Sooke is a community on the western shore of Sooke Harbour, a narrow natural embayment separated from the Strait of Juan de Fuca Sooke by Whiffin Spit, about 35 miles southwest of Port Renfrew and 17 miles ( km) west-southwest of Victoria, British Columbia. Sooke is named for the T’sou-ke First Nation of the Coast Salish people, the Native inhabitants who had a thriving community and are believed to have been living in the general area for several thousand years before the arrival of Europeans. The name T’sou-ke is reputedly after the stickleback fish that live in the estuary of the Sooke River. The Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper became the first known European to enter Sooke Harbour with the schooner Princesa Real. He first learned of the protected bay from the local T’sou-ke, but contrary winds and currents prevented him from entering the inlet for three days. On June 19, 1790, weather conditions settled, and the schooner was able to anchor at the entrance of Sooke Harbour. Quimper found two Native settlements at Sooke and they traded fresh food for copper. While doing a reconnaissance of the area, the Spanish spent a few days creating a detailed chart of the harbour. When the chart was completed, Quimper performed an Act of Possession for the Spanish empire on June 23, 1790, naming Sooke Inlet ‘Puerto de Revilla Gigedo’ in honor of Juan Vicente de Güemes, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). Because of constant fog and less than ideal winds, four days passed before the Spanish were able to depart. On June 28, 1790, Quimper, his officers, and the crew boarded the Princesa Real and left Sooke to continue the exploration of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The T’sou-ke people were nearly annihilated in 1848 by a combined attack of the Cowichans, Clallums and Nitinahts. The people were exposed to Europeans relatively early by association with the Hudson’s Bay Company. The nation is a signatory to the Douglas Treaties.
In 1849, the first independent immigrant to purchase land in the new colony of Vancouver’s Island was Captain Walter Colqohoun Grant of the Royal Scots Greys. The Hudson’s Bay Company at Fort Victoria owned all the good land around Victoria, so Grant established his farm at Sooke and built a water-powered sawmill. In 1853, admitting failure, he returned to England. John Muir arrived on Vancouver Island with his wife Anne and four sons in 1849. He worked first worked in the coalfields at Fort Rupert and Nanaimo for the Hudson’s Bay Company, then moved to Sooke in 1853 where he acquired the estate of Captain Grant. The Muirs had a steam-powered sawmill operating by 1855, established a productive farm, and built a number of ocean-going vessels. In 1884 the Muir sons built three stately homes, two of which still stand, called Woodside and Burnside. People from the T’Sou-kes worked at the sawmill, at the barrel stave production, and at gathering bark for the tanning industry. Other families to become prominent in Sooke’s early immigrant history were the Brule and Poirer groups, originally from Quebec, who arrived in Sooke through following the trail of the fur trade. It had been the developing of a forest industry that had stirred both Grant and Muir, and the Muir family who established lumber markets ranging from nearby San Francisco to South America, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Australia. The Muir forest enterprise was to reign until 1890.
Early in the 1900′s a series of commercial fish traps, with piles driven into the ocean floor and webbing designed to intercept the salmon, were to become the mainstay of Sooke’s economy. It was mid-century before the fleets of independent fish boats put an end to the “fishtrap” industry.
During the early 1900′s the vast rainforests in the area’s watersheds attracted the interest of far-off businessmen, and the logging of the mighty Douglas-fir, red cedar, Sitka spruce and hemlock began in earnest. Long before the days of modern technology, a ten horse team is shown hauling a massive log, 1920′s. Until a decade ago, it was the harvesting of the rainforest that built the economy of the district, and fed the coffers of the province.