Miners work at Willow Grouse copper mine in East Sooke in 1915. The area has a rich mining history.                                 Sooke Region Museum

Miners work at Willow Grouse copper mine in East Sooke in 1915. The area has a rich mining history. Sooke Region Museum

HISTORY: Copper mining in East Sooke

Alexander Donaldson was one of the first miners in the region

It’s a part of East Sooke Regional Park today, but when this photo was taken in 1915, this was a copper mine established by Alexander Donaldson, whose farm was at the farthest end of East Sooke Road.

It was called the “Willow Grouse” mine, and though Donaldson died in 1908, the arrival of World War I had initiated renewed production. The copper ore mined was destined for smelting and use in manufacturing munitions and electrical components during the First World War.

Other mining claims were laid out in the East Sooke peninsula as well. One was the “King George Mine;” readers may recall that Lady Emily Walker, who built Ragley further east on East Sooke Road, was a particularly close friend of King George V, before her arriving here from England in 1912, in apparent exile. One can only imagine why the mine investment was named for the king. Another mine was called the Margaret Mine, for tiara-crowned Lady Emily’s only daughter Margaret.

Donaldson was a man of some mining experience; born in Scotland in 1839, he immigrated to the new world, freighted on the old Cariboo Road and prospected for copper in the Sechelt area. Prospecting next on Texada Island, he established several granite quarries, and we understand that his Texada Island granite was used in the construction of B.C.s Parliament Buildings.

Arriving in East Sooke in 1901, Donaldson built a comfortable home for his family and established a successful farm on the windswept point, fringed with stately moss-laden Sitka spruce. His extensive geological work throughout the Canadian west had led to the naming of a mountain peak as Mount Donaldson.

The Donaldson farm that he left to his son “Ally” was in production up to the 1950s. This photo was provided us by Ally Donaldson’s sister, Victoria Donaldson Clay.

Today we have some confusion about the name of the attractive little island close off O’Brien Point that is generally surrounded by fishing craft in season. We know that on early maps the islet was called Secretary Island, but in 1914 it was listed as Donaldson Island. A monument marking the history of Alexander Dawson Donaldson has been placed near the East Sooke farm by his grandson Eric Clay.

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Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.