SOOKE HISTORY: Sooke in 1855

A glimpse into the community’s pioneering history

By 1855, the Muir family had been in Sooke for four years. The sketch here is the best knowledge we have of how Woodside Farm looked at that time.

When you are driving west today and reach Sooke Baptist Church, look to your left, and there on the water side is a beautifully kept farm, with a Georgian-style farmhouse and a red roofed barn, just before you reach John Muir School.

Imagine the scene above, instead, all those years ago – this is how the Muir house and barn looked as the family was getting established. The house we see today was built in 1884, and the barn in 1932.

Woodside Farm is the oldest continuously-operated Canadian farm west of the Great Lakes and was home initially to John Muir Sr. his wife Ann Miller Muir and their four sons: Andrew, John Jr, Robert and Michael.

Besides the purchase of their west coast land in 1851, the Muirs purchased the land of Capt. Walter Colquhoun Grant, Sooke’s first European immigrant settler, when Grant returned from Sooke to Scotland in 1853.

When the first recorded census was taken in 1855, four immigrant dwellings were listed; they would have included the Muir place, Capt. Grant’s place, possibly the Brule place or cabins for workers.

While the Muirs had been milling both wheat and lumber earlier with water power, 1855 was the year they built a steam-powered sawmill, using the boiler from a vessel wrecked off Macaulay Point, so it was a big year in Sooke’s development.

The census shows 12 immigrant adults in Sooke and five children in that year. It would be 17 years later, when the Muir sons all had families, and there were also Poirier children, before Sooke School was built and a road (of sorts) connecting Sooke to Victoria.

The census lists the farm stock this way: horses – 16; working oxen – 14; milk cows – 15; other cattle – 26; swine – 29; poultry – 100. The community’s survival clearly depended on its self-sufficiency. The farm produced wheat, oats, barley, peas, potatoes, cheese and butter. Imagine if the Muirs could see our current fall fair, and the variety produced today.

Besides the fine Woodside farmhouse that we see now, built in 1884 by John Muir Jr, brother Robert built Springside at Caldwell (now gone); and brother Michael built Burnside (still standing on Maple Avenue), the same year.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

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