Sooke River Hotel

Hotels and vehicles in the past

Elida Peers pens another historical column on the happenings in Sooke and area.

Pub Patrons, 1940s

It’s changed a bit, but you can still recognize the Sooke River Hotel, in Amy Chwojka’s photo, late 1940s, showing eight vehicles parked in a haphazard manner. Note the inscription over the arched doorway on the right hand wing:  “LICENSED PREMISES  – LADIES.”

The wing on the right had started life in 1919 as a stable housing riding horses for guests at the Belvedere Hotel, once a grand four-storey feature dominating the headland overlooking  Sooke River and the harbour.

In 1934 while the Belvedere Hotel was owned by Raoul and Andre Robillard, flames struck the magnificent structure.  It was never rebuilt, leaving the stable building on the lower level by the river standing without purpose. In 1938 it was purchased by an investor. The structure seen at the left in the photo was then added; by creating a “hotel” the enterprise could house a “beer parlour.” This became an afternoon and evening gathering place where many a tall tale was swapped over the years.

It was the Norval Milligan family that operated this new enterprise. He was one of four Milligan brothers who had run a logging enterprise in Shirley during the early years of the century through the 1930s.   By that time, they were feeling the pinch of lower log prices during the depression, and Norval welcomed a new opportunity.

The Milligans raised their youngsters in the hotel portion of the structure, which they to operated until the summer of 1945, right through World War II. One of the memories held by their son Allan, now living in North Vancouver, was of his teenage years during the war.  He had a bicycle and the Sooke River Hotel had a telephone; the telephone exchange building was right across the Sooke River bridge.  It followed that he was the one called by operator Agnes Milne to deliver messages whenever telegrams came in from the DND to notify families of sad news.

When the Milligans moved away, a succession of owners operated the pub, and a café was added as well. The place became known as the Castle and continued to host faithful patrons up until just a few years ago when new provincial liquor laws affected drinking patterns.

Doug MacFarlane, viewing the photo, suggests that the white roadster was a Gardner owned by Harold Goudie, and thinks the sedan at left was driven by Lillian Pontious and Gladys Graignic; he remembers their jolly laughter emanating from the pub as they enjoyed an afternoon’s visit with friends.

We are hoping that readers will contribute names and years of the vehicles pictured, and owners as well. Please email   historian@sookeregionmuseum.com

Elida Peers, Historian

Sooke Region Museum