The Sooke fishing fleet at the government wharf in 1988. (Sooke Region Museum photo)

The Sooke fishing fleet at the government wharf in 1988. (Sooke Region Museum photo)

Coastal Fisheries plant hooked to town economy

When it comes to fish, no one has been at it longer than the First Nations. Small wonder, then, that Germaine, daughter of T’Sou-ke princess Ida Planes, granddaughter of Chief Andrew Lazzar, and great-granddaughter of Chief Louis Lazzar, was a partner with her husband Larry Sutherland in a thriving Sooke fish plant.

This photo shows how the Sooke waterfront at the foot of Maple Avenue looked in the 1980s. At right in this view one sees part of Sooke’s fishing fleet, while the taller white structure (centre left) is Pallister’s emporium.

The two-storey white building you can see on the government wharf alongside the commercial fishing fleet is Coastal Fisheries Ltd., opened on Sept. 30, 1977. Officiating at the ribbon cutting was Lyall Kahl, MLA for the riding at that time, who stood on the wharf along with the proud owners, Larry and Germaine Sutherland.

After serving a stint in the Royal Canadian Navy, Larry had settled to raise a family with Germaine in Saseenos, planning to get into the seafood business.

Initially, he established a small fish retailing outlet at the corner of Sooke and Winnipeg roads – the structure is still there, but no longer sells fish.

In this period, commercial fishing was a substantial industry in Sooke.

Realizing he needed to find a more suitable location, Larry applied first for a permit to construct a fish-receiving wharf west of the government wharf.

After discussions with Stan Wallace of the federal government’s Small Craft Harbours Branch, a plan developed to extend the existing government wharf to accommodate the new fish plant, and also to allow space for an office for Sooke’s first wharfinger, Joe Chlopan.

Supported by Capital Regional District director Charles Perkins and the Sooke Chamber of Commerce, this plan was eventually approved.

Coastal Fisheries went ahead, and the plant became the central point for west coast fishermen to bring their catch and stock up on ice. The catch offloaded for shipping to wholesalers was predominantly coho and chinook, but included chum, sockeye, pinks, ling cod, crabs and shellfish.

Wally Vowles, fishing at the time, commented “some days there were 100,000 pounds of fish offloaded.”

Besides wholesaling the fish, the Sutherlands set up a seafood market on Sooke Road near the Six-Mile House. This was a busy enterprise run by Germaine, whose knowledge of seafoods is hereditary.

Their business, which sometimes kept a dozen employees busy, operated into the 1990s, until the time of the demise of the salmon trolling industry.

While Larry Sutherland passed away in 2001, he and Germaine played an important role in the commercial life of the community.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.