Canoe racing

Canoe racing in the gorge

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

CANOE RACING, 1920s and 1930s

 

Nowadays many outdoors enthusiasts enjoy kayaking in our local waters, but not so many years ago it was canoes and fast paddling that led the way.

While this photo shows canoe racing in the Gorge waterway in 1923, there was also an annual event in the 1930s that attracted well-muscled paddlers.  That race ran from Port Angeles across the Strait to Victoria; and reversed direction alternate years.  Among well-known Sooke area contestants were the teams of Albie and Jumbo Davies and Jasper Charles and Johnny Albany.

This 1923 photo was supplied by Johnny Tuttle who had grown up on the T’Sou-ke Reserve, alongside his half-brother Frank Planes.  Johnny shared the culture of his mother, Teresa Lazzar of the T’Sou-ke, and of his dad Ivan Tuttle who hailed from the American side of the Strait.  When Johnny grew up, and after World War II broke out, he chose to join the US Navy in Port Angeles.  Frank Planes, so well-known to many in the Sooke community, was attached to a Canadian army unit and served in the North Pacific.

In later years, when the Sooke Region Museum was getting organized, the two brothers, Johnny Tuttle and Frank Planes would join forces and come to spend many hours at the museum, sharing their knowledge of earlier days within the Strait’s Salish history and customs.

The two recalled the canoeing enthusiasm that led everyone to make their way ahead of the May Day weekend to camp at the Gorge where they would gather to feast and make ready for the morning race. The photo shows a series of dugout canoes, ranging up to the larger ceremonial canoes. Planked boats are in the scene as well, plus a ketch rigged sailing vessel.

The advent of World War II put an end to the simple marine gatherings such as this, and they did not seem to resume readily after the war.  Craft with motors had become the vogue. The past two decades has seen the call of the past resumed, however, and gatherings of canoes from the Washington coast and our B.C. coast have joined together in annual Tribal Journeys far up the Inside Passage.

Elida Peers, Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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