What do you do with a huge 100-year-old behemoth of a concrete building in a prime location in Duncan? If you are among the dozens of creative and talented people in the Cowichan Valley you re-invent it, taking it from its original purpose as a garage and creating instead a vibrant community meeting-and-eating place that attracts young and old from all walks of life.
We first heard about the Duncan Garage from the ladies in a local book shop, but it took us more than a year to find our way there. Their glowing description of the place was spot-on – we were awed by the energy and bustle of the place, not to mention the amazing foodstuffs on offer.
The Duncan Garage was constructed in 1912 by Norman Corfield, the first person to drive the Malahat from Victoria. The building was heralded in Canadian Motorist Magazine in 1913 as ‘the most complete, up-to-date fireproof garage on Vancouver Island.’ Sixty-five years later the business set a provincial record for the longest-running business in the same location. Corfield had other ‘firsts’ to his credit, among them inventing the automobile air lift and designing the first Ford station wagon.
There is little on public offer about the more recent history of the building other than the fact that the Duncan Garage Restoration Project was launched in 2002. Judging by what we saw on our recent visit, there is a lot of life left in the old girl yet.
These days the street level floor of The Garage is home to an extensive organic grocery farm store, an engaging used book shop and a very busy, very good bakery café. Line-ups at the cafe seem to be the norm, and no wonder considering the mouth-watering array of baked goods, take-out and lunch items on offer. The menu changes daily and is posted on a blackboard. Everything listed on the day we visited was $10 or less, much of it organic, much of it gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian. Every item we consumed was flavourful, interesting and filling.
Each day there is a different offering in various categories for lunch. You can choose a rice bowl, a grilled sandwich, quiche, soup, wrap, patty special, stew, pizza, fresh sandwich, quesadilla or enchilada. So, plenty of decisions to make – and then, you have to get by the baked goods display in order to place your order.
My husband opted for a tasty bowl of mushroom barley soup and the quiche – a creamy egg base crammed with potato, mushroom, onion and broccoli. I ordered the grilled sandwich of the day – a really delightful combination of green peppers, gouda cheese, fresh and sun-dried tomatoes, onion and white bean roasted apple spread. As I mentioned earlier, all really interesting combinations – for us, one of the hallmarks of a great place to eat regardless of price point or ambiance.
We also really loved the vibe of The Garage – it’s a busy, cheerful place, funky with a sense of history to it. Once you have your food you can settle at one of the simple wooden tables that line the broad hallway leading to the book shop and the organic grocery, contemplate the historic photographs on the wall, visit with a friend, read or – one of the best options here – people watch. There seems never to be a dull moment, and there is most certainly plenty at The Garage to feed the soul as well as the body.
The Duncan Garage doesn’t currently have a website, but can be found on Facebook under Duncan Garage Café & Bakery.
The Garage is located at 330 Duncan Street, Duncan
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. 48.777327518641535 Long. -123.70607598506484
N 48 46.640 W 123 42.365