The Brown family clam digging at Becher Bay.

SOOKE HISTORY: Lady clam diggers

The photo came to us from Flora Brown Manion; it’s Flora’s mother Mary Jane Brown who is wearing the stylish wide-brimmed hat.

What strikes me most looking at this photo is the hourglass figures of the two women doing the clam digging.

The photo came to us from Flora Brown Manion; it’s Flora’s mother Mary Jane Brown who is wearing the stylish wide-brimmed hat.

Mary Jane, who was born McKenzie, had landed with her parents on the U.S. East Coast, came across the continent as a child in a covered wagon and eventually became a schoolteacher.

Teaching in Vancouver, she met a dashing teamster, George Brown, who was a son of pioneer settler George Brown Sr. and his First Nations wife Agatha, a couple who had pre-empted Section 88 at Becher Bay in 1883.

When Mary-Jane McKenzie married George Brown, she clearly brought some of her stylish city clothes with her, no matter that her new home was in the very rural community of Becher Bay.

It was Mary-Jane’s mother-in-law Agatha, a woman believed to be of Haida descent, who introduced her to her skills of using nature’s resources. This in turn shaped the lifestyles of her children and grandchildren, and steamed tiny clams are an example of their traditional delicacies.

One of Agatha’s great-granddaughters, Louise Paterson, a well-known member of our community, still lives on the original Brown property and has the greatest respect for nature and maintaining the environment.  If you chat with Louise, you’ll note her attractive striking appearance, her high cheekbones perhaps signifying a Haida heritage.

Louise’s interest in nature led her to serve as chair of Sooke’s Parks and Recreation Commission for many years, and most recently in the same role for the Juan de Fuca Parks Committee.

The other woman shovel-wielder in the photo is Jane, a sister of George Brown, who married Andrew Medwedrich.  Also settling in the Becher Bay area, the Medwedrichs added to the extensive Brown clan who made homes throughout the neighbourhood, a tradition that carries on to this day.

Jane Brown Medwedrich was the matriarch to a whole group of young descendants, including being grandmother to Joe Medwedrich, who is currently looking after things at the Sooke Community Flats, and is the nature-watcher who kept us appraised recently of the whereabouts of the Sooke wolf. Coincidentally, the background to our clam digging scene is Wolf Island off Becher Bay.

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Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.