Victoria’s insatiable thirst for water at the turn in the early year of the 20th Century led to the monumental task of building a 27-mile long pipeline.
The work was done with pick and shovel from the Sooke Hills and inland to Goldstream.
The construction of the pipes was carried out at Cooper’s Cove and was considered, at the time, to be one of the largest construction projects and feats of engineering to ever take place in the Sooke area. The project employed over 400 men in the installation of the 48” concrete pipeline, also known as the “flowline.”
Cooper’s Cove was the place where the gravel and cement were offloaded from barges. Steam boilers and locomotives were used to haul the flow line sections into places along the mountainsides. On any given Sunday in the early stages of the project there were 560 men working at Cooper’s Cove.
“The logistics stun me,” said Elida Peers, Sooke historian and one of the organizers of the upcoming flow line exhibit.
In the book, The Sooke Story, The History and the Heartbeat, it points out the ingenuity of the engineers of the day.
“As the pipe sections were carried by steam locomotive to installation points at both the Sooke Lake and Humpback ends of the grade, the railway track was withdrawn, leaving a bed for the concrete to lie securely in its place.”
The hills in the area of the Sooke Potholes were full of field camps for the workers and most recently a bake oven used back in the early 1900s was discovered. The camps themselves were relatively self-contained with cook tents and blacksmith shops.
Construction took four years from 1911 to 1915.
Stories relating to the flow line are still only one or two generations past. Retired University of Victoria professor Charles Tolman is currently writing a book on the step-by-step progress of the flow line, which will be published by the Sooke Region Museum. He had a distant relative who photographed the flow line project from a construction point of view.
“We get lots of emails from the families who had grandfathers who worked on the project,” said Peers.
Nanaimo MLA Leonard Krog, for example, has a relative who was a master mariner and was hired on as a surveyor. He apparently had the skills they needed back in 1911.
“How they built the flow line to circle mountains without any modern equipment is amazing,” said Peers.
Horses, steam engines, narrow gauge tracks, and men with picks and shovels all made this 27 mile line which encompassed at least 37,000 four foot sections of concrete pipe. Cement was brought in by barrel to Cooper’s Cove, horses hauled gravel at Goldstream and men toiled.
“The work is colossal, all hand labour, it’s an absolute marvel,” Peers stated.
A few years ago sections of the flow line were brought into Sooke and are being used as planters and architectural features at various businesses. A sculpture of a worker on the flow line is located at the municipal hall.
This project, by all accounts one of the biggest building projects in the Sooke area ever, is being remembered through an exhibition and display at the Charter’s River Salmon Interpretive Centre to run from August 1 until October.