HISTORY: Recycling the Sooke River Bridge

Elida Peers | Contributed

It took 261 sticks of dynamite to blow up the Sooke River bridge, the explosion recorded here by a Victoria newspaper photographer in 1946.

Built in 1921, the bridge served until the new one built immediately after the Second World War took over its duties. (You can see the trusses of the new bridge alongside the exploding cascades of water and splinters).

It was an exciting day for watchers, and most were careful to take cover when provincial public works foreman Fred Hardy said: “I’d keep well away” followed by “FIRE!”

The owner of the adjacent Sooke River Hotel at that time was Jim Ward, who narrowly escaped injury as a piece of metal flew through a window and was embedded within an interior wall. He had taken cover just a moment before.

In recent decades, recycling has become a keyword, and is practiced diligently by many.

For earlier generations, though, recycling was simply the usual way of life. A prime example of this, was the ingenuity demonstrated by William Vowles Sr., when he saw the potential of the bridge timbers splayed about in the river.

Putter boats and harvesting of seafood were the norm for the Vowles family, so there was no shortage of small boats available as 16-year-old Tuck Vowles, 13-year-old Ray Vowles and younger brother Rudy, 11, helped their dad in rounding up the floating timbers and putting tow lines on.

The next step was to tow the timbers to the government wharf at the foot of Maple Avenue.

From the waterfront, the bridge timbers were hauled to a nearby mill and sawn into planking – from there the lumber was trucked to a destination on Maple Avenue a bit south of where you see the Millennium Park and Muir Cemetery today. This property William Vowles had purchased from Florence Muir Acreman (part of the Muir estate), and the one and one-half storey frame house that became headquarters to Sooke Seafoods and home to the Vowles family rose plank by plank from the remnants of the Sooke River bridge.

The structure still stands, a testament to a way of life where people tried to re-design and re-use, and ingenuity was generally at the forefront of success.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.

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