The old Sooke Harbour Camp, a precusor to the Sooke Harbour House, near Whiffin Spit. (File- Sooke Region Museum)

The old Sooke Harbour Camp, a precusor to the Sooke Harbour House, near Whiffin Spit. (File- Sooke Region Museum)

LOCAL HISTORY: Sooke Harbour House brought tourist to region

World-renowned resort started by Antony Kohou

Elida Peers | Contributed

These days many of us who head for a walk on Whiffin Spit take note of the significant renovations happening at the Sooke Harbour House.

When Antony Kohout, an immigrant from central Europe, chose a site on Vancouver Island’s coast to initiate a tourism industry, he chose well, as that particular point has never ceased attracting visitors from far and near. It was 1923.

In the early 20th century, Kohout arrived from Europe and worked at Yarrows Shipyard in Victoria, then moved to Sooke in 1919. He built a house where Wadams Way is now, right where a new development housing development is taking place now, across from the new library. After Kohout’s time, the little farm was owned by Peter and Olive Wadams, hence the street name.

In 1923, he moved to property he acquired at Whiffin Spit and built half a dozen guest cottages, pictured here, which faced along Whiffin Spit Road. Closer to the Spit, he built a tearoom as well, which could cater to visitors in the fledgling tourism industry.

Many Victoria families owned motor vehicles by the 1920s and began enjoying Sunday drives out into the country for tea. The inscription on this postcard scene reads “Sooke Harbor Camp, Victoria, BC.” Perhaps they didn’t think that Sooke was a place!

The hospitality trend looked so promising to Kohout that he next built a two-storey structure with four guestrooms and a dining room facing the ocean in 1929/30. It was then that the legendary Sooke Harbour House was born.

Though the inn was very basic if judged by today’s standards, it was a grand innovation for our historic village and not only brought tourists but offered employment. Young women, in particular, sought work there. Audrey Sullivan (later Wilson) told us how when she was 15, she got a job there, receiving pay of 25c an hour. Among her duties was plucking two chickens a day. The feathers weren’t wasted, either. They were used to stuff pillows for the guest rooms.

Many owners followed after Kohout’s time, particularly the Jules and Marie Lavertu family and the Sinclair and Frederique Philip family. Since the recent purchase of the world-renowned resort by a Vancouver firm, very extensive renovations have occurred. Residents will await with interest whatever the resort’s future holds.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email historian@sookeregionmuseum.com.

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