SOOKE HISTORY: Grant’s mill: a historic water-powered sawmill

Today this site is marked by a historic shield erected by the Sooke Region Historical Society

It’s a good thing we aren’t limited to the guidance offered by this map today, but it’s interesting to view these Surveyor-General’s notes of August 1864.

Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant, a Scot, was the first immigrant settler to purchase land in what would become the province of British Columbia, making the purchase for 100 Pounds Sterling in 1849.

While Grant’s hundred-acre land purchase was located on the harbourfront between today’s Maple Avenue and Gatewood Road, his ambition was to develop a lumbering industry, and he found a suitable spot at the eastern end of the Sooke inlet.

The creek that we have come to know as Veitch Creek finds its way to the inlet in a series of small waterfalls heading down from the hills.  A bridge on Gillespie Road crosses over this creek today.  It was here that Captain Grant set up his ambitious undertaking, using the force of the water tumbling down the creek to power his sawmill.

Today this site is marked by a historic shield erected by the Sooke Region Historical Society, and if you are hiking along the Galloping Goose Trail, you’ll find it close alongside Mike and Kathy Hicks’ bed and breakfast at Hutchinson Cove.

Captain Grant had a contract from the Hudson’s Bay Company to undertake initial surveying of the area, but he appears to have been a restless man.  Not content with developing a field crop at his homesite in upper Sooke and harvesting timber for his mill, he preferred to spend time with the social scene of Victoria, and also journeyed as far as the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) in search of a market for his lumber. We have not located, however, a record of a significant cut from the mill.

At the time that the Surveyor General drew this sketch in 1864, Captain Grant had been gone from these shores for more than a decade, and it was the Leech River goldrush that was making the headlines.

Reference the notation “Sooke Harbr,” in earlier times, the two distinct sections of our Sooke inlet were called the “inner harbour” and “outer harbour.”  Today we refer to the “harbour”, and the “basin.”  Note that the script says the route from Victoria would be improved, and indeed, it was only another eight years, in 1872, before a road of sorts was put through connecting us to the metropolis of Victoria.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.