The green fields of his youth still surround Jimmy Duncan’s childhood home in the centre of Sooke.
His parents’ home is now headquarters for a business enterprise, and his granddad’s home next door is a dental office, but the roots are still there – Jonas Throup settled the land after he took up the section running upland from the harbour in 1868.
On his mother’s side, Jim was a Seymour. Annie (Nan) Seymour, daughter of a Britisher, Richard Seymour and his wife Jean, had been born in the “lying in” hospital of Dr. Richard Felton (Felton Lane). Annie attended Sooke School and married childhood sweetheart Jim Duncan. The couple raised two children, Jimmy Jr. and Jeannie.
Growing up, Jimmy Jr. was surrounded by the school on one side, grandpa George Duncan Sr. next door and uncle George Duncan across the road. No wonder he was well-steeped in Sooke traditions. He helped on his dad’s farm, which began with dairy cattle.
Jim Sr. teamed up with partners to buy a Black Angus bull, building a beef herd. Jim Jr. joined right in, became a member of the 4H Club and raised his own beef. After school, he went to work driving a truck for a sand and gravel company.
Working for Jube Wickheim, he joined him in the sport of log birling, which was a significant component of the logging sports culture in Sooke and beyond. The Canadian government invited the two to participate in a log-birling exhibition in New York’s Central Park in 1967 to promote EXPO in Montreal.
Encouraged by his fatherto invest in property, Jimmy built houses throughout Sooke, beginning with the family property on Throup Road. It turned out that property development was to become the leading focus throughout his life.
Jimmy had also enjoyed working with cattle, and that interest stayed with him, leading to work hauling cattle in Canada and the U.S.
Connections in Arizona led to property development and construction in the U.S., mainly in the Phoenix area. He partnered with his daughter Nicole, establishing commercial enterprises, condos and subdivisions.
Jimmy soon had a pattern of spending the colder months mostly in Arizona and summers in B.C. His local developments, with business partner Tony Young, included construction in the Horne Road cul de sac.
A significant new undertaking took place in the 1990s, with Jimmy and Nicole building The Sandpiper, a four-storey condo structure geared to the interest of senior citizens. He established his mom as the first tenant, with the top floor/best view unit. This building, on part of the original Throup farm and fronting on Country Road, became fully subscribed and continues to thrive today.
In the 1990s, the team of Duncan and Young decided on a grander venture, building the Magnolia Hotel on Courtney Street in Victoria. This impressive seven-storey structure soon took on a sophisticated stature. It became noteworthy, winning several awards: in 2017, Travel & Leisure’s Best City Hotel in Canada and 2020, Trip Advisor’s #1 Top Hotel in Canada.
When Sooke became an incorporated municipality in 1999, and the planning for sewers was well underway, many thoughts for development were discussed. One of the focal points of interest was the old Phillips farm on the west side of the Sooke River, owned by a forestry company then.
It wasn’t long before a partnership was formed, with four shareholders, that negotiated with the District of Sooke to develop the most extensive subdivision in our history, Sunriver Estates. To our understanding, the four partners were Jimmy Duncan, Ron Shambrook and his son Steven, Tony Young and Norm Eden. Locals are all aware of the significance of Sunriver and the impact its 700-plus housing entities have had on the community and in expanding the course of Sooke’s development.
It wasn’t all work and no play for Jim, though. He was a member of Uplands Golf Club. While his home was in Victoria, he enjoyed coming out to Sooke and joining Ron Shambrook on his cabin cruiser as they headed up the Strait of Juan de Fuca, looking forward to hooking into spring salmon.
In his later years, as his health declined, Jimmy could rely on his daughter Nicole to manage his extensive businesses.
Jimmy died at the age of 78 last month.
Pre-deceased by his daughter Jody, Jimmy leaves to mourn his wife Leslie, daughter Nicole Roberts; son-in-law Ian; grandchildren Connor, Calla and Alison; son-in-law Terry Aben; grandson Jasper Duncan Aben; and many nieces and nephews. Sadly, his sister Jeannie Nichol also died within days of his death.
An event honouring James Seymour Duncan will occur on Jan. 21 from 1 to 3:30 pm at the Magnolia Hotel’s Courtney Room Restaurant.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.