Velva Heggelund: “Unofficial Harbourmaster” passes – 1916-2011

For 65 years, from the vantage point of her seaside home on Horne Road, Velva Heggelund watched over Sooke Harbour. When she and her husband Louie first came into the government wharf at Sooke it was early in World War II, they were fishing for cod, and the community’s population was counted in the hundreds, not thousands.

Born in Vancouver in 1916, Velva Gauld had advanced quickly in school and went on to secretarial training. As an independent, young, career girl she found work in Penticton and Port Alberni, moving to Victoria when she was 20.  Employed as a bookkeeper in a restaurant, she got her own apartment in the Surrey Block, at the corner of Yates and Broad, where she paid rent of $15 a month.

She met a Norwegian fisherman, Louie Heggelund, who took a fancy to the slender, lively-minded, young woman and they married in 1938. While fishing for cod to supply the cod-liver oil market was Louie’s first initiative, he soon acquired a salmon troller, naming it the LouVel.   Velva was his crew, as they fished the West Coast as far as Cape Scott.

In 1944 the two were ready to establish their own home onshore, and bought six and a half acres of property, part of the pioneer John Murray farm. The parcel stretched from the waterfront to Sooke Road, and was purchased from Margaret Jensen (who had been raised by the Murrays) and her husband Kai.  Within a year or so they had built their cottage on a bit of a plateau perched steeply above the water where Louie had acquired a foreshore lease and kept his boat at his own wharf.

When their youngsters, Dannie and Henry were born, Velva continued fishing with her husband as much as possible, taking the boys along except when they were in school. The rural-minded couple cleared their land and began producing their own vegetables and fruits and raised pigs and chickens.  Velva was blessed with a green thumb. Especially fond of flowers, she tended her gardens carefully, finding great satisfaction in sharing with others the lovely blooms from her garden.

The troller LouVel was followed by the LouVel II and the 46-ft  LouVel III.  In those days Louie would generally set out mid-April and fish till late fall.  At first he sold to the Fishermen’s Co-op and then to BC Packers. Sons Dannie and Henry literally learned fishing at their dad’s feet, and in time each followed in his footsteps. Velva managed the home front, helping with the business end and all the chores needed to keep a fishboat afloat.  Meanwhile she kept a close eye on all the shipping activities in “her” harbour in front of her, and could tell you which boats were in or out of port and who was visiting.

Besides gardening, another of Velva’s home life skills was baking cookies, and she was diligent in keeping the cookie tins filled for her husband’s fishing trips. After Louie Heggelund passed away in 1976 she continued the fishboat cookie tradition with her sons and more recently,  for her three grandsons, Jamie, Robbie and Thor.

A number of fish boat and putter boat friends counted themselves fortunate if they were able to secure mooring at the Heggelund private wharf. One of these was Ray Vowles who has kept his succession of vessels at the Heggelund wharf for close to 40 years. Ray says, “What I remember most is how concerned she was for each of us. She watched over our boats and kept an eye out to make sure everyone got back in to the wharf at night. If she was worried about a strong wind that came up at 2 in the morning, she’d alert us – she was like our kindly babysitter.”

Her friend Phoebe Dunbar recalled the years that she and neighbours on Tideview in East Sooke would commute to the Heggelund wharf to do errands, get groceries or socialize in Sooke.  Phoebe said, “she was our harbourmaster, and she was always there to welcome us with a cup of tea and stories. Generous as she was though, there was one thing she didn’t share. Being a longtime Sooke family, she knew the best wild blackberry spots, and she didn’t want to share her prickly but succulent pickings even with the bears. Velva was good with a few crusty swear words, and she told me after she had cussed the bear one day with  a harsh scolding to get out of her berry patch, she got the berries for the  pie!”

When she reached her nineties, Velva wasn’t able to keep up so much with the outside chores, but she still kept up with community happenings and politics, was driven to errands by her daughters-in-law, enjoyed visits from friends and reminiscing. Velva cared deeply about the waterfront village that had been her home for 65 years, and was never reticent about stating her opinions.

While her health was failing, her family was able to care for her at home, and she passed away February 28.  Velva leaves her sons Dannie (Cindy), Henry (Marilyn) and grandsons Jamie, Robbie and Thor.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum