In 1857

B.C.’s first sheriff was a Sooke resident

Pioneer Andrew Muir arrived from Scotland and worked in North Island coal mines before moving to Sooke.

“Jan. 2, 2017: On this date in 1857 Governor Douglas appointed the first Law Enforcement Officer – Sheriff Andrew Muir. B.C. Sheriffs hold the distinction of being the oldest law enforcement agency in the province – serving the people of British Columbia since 1857.”

This announcement from the B.C. Sheriff Service was kindly forwarded to us by Kerrie Reay, a recent retiree from B.C. Corrections.

While we do not have a photo of Andrew Muir, the image printed here courtesy of the B.C. Sheriff Service shows the  jail which was Muir’s domain, serving Fort Victoria then.

It is great to see this official recognition of a man whose family pioneered the early history of Sooke and B.C.

The John Muir family set sail from Scotland on the Hudson’s Bay Company sailing vessel Harpooner in November 1848, arriving in Victoria to set foot ashore on June 1, 1849.

Andrew, eldest son of John and Ann Muir, kept a diary of the six-month voyage, a fascinating account which details their journey around the Horn, speaks of rations going bad, and even describes how they anchored off Robinson Crusoe’s island and picked fresh peaches and laid in a water supply.

John Muir Sr. was hired in Scotland to oversee coal mining operations for the Hudson’s Bay Company on Vancouver Island, and his sons were to be mine workers.

The first segment of this coal mining history took place at Fort Rupert, on the island’s northeast coast, and later at Nanaimo.

When they became disenchanted with the company, the Muirs took up a quarter section of land in Sooke in 1851, which they called Woodside. They expanded their holdings to include much of Sooke as we know it today.

Constructing the first successfully operated steam sawmill in the colony, operating a farm, building ships, employing dozens of persons, working in harmony with their T’Sou-ke neighbours, the Muirs did it all.

Eldest son Andrew, a strong-minded individual, was attracted to life in the Fort of Victoria, and was a natural candidate for the position of sheriff. In 1855 he wed Isabella Weir (think of the pioneer Weir family of Metchosin and Weir’s Beach). Note these records from Robert Melrose’s diary: “Sept. 12, 1856 – Mrs. Muir gave birth, a female child.” Sadly, an entry two weeks later records that Isabella died. Their baby girl was raised by Andrew’s family at Woodside Farm in Sooke.

Andrew Muir, a true pioneer on Canada’s west coast, and our first lawman, was so saddened by this loss, he never recovered from his grief.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.