History: Bert Mugford and the bell

Elida Peers, historian for the Sooke Region Museum, writes about the town's past

Bertram Mugford

While today a cast iron bell has pride of place suspended over the entrance to Sooke Region Museum, in its lifetime stretching over more than 100 years, it has had two earlier careers. It was the son of a Sooke pioneer family who played a significant role in its  recent life.

Bertram Mugford was one of two sons born to R. J. and Janie Mugford who built and operated the Mugford Board and Lodging House at the corner of Sooke Road and Church Road (where the Chevron station stands today). R J Mugford, from Newfoundland, had a seafaring background and transported supplies from Victoria to Sooke by schooner.

Bert recalled that when he was a young man back from his service in the Great War, as he stood watching the construction of the Johnson Street bridge in Victoria his eye was caught by the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Estevan berthed nearby. He made up his mind on the spot; he would set a goal to become radio operator on the Estevan.  In 1924 his resolve came true and he spent the next 32 years sailing the coastal waters, as the tender carried out its federal government responsibilities.

It was when the vessel was berthed at Comox that he noticed a steam locomotive on a siding along the railway line that hauled to the wharf; it appeared to be destined for scrap. Not wasting a minute, Bert thought quickly and found a way to relieve the locomotive of its bell. What Bert had in mind was the Sooke School, and sure enough, on his next trip back home to Sooke, the big heavy clanging bell began its next career, calling pupils to class.

The Sooke Elementary School building that we see today facing Highway 14 is a replacement for the building that once mounted the old locomotive bell. When it was time for changes in the school structures, sharp-eyed workmen at the site saved the bell from the trash heap.

It was brought to the museum, a manila rope attached, and it now graces the front entrance. Today the foot-long wrought iron clapper striking the bell’s rim signals changes of tour stations as happy groups of kids gather to hear the sounds of history. It’s a special treat when a youngster gets to give it a pull.

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

 

The Sooke Region Museum, located at  2070 Phillips Road, is operated by the Sooke Region Historical Society. The museum acquires artifacts, archival records, and historical reference material relating to Sooke and surrounding area.

The Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Centre is open throughout the year from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. with the exception of Mondays during the winter season and a brief Christmas closing.

Phone 250-642-6351 or toll free 866-888-4748

e-mail: info@sookeregionmuseum.com.