SOOKE HISTORY: Sooke feeds Commonwealth athletes

Sooke volunteers feed more than 1,000 athletes at salmon barbecue

By Elida Peers

When Sooke hosted 1,000 athletes competing at the XV Commonwealth Games held in Victoria in 1994, we fed them well, of course, in the true Sooke tradition.

Nothing is more traditional to Sooke than spring salmon barbecued in the First Nations style over open alder wood fire pits.

Another of our traditions is volunteerism – it’s not for nothing that we have a sign alongside the Welcome to Sooke greeting place announcing that we are the Volunteer Capital of Canada.

I wonder how many other communities could have hosted 1,000 Commonwealth athletes for a salmon barbecue feast plus a logger sports show contributed by the Sooke Loggers Club, entirely done by good-hearted volunteers.

It was an incredible demonstration of goodwill and local pride.

Each of the athletes was picked up at the Athletes Village in Victoria by a host-sponsor and driven in cavalcade out to the Sooke Flats.

We had no trouble finding sponsors, most of the local businesses went all out to host one or several athletes for a day, making a donation so that food costs for the athletes feast could be met.

It was pretty striking to see all those international athletes marching onto the field each carrying their contingent’s colours, and led by our area’s MP of that time, David Anderson.

Almost 2,000 pounds of salmon were barbecued, and the balance of the feast was organized by one of our great longtime volunteers, Sally Bullen. The chief of the T’Sou-ke people in 1994 was Jim Cooper, who arranged to provide the spring salmon through the band’s ceremonial catch.

Dressing all that salmon in preparation for the morning barbecuing was largely undertaken by Ray Vowles, and if anyone knows anything about dressing fish, Ray is that man. The three fellows seen spinning yarns here between turning of the salmon racks were Jim Peers, Albin Johnson and Karl Linell.

Kneeling in the foreground are two men whose support made it all possible. George Heller was president and CEO of the Victoria Commonwealth Games Society, and he became a great friend to Sooke. Beside him in the straw hat and tie, was Bob Clark, the regional director, who was a great partner in all our Sooke celebrations.

Funny how the same names keep cropping up … Wendal Milne, Sooke’s RCMP staff sergeant in 1994, (later Mayor) did the honours that day, M/C’ing the whole event. And getting back to salmon, today Wendal is on the board of directors of Juan de Fuca Salmon Restoration Society.

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Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.