The Friendship Quilt

Commonwealth Cape of Many Hands, 1994

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

here’s been a bit of talk lately about Victoria’s backup bid for a future Commonwealth Games event. In downtown Sooke last week I was chatting with a needlewoman who reminded me of the 1994 Games and Sooke’s role in the cultural components of the massive event.

This cultural aspect of the Games took four years and hundreds of volunteers, creating a fusion of art and sports, to carry out the tradition of a Friendship Quilt established at the 1986 Games in Edinburgh and the 1990 Games in Auckland New Zealand. President of Victoria’s 1994 Commonwealth Games was the charismatic George Heller, who became quite well known to Sooke folk because of our community’s extensive involvement with the celebration.

Organizers had invited Victoria’s distinguished fabric artist Carole Sabiston to design the art and she had chosen the theme of hands, that is, the hands of athletes representing all the participating Commonwealth nations, which she would incorporate into the Commonwealth Cape of Many Hands. The Cape is seen in this photo, the two completed halves displayed on the steps of British Columbia’s Legislature, along with the 300 hundred women who contributed all the stitching.

Yours truly had been asked to co-ordinate the project, so a series of meetings began,   within government offices and Games headquarters at Royal Oak. We sent out letters to each nation, and in Canada to each province, and in Victoria to each municipality, asking for traced drawings of the hands of a male and a female athlete chosen to represent each region. It was an engrossing four years, opening mail from all over the world, and then inviting the stitchery experts of our Greater Victoria region to sew all the hands together. Our workshop was in the Eaton Centre, with shifts of needle workers coming together every day for many weeks.

In this photo, George Heller is seen (black shirt in the centre), with Carole Sabiston and myself directly in front of him. Looking at the front row on the steps, of the five women, the centre one is Pat Kennedy, one of the dozens of Sooke women you’ll notice, whose stitches grace this art creation, now hanging over the entrance to Victoria’s Public Library.

And the two athletes who were selected to represent Sooke, with their hands immortalized on this Cape, were Norene (Sullivan) Lovbakke and Finn Kennedy.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum