In the quieter days of our history, you took your excitement where you found it, and for youngsters, being first in line to grab the pump handle was not taken lightly, especially if you could beat your brothers and your cousins. Ray Vowles chuckles as he recalls those days.
Today we hold the nozzle into the tank and wait for it to fill – not so back then! Pumping gas actually meant pumping gas with a lever, along with the heady smell of gasoline. If you were buying 10 gallons, you pumped until the glass dome at the top read 10 gallons, then you drained the dome by gravity into your vehicle’s gas tank. Imagine the challenge in a carful of young boys to be the first to leap out (seat belts were unheard of) when their dad pulled up to the pump, grab the pump handle and yank away before your mates got to it.
Sooke’s main intersection continues today to accommodate automotive services and gas pumps, though the exact locations have changed over the decades. “TIRES & BATTERIES” is the sign emblazoned on the wall here, advertised by KEN & JEN McMILLAN, proprietors.
When these gas pumps were installed in the 1930s, there weren’t a lot of vehicles around. Perhaps half the local households had vehicles, in comparison to the two or three cars and trucks in many households today.
This photo is taken as though the photographer was standing on Otter Point Road, a block up from the light. To the photographer’s right is Eustace Road, with the Sooke Community Hall rising in the distance. The gas pumps front onto Otter Point Road, and if you continued south you would meet Sooke Road. The traffic lights were not there at the time, they were decades away.
Ken and Jenny McMillan were married in 1926 at the stately old Belvedere Hotel that stood on the headland above Sooke River bridge. The McMillans operated their business until 1948, when their eldest daughter Phyllis graduated from high school. When the place was purchased by Frank Bowles and his wife, they closed the gas pumps and opened an over-the-counter coffee shop, an innovation for the youth of the area.
Sooke Region Museum