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HISTORY: Sooke’s first library started in a bookmobile

Community has hosted library in five different locations
One of Sooke’s former library locations on Sooke Road. Sooke’s newest library, which opens officially on March 26 is located at Waddams Way. (Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

The impressive new library we are celebrating in Sooke today had humble origins long ago. In December 1962, the newspaper you are reading, started by Maurice Tozer and called at that time the Grapevine, headed its editorial with “Do we need a library?”

According to the newspaper, the fledgling movement to establish a library was initiated by local PTA groups, spearheaded by the Metchosin PTA. At the time, Sooke was served by the Open Shelf, an arm of the Victoria Public Library, which meant there was a shelf in Gibson’s Cottage Store at Sooke and Otter Point Roads supplied with some books for residents to borrow.

Urged by PTA groups, Mr. F. White, head of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL), came down from Nanaimo to speak at Sooke several times to indicate what would be possible if Sooke and the Western Communities, through School District No 62, voted to approve a referendum outlining the required taxation ($1.70 per capita) if they were to join VIRL.

According to Mr. White, if the referendum passes, Sooke could have a fortnightly bookmobile immediately, and Colwood and Sooke could have small branch libraries once facilities and staff could be arranged. Several Sooke mothers, including Evelyn Stolth, Ina Nemeth and myself, went door to door urging taxpayers to vote yes, and I recall this process well.

Taxpayers of Sooke School District No 62 voted 764 YES to 220 NO to join VIRL on Feb. 16, 1963. Many of us looked forward to the bookmobile visits, but it was even better the following year when a tiny library opened at the site where Barb’s Barbershop is today. Before long it was moved to larger premises across the street where there is a dress shop now. Maude Adams, Molly McDonald, Irene Woolley, and Adele Lewis were among our earliest library staff.

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With our burgeoning population, books outgrew space once again. The library moved to the block east of the Otter Point traffic light corner, the spot where Bob Hughes had built his bowling alley, and where today there are retail outlets fronted by a popular restaurant. Today’s photograph, taken in 1990, shows the library alongside the Salvation Army thrift shop in that block.

Many will remember Edith Newman, who spent 26 years meeting the reading public’s needs at this site and at the library we all know on Anna Marie Road, where it was moved in the 1990s.

“It was a long time coming, but I’m excited that we now have a purpose-built library,” Newman says

We do not doubt that if Maurice Tozer, the newspaper editor who 60 years ago asked if we needed a library, could see the glamorous new structure on Wadams Way, he would be stunned – but also very proud!


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

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