Swimming 1916 style in the Sooke River.

Simpler summer pleasures in times past

Sooke historian Elida Peers writes about the history and people in the Sooke region.

In 1916 the world was at war, and simple inexpensive pleasures were the order of the day for families in the remote outposts of the empire. Since 1872, a homesite carved out of the waterfront of East Sooke, facing across the harbour to west Sooke had been home to the William and Mary Cartwright family.

Mary Cartwright had been born Mary Finlay in 1854, the only child of a Hudson’s Bay Company employee at Nanaimo and his First Nations wife. When the Cartwrights decided to settle in East Sooke, neighbours were few and far between.  Their diary mentions visiting with the Throup and Charters families; they would take the rowboat across the harbour to visit or exchange goods.

The hardy couple raised a family of eleven in their pioneer home, with Mary often coping on her own, as William would be off working to earn the dollars needed for their existence. One of their younger children was Mamie, who grew up to marry Harold Charles Engleson and remained in East Sooke.

This photo shows Mamie as a young mother in 1916, creating a fun day for her children. Local pioneer families had a choice – they could bathe in the salt water inlets of Sooke Harbour and Basin, where they needed bathing shoes to lessen the risk of gouging their feet on barnacles. Or they could bathe in the fresh water flowing in the Sooke River.

On this summer day in 1916, Mamie Engleson rolled out her family’s clinker-built rowboat, collected her children and their playmates, and rowed the relatively short distance across the harbour to the mouth of the Sooke River. The photo appears to be taken just upriver from the bridge. The Milne farm would be across the river hidden by tree growth and one can just see Mount Brule peeking in the distance.

While their bathing costumes may not look very stylish when measured against today’s styles, they have an appeal all their own. The children are, left to right, Harold and Otto Engleson, Irene Holmes, Hilda and Thelma Engelson, Mary Forrest and Robert Engelson. They appear an endearing group of children stashing away summer memories to last a lifetime.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum