I first got to know Agnes George in the 1960s, just about the time this photo with a smoked salmon was taken on the Sooke Reserve. An effervescent lady who always welcomed visitors with a big smile, she introduced me to many stories and customs of the T’Sou-ke Nation.
Her heritage had taught her many skills for her nimble fingers – besides being adept at preserving of seafoods, she wove baskets and mats. She was an expert at knitting sweaters with raw wool, and one day she demonstrated how to spin wool from washed, teased and carded rolls of wool, by attaching it to a doorknob as a spindle and twisting as she moved backwards.
The annual salmon run, so important to the food supply, fully occupied the T’Sou-ke people as they harvested and smoked racks of fish to carry them over the winter. Agnes learned the skills at her mother’s knee, and passed them on to her own daughters and other relatives on the reserve.
Agnes was born at Esquimalt, raised at Clo-ose and grew up to marry Louis George, eldest son of Mary George who raised her five children alone at Sooke after her husband was lost when the sealing schooner Walter Earl went down in the Bering Sea in 1895.
Agnes and Louis George (he was elected Chief between 1931 and 1956) raised a son and five daughters. Eldest daughter Sophie won a prize for the naming of Saseenos, “Sunny Land Gently Sloping from the Sea” while she was working at the Belvedere Hotel that stood on the headland at the mouth of the Sooke River. Sadly, tuberculosis took her while still young.
The next George daughters, Lizzie, Hilda, Mabel and Alice married into the community of southern Vancouver Island and enjoyed a large circle of friends. Their son Lewis made his home on the Sooke Reserve and had a job at the fishtraps. Agnes celebrated her 101st birthday with a party at St Mary’s Priory.
Today the son raised by Lewis George, who attended school in Sooke but moved to Cowichan to work in the forest industry, is demonstrating the nimble-fingered artistic traits inherited from his grandmother Agnes. Harvey George’s meticulous carving skills and incredible eye for design has led him to create a legacy, a collection of fishboat models.
Harvey has donated his models to institutions and they may be seen at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre, at the Sooke Region Museum and at the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre.