And, their driver’s licence numbers are one number apart.

While Alison and Marsha were chumming around together, sometimes going on camping expeditions all over B.C. with each other’s families, and carefully cementing the foundations of their friendship, Dave was making his way through childhood nearby, but without having significantly crossed their paths.

Dave went to Duncan Elementary School, then to Mt. Prevost School and then Brentwood. He found work at the local mill and was “making money and generally having a good time” when the Cowichan Rugby Dance appeared on his social calendar. “Dave was a best friend of a boyfriend of a friend of ours,” explains Alison, “and he needed a date for the dance.” Somehow or other 16-year-old Marsha became Dave’s “blind date” for the dance. And, she says, “That was that!” It would be no surprise for any of them that Alison was maid of honour at Marsha and Dave’s wedding.

All three paths had firmly met, but were now about to go in different directions. Their beloved Cowichan Valley was suffering from a lack of employment options, so Dave and Marsha headed to Northern Alberta. While Dave worked in the oil industry, his job took him away from home for periods, so Marsha put herself through correspondence courses eventually becoming a chartered accountant. They raised two children, a boy and a girl, became well established in their fields of work and enjoyed a successful traditional family life.

“I did the total opposite,” says Alison, “I didn’t marry; I travelled through Europe and then had children [two boys] later in life.” She obtained a diploma in Leisure Studies [now Tourism and Recreation] and wanted to work in the tourism industry. Alas, there was no call for that in the Cowichan Valley, at that time, so she worked in a dental office to make money for travelling. She lived and worked in Vancouver, Victoria, and in England and Jersey in the hotel industry.

Meanwhile Alison visited her two childhood friends in Alberta, and they visited her. “Whenever we met, it was as if time had not gone by - except for the hairstyles,” they all laugh, while also taking a few digs at Dave’s one-time ponytail. Their paths had diverged, but they weren’t about to lose touch with each other.

Houses were acquired, jobs changed, promotions gained, children raised and the years rolled on until it came time for each one of them to review where they were in life. By now, Alison was back in the Cowichan Valley and she had fulfilled her desire to be involved in the local tourism industry by working at Tourism Cowichan and the Duncan Chamber Visitors Centre. Dave was ready to leave petroleum technology behind, and Marsha was open to suggestions.

The couple set off on what they call a soul-searching trip with an idea of returning to Vancouver Island. “At that stage, I didn’t know what I wanted,” says Dave, adding, “the kids were gone and it seemed like a good time to make a change in life.”

It was while he and Marsha were travelling in Washington State enjoying the countryside and, in particular, the fields of lavender when, as Dave says, “I saw this guy sitting there with his feet on a chair and I thought, I could do that! It seemed such a romantic type of idea.” But Dave figured “if it grew there, it would grow here” - meaning somewhere on Vancouver Island - so now the search for suitable farmland was on, and a lavender farm was the goal.

Things just seemed to “come together” from that point on, they say. The potentially perfect property was located and the three friends were ready to launch out on a new project together. “My job was relatively portable,” said Marsha, “but we kept our house, just in case it didn’t work out.”

“It was a total lifestyle change, which is what we were after,” says Dave. “I didn’t want to do what I was doing any more so I took an open-minded approach.” And Alison, who was about to move out of the house in which she had been living, was able to rent the house on the chosen property. “By 2005, we were owners of a broken down sheep farm,” she says. The very property they had ridden by on their horses when they were children.

Over years of intense continuous study, research and hard physical work they learned how to grow and harvest lavender on the 13-acre farm they call Damali - a combination of letters from their first names. Growing, harvesting and creating products from lavender keeps them well occupied, along with the B&B, vegetable garden, chickens, grape vines, farm tours, labyrinth and various special events and plans for a vineyard and winery.

All three say they see their venture carrying on successfully, as will their unique friendship. “We’re all easygoing,” says Dave. “We have a unique skill set between the three of us that works.” Alison says it’s a real outlet for creativity, and Marsha says, “I get to look out on a place that I love.” Then quips Dave, “and I get to look out and see what I still have to do!”

They are all back on the same path and still learning and growing in the Cowichan Valley.

***Use of the labyrinth is free
Visit to the farm is free
Farm is open 7 days a week June - Sept. 10-4 and Fri, Sat, Sun 10-3 in April, May and Oct.
Wine and Agri tours and packages available
3500 Telegraph Road, Cobble Hill, B.C.



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Showing 1 to 1 of 1 comments.

Damali Lavender Farm is a wonderful place, and I'm happy supporting an Island business by purchasing their locally distilled lavender oil. It's a lovely product. My family in Toronto always look forward to receiving gifts that I buy there for them. I hope Damali remains a peaceful quiet haven for visitors and for the three that made this possible. Thank you Dave, Marsha and Alison.

Posted by Mary | September 23, 2009 Report Violation

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