It wasn’t much of a shelter

SOOKE HISTORY: Bible students cooking under a tarp

Standfast Bible commune made Sooke home in the early 1920s

The wedge of land between Sooke’s Prestige Hotel and Whiffin Spit and Wright roads is nowadays filling up pretty quickly with condos and single-family homes. Ninety years ago the scene you see here was photographed between Nordin and Whiffin Spit roads.

The woman in the centre, preparing a meal under the tarp, is Mrs. Ingram, who became the chief cook for the group of Standfast Bible students who congregated in Sooke in 1923-24.

Right across North America there was a movement which had begun late in the 1800s of groups of families banding together in communes, apparently seeking to avoid worldly vices they saw around them, as they awaited “the Second Coming.”

The group built a temple, using milled alder, just about where Nordin Road is now, and while there were some well-built frame houses which still stand today, most of the adherents lived in tents.

After the Sooke Region Museum opened in 1977, elderly former adherents and their children began coming in to the museum with photographs and accounts of their time here in long-ago Sooke.

The group, which numbered between 300 and 400, ran their own school, operated a bakery, a cheese factory, a needlework business and even, for a time, a fish reduction plant on Whiffin Spit. They also billed themselves as the Star Construction Company.

There was one great benefit to the community at large, as their dentist, a Dr. McCarter, took patients from within the wider population as well.

Even after the group had become disillusioned a few years later and moved further up the coast to Port Renfrew, the dentist stayed on locally, opening practices in Victoria and Sooke.

The group of families that moved to Rainbow Valley in Port Renfrew had become smaller in size, while others left the philosophy behind and moved on to other lifestyles.  Descendants have contacted us from Port Alberni, Victoria, Seattle, and from within Sooke’s own residents as well.

So folks, if you live in that parcel of land around Wright Road, perhaps you might keep an eye out in your back yard, there may be artifacts there from a group of people who bravely clung to their beliefs almost a century ago.

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Elida Peers is the historian for Sooke Region Museum.