Melvin (Mel) Hull quickly became a west coast boy when his parents, Ray and Bea Hull, moved to Sooke in 1956.
Mel’s dad was in the lumber marketing industry, coming to Sooke to become manager of Sooke Building Supplies, it was difficult to find housing in the community’s postwar boom, but Ray and Bea Hull found a temporary home at Woodside Farm, a place their six sons could spread out and have boyhood fun.
Mel’s lifelong love of the sea and the marine environment began when the Hull family moved to Wright Road on the waterfront.
After graduating from Edward Milne High School, Mel did a bit of commercial fishing and then went to work for Doug MacFarlane on the Demac II. This was where he learned to read the tides and currents, and how to handle towboats and barges – lessons he felt served him well on every vessel he shipped aboard in his 40 years at sea.
Mel married Judy Nix, and the two went to sea together on their 36-foot troller Sea Lion III. The couple bought a home on Sooke Road, raising two daughters, Megan and Stephanie, and he joined the Canadian Coast Guard.
In the Coast Guard, he was responsible for buoy tending on Sir James Douglas, the 280-foot icebreaker Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Martha Black, and the Wolfe. His crew had to be airlifted off and then brought back to civilization by Airforce Hercules helicopters when the 220-foot icebreaker Camsell fell through the ice in the eastern Arctic.
Mel’s employment with the Coast Guard meant four weeks at sea and four weeks at home. In the four weeks, Mel spent onshore, he could devote time to volunteer work, and he chose Pacific salmon, an important coastal resource.
The fish-saving group initiated by conservation officer Jack Brooks morphed into the Sooke Salmon Enhancement Society, and Mel became a charter member. Gathering the salmon eggs in the fall, the group placed them in trays for incubation, fed them and released the fry into the river in the spring for their journey into the Pacific Ocean.
For 45 years, Mel continued this work, clearing debris from streams and taking shifts at the hatchery, established at Rocky Creek. His experience and expertise were of incredible value to newcomers to the volunteer salmon enhancement group.
“I have been lucky to have a friend like Mel for the past 11 years since I first began volunteering at the hatchery,” Lis Johansen says. “He was such a wealth of knowledge. However, he preferred to show you just once, so he kept you on your toes to pay attention.”
“When the hatchery hosted the yearly fishing derby in Sooke, the speed and accuracy Mel showed cleaning the fish was unreal. He could do it in his sleep, I’m sure. He had the sharpest knives ever and was a pro at sharpening. The joke at the hatchery was always ‘watch the knives – Mel has had them homeune-up.’ We will miss him so much, and I will forever remember Mel as such a special human being.”
Perhaps the knife sharpening story connected to his wood carving as Mel enjoyed making wooden toys and other crafts in his home workshop when he and Judy retired to their Lannon Creek Park home. Many of us took advantage of his woodwork skills with genuine wood-carved toys for our kids and grandkids.
Andy Schell, recently elected president of the society, says, “A newcomer to Sooke, I was fortunate to become involved with the new Jack Brooks Salmon Hatchery just as it was being built. One of the first people I met was Mel Hull. I quickly relied on Mel to help me understand what useful role I could play.
“Mel didn’t easily tolerate people who pretended to know things that they didn’t, but he understood when someone was trying to help, and they had the right attitude. He enjoyed teaching others and was very patient when they wanted to learn.”
Mel died, age 75, with his family by his side on Jan. 18, seven months after his wife Judy died. He will be missed by many and held in high regard for his deep knowledge and mastery of many seafaring skills.
Mel leaves behind daughters Megan (Brandon) and Stephanie (Nathan); grandchildren Beatrice and Rowland; brother-in-law Bill Pedneault and sister-in-law Sandy Pedneault; brothers Zain, Wayne, Pat (Janet) and Tim (Brenda) and many cousins, nieces and nephews.
A memorial service is expected to take place this summer.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email email@example.com.
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Elida Peers, Historian
Sooke Region Museum