By Katherine Dedyna, Times Colonist May 6, 2011
Bernard Rogers was known for the Cordova Bay Fable Cottage he built in the 1950s. It was moved to Denman Island in 1993.
When people say fantasy house these days, they often mean mega-kitchen, great room and bathroom spas.
Saanich resident Bernard Rogers built the real thing: Fable Cottage on the waterfront of Cordova Bay. The apple green 1950s family home boasted a fairytale façade with many “thatched” gables that nearly touched the ground.
And it soon began a decades-long enchantment for legions of local residents and tourists from around the world.
As well as having an artistic vision and business sense, Bernard was “very generous, talented, ambitious, honourable, a caring, loving husband, father and human being,” says Irv, Bernie’s son. “He had four brothers and five sisters and he helped everyone else; he always assisted them financially.”
Rogers died suddenly on April 22 at age 98, possibly from pneumonia, although he had been going strong at Berwick Royal Oak and planning spring golf games. Along with Fable Cottage, he made a name for himself as a partner in high-end clothiers British Importers, which still operates as Philip Nyren Menswear and Womenswear.
But Fable Cottage captured Bernie’s heart, along with the hearts of countless others until it was moved to Denman Island in 1993, after later owners sold it. Construction of one of Victoria’s best-loved tourist destinations began in 1951, based on a Plasticine model Bernie made that Irv still treasures. Bernie asked his wife: ” ‘Billie, how would you like to live in a house like that?’ My mother thought it was wonderful.”
They purchased the site from her family, but it took 10 years to complete the cottage. Its roof required 15 times the number of shingles normally used for a 2,000-square-foot home, thousands of them hand cut by Bernie. “It was a marvellous, marvellous place to live,” Irv says of his teenage years at 5187 Cordova Bay Rd.
Bernie did not intend Fable Cottage to become a tourist attraction but found it necessary to control public curiosity. “People just wouldn’t stay away,” Irv recalls; they were coming over the fence and up from the beach for a closer look. The public was allowed to visit during the summer, even when the family was home, and eventually, it became his father’s main source of income, having sold his partnership in British Importers in 1960. Fable Cottage became too much for Bernie and Billie and they sold it to Dick Hunter in 1969.
In the 1970s, Fable Cottage was sold to Bob and Anita Lane, who created lavish wishing gardens and installed about 30 animated dwarves designed by Universal Studios.
The Lanes ran it for nearly two decades until a divorce resulted in a sale to developers. Bernie was “very sad about it,” Irv recalls.
In 1993, the developer sold it to Wes Ritter, who barged the cottage to Denman after cutting it into three sections. Today, he praises Bernie as “creative and bold – he did things differently, which in that era was kind of rare.”
The cottage cost Ritter $1; Bernie’s handmade furniture another $1,000; the move itself about $120,000. “I jokingly call it Fatal College House Moving School.”
Ritter still lives in the restored cottage. “It’ll last another hundred years,” he says.