Now that we’ve heard that Sooke’s historic Grouse Nest has once again been sold, it reminds us of the lengthy history of the property once owned by Victoria financier and socialite George Gillespie.
The beautiful structure you can see here nestled among the trees on the eastern waterfront on the Sooke Basin was the second house on the property. It stood from 1910, when it was built by George Gillespie, to 1950, when it was consumed by fire initiated by a downdraft in a sawdust-burning kitchen range.
Rebuilt by Roderick Knight using lumber, he milled a new Grouse Nest took shape in the 1950s and once again became a centre for social activities. When the Knights, who raised three children there, retired in 1963, they sold to Hassam Kamil, and it was at this time that all the mysterious rumours started.
While Kamil had expansive plans for development in East Sooke, his plans were not well-received by the powers of the day, and he did not make much progress in development.
However, Kamil’s reconstruction of Grouse Nest was another story, and he spared no expense in importing architects and skilled artisans from Europe to glamourize the structure. Exotic it was, with floatplanes flying in and taxiing to the dock and expensive limousines wending their way along the winding road. Several A-frames were built on the property to house international guests.
While there was much speculation, did anyone know if Kamil was an arms dealer with an interesting background in the Mideast?
Amidst all the splendour and gossip, the Kamils raised three children at Grouse Nest in the 1960s and 1970. The property situation came to a sad end for the Kamils, and in 1985, sections of the land were auctioned off.
We have heard of several owners in recent years, but mainly they appear to have avoided the headlines.
Back to the Gillespie days, those of us at the museum working on the movie production of Woodside Farm’s incredible history enjoyed an entertaining day recently when we interviewed a great-grandson of George Gillespie, former federal cabinet minister David Anderson.
We asked him to describe his childhood visits to Grouse Nest and his grandfather Alexander Gillespie’s account of rowboat trips down the harbour to the Sooke wharf, where they were fascinated to watch as heavily-muscled oxen pulled great logs into the saws of the Muir sawmill.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email email@example.com.