Even though Jim Gray has been gone for more than three decades, he left us a legacy – a view of history from the artist’s perspective.
He was born in Ontario and spent most of his working life with the Royal Canadian Air Force, first as a gunner in the Second World War and later as a communication specialist in Canada and Europe. He’d always been interested in anything maritime.
Jim retired to the West Coast in the early 1970s. He built a home with his wife, Ida, on Dufour Road. The couple raised three children. Their daughter Marilyn still lives in East Sooke.
While a heart condition limited Jim’s activities, it was vital for him to walk – and walk he did.
Across the inlet, he could see the government wharf and its myriad waterfront activities at the foot of Maple Avenue. It was only natural that he spent hours there, recording many scenes taking place at the various structures that made up Ed Pallister’s empire.
For those folk who weren’t here during Ed Pallister’s time, he was known from Alaska to California as the “millionaire junkman of the Pacific.” (We’ll show a waterfront scene another week.)
From there, it was but a short walk back up Maple Avenue to the historic Muir Cemetery, which was at that time mostly hidden behind bushes, overgrown and in disrepair. Jim saw the scene’s beauty, and it is charmingly depicted here, featuring the Muir graves and the scarlet Hawthorne tree.
This cemetery property was later bought and restored by the Sooke Region Historical Society, the Sooke Lions Club, and the Sooke Community Association, assisted by generous donors within our community and abroad. In 2001, it was opened to the public as a park and heritage site, and in 2012 it was donated to the District of Sooke.
It was a long walk for Jim Gray, going down to Kaltasin Road, where he documented many scenes at Sooke Marine Industries. Along the way, he sketched in charcoal and watercolours, scene after scene, which illustrated the ordinary day-to-day life of our community.
We are blessed that much of this voluminous collection rests at the Sooke Region Museum today, produced by a man whose heart may have been weak but particularly strong, leaving such a legacy for the community he loved.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.