Byron and Phyllis Johnson enjoying an OAP dinnerin 1965 at the Sooke Community Hall. (Gary Groen photo)

Byron and Phyllis love story made in Sooke

A longtime batchelor finds soulmate in coffee shop

Elida Peers | Contributed

In case anyone thought love was reserved for the young, this photo offers a different view.

A bachelor for most of his life, Sooke logger Byron Johnson wasn’t shy about showing his love for his wife Phyllis, who came to Sooke after her retirement as matron of a hospital at Lytton, B.C..

This photo was taken in Sooke Community Hall at an Old Age Pensioners Organization dinner in 1965 at Sooke Community Hall. For most of his life Byron Johnson had lived with his Icelandic mother and sister in a cottage far up the Sooke River, accessible only by a suspension bridge built over the river. Later, Phillips Road was extended as far up as the Johnson cottage and even beyond.

In the centre of Sooke today there’s a restaurant at the corner of Sooke and Townsend roads. This enterprise started out after the close of the Second World. As an surplus army hut, it was moved from the Otter Point Camp, and has seen many changes since, both in ownership and renovations.

Initially it was called Sooke Coffee Shop and run by Kay Osborne.

As folks got into the habit of dropping by for pie and coffee, Kay needed help, and it was then that sister Phyllis left Lytton for Sooke, to become part of our history. Bachelor Byron Johnson found that he was stopping by not only for pie and coffee but to see Phyllis, and their romance blossomed.

Phyllis Johnson was an activist, becoming president of Sooke Old Age Pensioners Organization No. 88 when it was formed in 1964.

She quickly identified the community’s need for seniors’ housing and started to do something about it. The local paper reported on Sept. 22, 1964: “Last Thursday night about 50 people met in the hall dining room to discuss the possibility of a housing project for older residents.”

This was the beginning of the fundraising that saw the group purchase a parcel of land in 1969 which was to become Ayre Manor, under the auspices of Sooke Elderly Citizens Housing Society, and we all know what a wonderful start that was, making possible the current Ayre Manor Campus of Care.

It is interesting too that Sooke’s Byron Johnson had a cousin, also Byron, called Boss Johnson, who was premier of BC from 1947 to 1952, when the government initiated B.C.’s compulsory hospital insurance and the retail sales tax.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.

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