Small communities look after their own and Sooke is no exception. Back in the mid-1930s the citizens of the day held outdoor picnics with salmon barbecues at the Sooke Flats. It was a time when people needed to get together and have a social event or an evening out. Communities have always built some sort of building in which to hold local functions and social events. So it was in Sooke.
Back in 1935 someone donated land and the Sooke Community Association was formed, through a document of incorporation. The present Sooke Community Hall was built in 1937. Thus began a long history of service to the community. So many familiar and historical last names appear in the records of the association; George, Muir, Sheilds, Glinz, Linell, Goodrich.
One family name still seen is Linell. Today, Karl Linell, son of Oke and Mae Clare Linell, is the current president of the Sooke Community Association and he is a passionate advocate for the association and the community hall. Both his parents were heavily involved and he has taken the reins of the association. The SCA was once the driving force for community activities and decisions, but since incorporation, the association has struggled. Everything is done by volunteers.
“It has been this hall, maintained by volunteers, that has kept the lifeblood of Sooke flowing,” states a comment in The Sooke Story, The History and the Heartbeat, published in 1999 by the Sooke Region Museum.
Sooke was very well-known for All Sooke Days, an event run by the Sooke Community Association.
Linell had been a major force at All Sooke Days. He could be found tending the fires for the barbecue salmon and the baron of beef.
Linell said Dickie George cooked the salmon and one year they cooked 1,200 pounds of salmon for the large crowds that came to the popular event.
The beef was cooked in a traditional native way. It was soaked in water from the Sooke River, wrapped in seaweed and cooked in a fire pit which had been prepped for a week.
“The fire burned for one week to get ashes and to warm the ground,” said Linell. “The health department didn’t like that.”
All Sooke Days ended in 2000, the victim of changing times, health regulations and lack of money for events such as the world famous logging show.
“We had to pay big money to be in the circuit,” said Linell. He said other events on the island drew people away from All Sooke Days. All Sooke Days would draw between 7,000 and 8,000 people.
“We couldn’t make it pay, people went elsewhere,” said Linell. “We hated to shut it down, between the health department, flood plain and small crowds we weren’t making it, we were losing actually. It was an excellent thing.”
Fast forward to 2013. The Sooke Community Association has a number of property holdings, with the main money maker being the Sooke Flats campground and the main money loser being the community Hall. Once the only place in Sooke to hold a convention, the hall is now used less frequently. The money from the conventions were used to maintain the hall, which these days has bills of $5,000 per month. The uninsulated building is still used a lot by youth and sports groups, but nothing like it used to be. The hall used to hold 18-20 conventions a year.
Linell said a lot of convention people wanted to come out here after being stuck in a suit and tie in Victoria and enjoy themselves in a casual way. That was the draw — the casualness.
There are a number of community groups who still use parts of the building for meetings, food services and equipment loans. They are not asked to pay anything for the use of the downstairs space, although they do voluntarily contribute a stipend for maintenance and utilities.
The insurance costs, said Linell, are “killing us.”
The Sooke Community Association owns the Sooke Community Hall, Fred Milne Park, Art Morris Park (ball fields and tennis court) and the Sooke Flats.
So close to 78 years later, what does the Sooke Community Association need and want?
“Working volunteers,” said Dave Clark, current vice-president of the association.
The association has 12 directors who are mostly getting up there in age. They have been trying to train young loggers for logging sports shows but too often they move to go to university or up north to work. Younger folks, it seems, have little time for volunteer work.
The campground at the Sooke Flats is slowly being upgraded with power to accommodate the large RVs that now arrive to camp, and a rock wall was built to prevent erosion of land by high water in the river. These tasks are all done by volunteers.
“We’re struggling,” said Linell.
So, what they are seeking is a number of volunteers who might want to anything from splitting firewood for the campground to maintenance of the hall, kitchen help at conventions to writing for grants and someone who could organize the associations records.
“You can come when you want, we’re all volunteers,” said Clark. He said retired or semi-retired people might find it fulfilling, lending their expertise to the association.
“We’re trying to keep it rolling. We need a new roof on the community hall… we just keep stumbling along,” said Linell.
The Sooke Community Association currently meets on the first Monday of each month. For more information, call the hall at 250-642-5521 and leave a message, someone will return your call.