“Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea”
by Elida Peers

Ideally situated alongside a salmon river within a sheltered harbor, the T’sou-ke peoples were the envy of many first nations tribes in less favored regions. With clams in abundance along the seashore, game in the forests, roots and berries to harvest and ducks to net, the T’sou-kes had plenty to augment their staple diet of salmon. The name T’sou-ke is said to be that of a stickle back fish found at the river mouth; an early chief is pictured c.1860′s.

When the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trading fort was established at Camosun (now Victoria) in 1843, European immigration and land acquisition followed. The first independent immigrant to purchase land in the new colony of Vancouver’s Island, at Sooke harbor in 1849, was Captain Walter Colqohoun Grant of the Royal Scots Greys. A cairn in his memory was erected in 1958, for B.C.’s Centennial.

When Grant returned to Britain in 1853, he left his holdings to the John and Anne Muir family who had also sailed from Scotland to Vancouver’s Island in 1849. Commissioned by the Hudson’s Bay Company to look for coal, the Muirs went first to Fort Rupert, but by 1851 had taken up land at Sooke. This couple with their four sons and a daughter, were to have enormous impact on the area’s development.

While Grant built a water-powered sawmill, he is best-remembered by the brilliant yellow blossoms from Scottish broom seeds he planted, blossoms which have now spread from Alaska to California. It was the Muirs who established lumber markets ranging from nearby San Francisco to South America, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Australia.

The Muirs had a steam sawmill operating by 1855, established a productive farm, and built a number of ocean going vessels. In 1884 the sons built three fine stately homes, two of which still stand, 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 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.