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Vision 2012: politics then

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Mud and dust were likely factors in Duncan's separation from North Cowichan in 1912.

In his book, Small City in a Big Valley, local historian Tom Henry explains the genesis of Duncan's creation is obscure, but it's not unreasonable to assume the differences between farm and city folk played a role.

"Certainly Duncan's merchants were grousing about the municipal government's apparent favouritism of rural constituents in the early years of the century," he wrote. "By 1907 they were indignantly threatening full-blown independence if North Cowichan did not start providing more services."

Taxes were an issue, says Henry, as was sewage, but dust and mud may have been the proverbial last straw.

"For a town that was boasting of its verdant setting, Duncan in the early 1900s produced a fantastic amount of dust," Henry writes.

That dust didn't include just dirt. It was a pulverized mixture of feces from creatures big and small — including "indiscreet humans."

And in the winter, that dust became mud so deep locals described a small lake at the corner of Craig and Station streets.

According to James Greig, "'It was no uncommon thing to get a liberal douching of mud when passing along the old wooden sidewalks.'

But Henry figures that had the winter between 1911 and 1912 not been so wet, the tension between Duncan and North Cowichan may have remained on a perennial low-boil.

As usual, says Henry, the streets turned to slime.

"Unending mud hole" was one description. "Slough of Despond" was another. But the addition of nearly pure sewage pushed even the fence-sitting Cowichan Leader to call for action.

"The rhetoric played to the hand of the merchants who had been lobbying for a municipal split," Henry writes.

W.H. Hayward solicited special legislation to allow Duncan to leave North Cowichan. Realtor Islay Mutter collected the necessary signatures from eligible voters. And Kenneth Duncan negotiated the new boundaries.

"Once set in gear the machine of independence moved swiftly," Henry writes.

"On March 4, 1912, Letters Patent were issued and 345 hectares were severed from the southern portion of the municipality to become the City of Duncan."

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