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Sooke Harbour House
(Andrea Johnson photo)

Sooke

Culture & History

Sooke has a colourful history that dates back millennia through the presence of the T'Sou-ke First Nations peoples.

There is an interesting museum here, as well as fascinating tours, plaques and displays for those interested in the area's heritage and history.

T'Sou-ke

The T'Sou-ke Nation, a Coast Salish band, lived off the land and bountiful sea. Salmon, clams and the stickleback fish that gave the people their name were plentiful at the mouth of the Sooke River where the band continues to live. (Some claim T'Sou-ke means "the beginning.") The regional museum holds a substantial collection of artifacts. Visitors are invited to watch the T'Sou-ke set sail in Tribal Journeys, the native canoe journey held annually in late July/early August involving teams from a number of Pacific Northwest bands.

Gold in the Sooke Hills

In the early 1860s, gold-rush fever hit the area when a few precious nuggets were found inland at the confluence of the Sooke, Leech and Wolf rivers. A bustling town of 3,000 was soon established and just as quickly emptied as the pickings proved thin. There's no road access to what little remains of Leechtown. The Galloping Goose bike/hike trail ends in the vicinity of the ghost town, but again there's no access to any ruins from this route either.

Modern Sooke: Past & Future

By the mid-1950s, the total population in Sooke and region was a little over 1,200 people. A community paper (The Mirror, now the weekly Sooke News Mirror) began publishing in 1959. Mom's Café opened four years later for locals and a new generation of roadtrippers. In 1990, Sooke celebrated the bi-centennial of the first European contact in these waters made by the Spaniards in 1790. A statue of Spanish commander Manuel Quimper was unveiled on a grassy point at the start of the Whiffin Spit breakwater and to this day surveys the passing parade of hikers, dogs and pleasure boats with a stony eye.

Historic Driving Tour

A set of 50 plaques and display markers have been scattered around the area by the Sooke Region Historical Society. These document a local history that has seen a peaceful co-existence between the T'Sou-ke, the early waves of Anglo-Scottish settlers in the 1850s and a sizeable French-Canadian population as well.

Start at Sooke Millennium Memorial Park (on Maple Avenue just minutes past Otter Point Road in the town's westend). A plaque is dedicated to Captain Walter Grant, the first independent settler in BC, who established a Sooke home in 1849. Also here are memorials to the stickleback fish and the town's maritime connection.

Murals and Historic Hotels

A series of murals depicting regional history can be found near the Sooke Community Hall on Shields Road. Another worthwhile stop: Ed Macgregor Park in the 6200 block of the West Coast Road. The stone pillars holding up the park's carved sign were relocated from the luxury Belvedere Hotel, which operated on the craggy bluff above what is now the Sooke River Hotel (aka "the Castle") from 1913 until it burned down two decades later. Musicians, cougar hunters, rum-runners, Oak Bay gentry up from Victoria, Group of Seven artist Emily Carr (who painted and sold her work onsite) and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) rubbed shoulders here.

Sooke Region Museum

At the Sooke Region Museum, begin a self-guided tour just past the gift shop. See galleries with everything from First Nations exhibits to archival photos of early settlers and display cases dedicated to the logging and maritime industries. One highlight: A scale model of Bear Creek Bridge, built in 1939 near Port Renfrew and believed at the time to be the world's tallest wooden trestle railway bridge. (The 74m/242ft  marvel was demolished 20 years later for safety reasons).

Lighthouse and Moss Cottage

Museum staff offer tours of a classic red-and-white west coast lighthouse, brought here in 2005 from Triangle Island off the fierce northern tip of Vancouver Island (entry point to the infamous shipwreck alley known as the "graveyard of the Pacific" that extends into local waters). It's a sister to the dramatic lighthouses at nearby Sheringham Point (in Shirley) and Race Rocks. Also open for tours is Moss Cottage, an 1870-era working class home relocated to the museum's grounds from the pioneering Muir family farm.