Today as you drive up Otter Point Road to the traffic light intersection, you’ll see retail outlets and boutiques on the left.
If you had been heading up the same street half a century ago, you would have seen this view (see picture attached). This business block has always been integral to Sooke’s commercial development.
Back in the quiet days when it had been centred by a general store run first by Eustace Arden in 1909, then by Caroline Throup, later by Kitching & Hardy, still later by the Collins family, there wasn’t a great deal of change up to the end of the Second World War.
RELATED: The Entrepreneurial Gibson brothers
In 1946, it was a Prairie boy, Bob Gibson, who had just completed his wartime service, who arrived in town. His enthusiasm and initiative took Sooke by storm.
Not only did he purchase the general store, but he also set in motion continuing developments. By 1956 he was operating a department store of sorts, encompassing hardware, dry goods, and a grocery supermarket.
The grocery division occupied the section furthest north in the block, where you find those boutique shops and florist outlets today. Bob Gibson brought many innovations to town, including the excitement one Christmas season of having Santa Claus land on the roof in a helicopter.
A couple of things he undertook to address in the developing town were the lack of a bank and newspaper.
Our first bank, the Canadian Bank of Commerce, did not exist until 1958, so Bob developed the custom of laying in a supply of cash on Fridays so working people could come in and cash their cheques.
He also sent out a weekly news bulletin, which promoted sales at the store and allowed residents to read about upcoming events in the community, a big first for this village. This bulletin was the forerunner for Sooke’s weekly newspaper initiated by Maurice Tozer in January 1959. Maurice’s mimeographed paper, originally The Grapevine, morphed into the Sooke News Mirror.
At the time of this photo, Bob Gibson had retired, selling the grocery business to Stan and Marion Jones in 1966 as the Shop-Easy. The other departments became individual outlets owned by different entrepreneurs. Stan and Marion Jones operated the grocery store until they sold out in 1974 when together with brother Leonard Jones, they established Cedar Grove Mall.
Historian Elida Peers writes for the Sooke Region Museum.