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LOCAL HISTORY: CNR line was important to early Vancouver Island industry

For five decades, freight transported between Sooke and Leech River for offloading in Victoria
A Canadian National Railway line once ran through Saseenos. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

We haven’t seen this Saseenos view in years. Still, the Oct. 30, 1949 photo reprinted here gives a foreground glimpse of the Canadian National Railway line that was so important to early Vancouver Island industry.

Thousands of wooden ties and steel rails carried an immense amount of freight between the time of the First World War to the 1960s.

The photo shows us the two buildings built in the 1940s (and still stand today) on Highway 14 and how close together the railway and the highway lay.


Charles Bickford built the building on the left during the Second World War as a general store. When his son Walter Bickford returned from overseas service, he established a Standard gas outlet and service garage next to his dad’s store.

Interestingly, when the 400-hectare subdivision of Saseenos was created in 1920/21 by the Franco Canadian Company, this central area was earmarked as the proposed business centre.

When I was a child, before the Bickford developments, the section shown was popularly referred to as the “city flats,” though overgrown with a dense forest of our famous Scotch broom.

It seems remarkable that only the two business structures have remained onsite half a century later, though there have been many changes of owners and uses. A series of families have run the general store, including the Peters family, the Nicholsons, the Leroy Hills, and the Gauthiers. Once, a bit of a scandal swept town when a shooting took place onsite.

The structure has housed an environmental business operation for the past several years. The neighbouring service garage changed its operation to a convenience store and coffee bar and was run by Paul Anderson. The sale of gas has continued throughout.

Hundreds of tons of freight, including logs, poles, and lumber, were carried from the uplands of the Sooke and Leech River valleys for offloading at Victoria for almost five decades.

Sadly, level crossings frequently include a history of tragedy, and this line was no different. Near this pictured view, the rail line crossed Woodlands Road, and in 1941 became the scene of a disaster when the locomotive struck a vehicle carrying several injured workers and Sooke’s beloved blacksmith Lyall Sheilds his life.


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

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