Naturalist James George French with Russki in 1914.

Naturalist James George French

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

The Sooke Region has always attracted a variety of incredibly talented and interesting people.

Among these is James George French, a naturalist who arrived on the island in the late 1800s from Bristol, England, where he had been a student of zoology and biology.

Some reports say that he arrived on the Atlantic coast and walked part of the way across Canada.  Sometimes early settlers were remittance men, and Mr. French may have been in this category.

At any rate, he loved animals, and one of the first places he set up was in Saanich, where he established a menagerie of circus animals, which he overwintered while they rested up from their circus circuit.  Among his tenants were a lion and an elephant, and his occupation drew a mixed reaction from his neighbours. This 1914 photo shows “Russki,” a bear that he kept in his Saanich pens.

In 1889 he married into one of our early families. His bride was Dora Jane, eldest daughter of pioneers John Goudie and Mary Ann Vautrin. He pre-empted Section 79 (Renfrew District) in Shirley, and for the next decades alternated his time between Saanich and Shirley.

The French children – Ivan, Hazel, Oscar, Wilfred and Daniel were all born in Saanich, though the sons chose to make their homes and earn their livelihoods in the woods industry throughout the Sooke/Otter/Shirley area.

Skilled in animal husbandry, Mr French also kept animals on his Section 79 property and family members recall a series of cougars that were housed there.  Children who grew up in the area recall that though fascinated by the animals, they felt somewhat intimidated by their keeper.

The family carved a place in history for themselves through their pioneering settlement on the western shores, and their descendants now make their homes in many places throughout BC.  James George French passed away in 1952.

In time, the French family chose to honour their patriarch by making the beautiful oceanfront property available to the government of British Columbia as a park.  French Beach Provincial Park, 145 acres of near-wilderness splendor, was dedicated on June 12, 1981.

 

 

Elida Peers,

Historian

Sooke Region Museum

Just Posted

Number of SD62 kindergarten registrations about same as last year

Approximately 850 kindergarten registrations for 2019/2020 school year

VicPD faces ‘significant pressure’ following Victoria’s 2019 budget decision

Chief Const. Del Manak says council continues to micromanage his department

Work set to begin on removing Sooke’s derelict boats from waterways

Seven boats earmarked to be removed this spring

28 years later: Dunahee disappearance remains largest investigation in Victoria police history

The four-year old Victoria boy went missing without a trace on March 24, 1991

Protective human chain forms around Victoria mosque for Friday prayer

Islanders stand arm-in-arm to show support in aftermath of New Zealand shootings

‘Families torn apart:’ Truck driver in fatal Broncos crash gets 8-year sentence

Judge Inez Cardinal told court in Melfort, Sask., that Sidhu’s remorse and guilty plea were mitigating factors

Vancouver Island motorists attempted CPR on victim in fatal Highway 4 crash

Collision took place west of Whiskey Creek; man in his 70s died

WestJet sticking with Boeing 737 Max once planes certified to fly

WestJet had expected to add two more of the planes this year to increase its fleet to 13

B.C. driver caught going 207 km/h on motorcycle along Okanagan Highway

A motorcyclist was caught by Kelowna RCMP going 207 km/h on Highway 97C

Motorcyclist dies after three-vehicle crash on old Island Highway

Accident happened at 12:15 p.m. Friday near Country Club Centre in Nanaimo

SOOKE HISTORY: Grandma Sue shared First Nations’ traditions with visitors

Elida Peers | Contributed We have had a number of books published… Continue reading

B.C. fire department offers tips to keep your home safe during wildfire season

With wildfire season getting closer, the Penticton Fire Dept. offer tips to keep your home safe

Fierce house cat spotted as ‘aggressor’ in face off with coyote in B.C. backyard

North Vancouver resident Norm Lee captures orange cat versus coyote in backyard showdown

Most Read