Capes House History

How Was Capes Escape Created?

First and foremost, there’s Katherine Capes, a founding member of the Courtenay and District Historical Society–one of the first female archaeologists in Canada and an avid preservationist of both cultural and natural heritage.

The Early Years

Katherine Helen Capes was born in 1913. In 1922, her family moved to the Comox Valley to settle on the Capes homestead on Cumberland Road. Her father, Geoffrey Capes, owner of Courtenay Builders Supplies, was an avid outdoorsman and encouraged Katherine and her sister Phyllis to become members of the Comox Valley Mountaineering Club.

Katherine lived an extraordinary life and made significant contributions to archaeological study in Canada and the Comox Valley. In 1949, after serving as a WREN during WWII she attained a B.A. from UBC and went on to achieve an M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Toronto. She worked for 11 years in the Archaeology Department at the National Museum in Ottawa, spending many summers conducting field work in the Comox Valley. As Past President of the Courtenay and District Historical Society Judy Hagen says about Katherine, “She was a woman of distinction. She carried out critical archaeological research on important sites such as Millard Creek and Ryan road.”

A Generous Donation

In 1997, Katherine donated the Capes family home to the Courtenay and District Historical Society for the purpose of “preserving the historical value of the homestead for the community” and to “further the objects and purposes of the Courtenay and District Historical Society.” Katherine, a reserved, intelligent and humorous woman, passed away in 2001 leaving the community with legacies that will inform the future.

From 1997 on, the museum society rented out the Capes property to tenants as the Post Office building was renovated and upgrades were made to the exhibits. When these major projects were completed, the Board decided to move ahead with plans that would pay tribute to Katherine’s legacy. In the spring of 2006 the museum society received a $5000. LEADS grant from the Comox Valley Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation to upgrade the drainage around the perimeter of the home.

A New Purpose

Architect Martin Hagarty assisted with a needs assessment for the home and Historic Landscape consultant Cyril Hume volunteered his time to help staff uncover the beautiful gardens surrounding the home. Board, staff and volunteers have pitched in at the Capes home to contribute time and labour and the museum plans to have renovations completed on the Capes house by spring 2008.

“The society is fortunate to have this donation and we are staying with a use for the property that Katherine would be pleased with”, remarked Society President John Wilson. Wilson has spent a good number of hours at the property and has seen first-hand the potential the home and property have for visitors who are seeking a heritage tourism experience. He adds “the museum has visitors from around the world and this will be a great addition to their Comox Valley experience.” For more information about Capes Escape please contact the museum.