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Harvey George, master carver of fish boats, dies

T’Sou-ke Nation member also a fisher and logger
Harvey George with the model of a table seiner he carved for the Charters River Salmon Centre in 2012. He named the boat Agnews Rose for his grandmother Agnes George and Rose Dumont’s cousin. (Contributed - Jack Most)

Elida Peers | Contributed

Harvey George, who became acclaimed as a master carver of fish boat models, was laid to rest in the George Family Cemetery on Edward Milne Road last Saturday, very close to where he first drew breath in 1939. T’Sou-ke spiritual advisor Shirley Alphonse officiated.

Harvey was born to parents Lewis and Irene George and was a grandson for Louis George, T’Sou-ke chief at that time, and his wife Agnes, whom we all knew as Grannie Agnes. Encircled by his sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, he absorbed the heritage and culture around him.

Fishing and carving were a natural part of his growing up, and he was only a lad of eight when he began to carve. Harvey also had a musical bent, and classmates when he attended Milne’s Landing High School recall that you’d often find him strumming a guitar and impersonating Elvis Presley.

In his late teens, he began working as a deckhand on fish boats after he’d gotten to know the crews at the Sooke wharf. He found the work fascinating, absorbing the details of the ships he crewed aboard. As the work was seasonal, though, he looked about for work that would be steadier.

Working in the woods around Sooke and Jordan River was a start, and he went on to work for MacMillan Bloedel in the Franklin River and Port Alberni area for many years. His cheerful, easy nature made him many friends, and he enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow loggers as they hooked chokers in the woods.

In the Cowichan area, he met Joan Arneil, who had also started school in Sooke, and before long, he had proposed. Sooke’s Billy Wilson, a longtime pal, who was best man at his wedding, described him as an easy-going guy who never got in any trouble when they were horsing around. Harvey and Joan made their home in Cowichan but came to Sooke frequently to visit family.

Whenever Harvey had a free hour, he would pick up a piece of red cedar and begin carving. It was fish boats that drew him, and he developed an astounding skill as he worked away at scale models of every type of fish boat that depicted the commercial fishing industry of this coast.

As he developed his fleet of scale model fish boats, he carved them from cedar blocks anywhere from four feet to eight feet in length. It would take about a year to complete each vessel, and he would go to great lengths to replicate the intricate rigging and details.

One of the incredible things about these models was that Harvey had an innate sense of proportion and design. He never used a measuring stick but relied on his good eye and a prodigious memory for detail. He gave all his boats names that had special meaning from his heritage. Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre, Sooke Region Museum and the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre benefitted from his generosity.

When Harvey and Joan would visit Sooke, he enjoyed nothing better than sitting and talking with a group about the old fishing days. After the loss of his wife, though, he never quite regained the vigour he enjoyed. More recently, he had become frail and was looked after in a care home.

A humble man, Harvey would probably never have imagined the importance of his remarkable gift, a fleet of some 20 fish boat models, the legacy he created and left to posterity.

Predeceased by his wife Joan, sisters Rita and Doris, Harvey George is survived by sister Charlotte (George) Thompson, many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and nephews.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email

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