SOOKE HISTORY: The Grant cairn-1858 to 1958

The bronze plaque mounted on this stone by the government of British Columbia for its centennial in 1958 is inscribed with the B.C.’s Coat of Arms and these words:

VANCOUVER ISLAND’S FIRST SETTLER

Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant (1822-1861) became Vancouver Island’s first independent settler when he occupied land here at Sooke in August 1849. In 1850 he erected in this district the second sawmill to operate in British Columbia. After a residence of four years he returned to England in November 1853.

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Today this stone is mounted on a cairn within the entrance to Sooke’s Millennium Memorial Park, a regional heritage site, on Maple Avenue, but it had a somewhat circuitous route to get there.

In 1849 when Capt. Grant, formerly of the Royal Scots Greys took up 40.5 hectares fronting on Sooke Harbour, his land was bordered by today’s Maple Avenue on the west, Gatewood on the east, and Grant Road at the rear.

When the provincial government placed the cairn in 1958, there was no public park so it was set on the edge of the main road at the corner of Maple Avenue.

Its next placement was in 1985, when a beautification committee of the day decided to move it to the centre of Sooke, at the corner of Sheilds and Highway 14, on land belonging to the Sooke Community Association. This was a surprise to the community association, the Sooke Region Museum, and chamber of commerce.

A month later, neighbours woke up to find the commemorative stone back in its spot on appropriate Grant land. Much speculation occurred in the local weekly paper about how this had happened, but no one in the know had any comment to make. We can tell you today, though, it was Marvin Olson’s front-end loader that did the job.

The newspaper story carried a quote by Florence Muir Acreman, great-granddaughter of John Muir, Sooke’s second settler, who said, “I don’t know why they moved the cairn, but I’m glad to see that it’s back where it belongs. But the cairn certainly had been neglected, I hope that from now on someone will look after it.”

After Grant left the colony in 1853, his block of land was taken up by John Muir. Eventually, when the Sooke Region Historical Society was able to raise enough funds to buy the historic property on Maple containing the Muir family cemetery, restore it and turn it into a park, we were able to move the Grant cairn once more to the original Grant land and accord the monument the respect it deserved. In 2012, this park was given by the Historical Society to the District of Sooke.

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Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

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