Whatever one’s opinion might be about Valentine’s Day, there’s no denying there is a feeling of romance in the air, says Brenda Parkinson, the Sooke councillor who also served as a marriage commissioner for 10 years.
“The very first wedding I ever officiated happened at the Sooke Harbour House. I got called up because a couple had come in from Vancouver and wanted to get married right away,” recalled Parkinson.
“When I got there we called up the front desk staff to act as witnesses and had the wedding right there.”
After the ceremony, the staff went back to work and Parkinson recalls sharing a bottle of champagne with the happy couple before walking home and leaving them to enjoy their wedding day.
The story doesn’t surprise Frederique Philip, owner of the Sooke Harbour House.
It’s a romantic place by its essence and the perfect place for romance,” Philip said.
Heather Sluggett, one of the Sooke Harbour House’s longest serving employees, recalled that during her more than 20 years at the hotel, there hasn’t been a single year when a wedding didn’t take place at the hotel.
“The chef had made special picnic lunches for couples and the gentleman has taken his true love out to the Spit where he’d open the basket and present the lady with a ring,” said Sluggett.
“Other times they’d be having dinner in the dining room and the chef would write ‘Will you marry me?’ on the plate before serving it. It was always so romantic.”
Sluggett recounted how the chef at the Sooke Harbour House was famous for his large chocolate clam shell desserts. On Valentines Day, he would often be asked to embed the box with the ring inside the clam shell so that when it was opened the gentleman could surprise his would-be bride.
“It was very romantic,” said Sluggett.
The long history of romance at the hotel has included the classic fireplace proposals, rose petals in the rooms and countless bottles of champagne.
And it’s a romantic tradition that seems to happen every Valentine’s Day as couples return to the hotel to relive their proposals or weddings.
“We have one couple who comes back every five years and has their picture taken under the same alder tree where they were married,” said Sluggett.
The Valentine’s Day weddings at the hotel have a special place in Parkinson’s memories.
I can honestly tell you that they have been the most romantic weddings I’ve presided over. There’s something about them that makes them special,” she said.
“Maybe because they are smaller and more intimate. Or maybe because they are more spontaneous, and not like the big events that are planned months in advance … I don’t know.”
Whatever the cause, there’s not denying that Valentine’s Day and the Sooke Harbour House have a special connection and that love is in the air at the venerable old establishment.