While we all know our world famous inn, Sooke Harbour House, so beautifully developed and operated by Frederique and Sinclair Philip, it also had a long history before their time.
It was Antony Kohout who acquired the land in the early 1920s and set up what he called Sooke Harbour Camp, a series of little cottages along the roadway with a teahouse closer to the water.
Kohout was from Czechoslovakia (or Austria), a man with initiative, and by 1929 he was able to build Sooke Harbour House on the site that you see today. The photograph shows how the place looked for many years, with four rooms, shared baths upstairs, and dining room and kitchen on the main floor.
Though it was in the Depression years, Kohout managed to keep the place going. One of the young girls working there recalled: “I worked for Kohout for two weeks when I was 15. The pay was 25 cents an hour and one of my jobs was plucking two chickens each day.”
In 1946 the place was bought by Jules and Marie Lavertu. A French-speaking couple who were living in Saskatchewan, they fell in love with Sooke and never went back. Marie brought her French charm and her lemon merengue pie to Sooke while Jules excelled with his pea soup.
The family made their home on the lower floor, where the eight children learned early about doing chores to help the household and the business. The Lavertus had a large garden and kept cattle, chickens and pigs. The business blossomed and a number of local women found employment there; this was the period when the restaurant’s reputation became well known in Victoria and internationally – it was the “IN” place to go.
In 1961, the business was purchased by the Donaldsons of Lethbridge and later in the ’60s it was run by a well-known Dutch couple, Leo and Susan Teygeman.
Bought by Howard and Margaret Traxler in 1968, it wasn’t long before it went to the Dhillons, who featured East Indian cuisine and arranged dinners by appointment.
In 1979 it was Sinclair and Frederique Philip who fell in love with the place. Sinclair brought a love of the marine environment and an analytical mind to the enterprise, and when added to Frederique’s French charm, sense of style and creative nature it was a combination that pretty literally set the restaurant world alight.
The 28 suite Sooke Harbour House of today is known around the world, a blend of haute cuisine, elegant art and style, and also of homey, welcoming comfort, and community culture. Memories of a fascinating inn and of fascinating people!
Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.