SOOKE HISTORY: Firehall opening was a celebration

The event featured local dignitaries, First Nation Dancers and the Highlanders Band

The opening of the Sooke Volunteer Fire Department hall on April 13, 1996. (Sooke Region Museum photo)

The opening of the Sooke Volunteer Fire Department hall on April 13, 1996. (Sooke Region Museum photo)

Elida Peers | Contributed

The opening of a public building is always cause for celebration, and when the Sooke Volunteer Fire Department’s new hall opened on April 13, 1996, there was indeed a ceremony of celebration, featuring First Nation dancers and Sooke’s Highlanders Pipe Band.

Funding to build the new firehall was intended to replace the 1958 structure which stood on Sooke Road across from where the Royal Bank is today.

Passing a public referendum on funding is challenging, and this referendum was no exception. Fire trustees of the day were Maywell Wickheim, chair, with Joan Titus, Leo Myers, Bill Sheppard and Vern Edwards.

Leading the campaign to support the successful referendum were regional director Bob Clark and businessman Bob Sykes. Jim Merrill was the designer for the impressive structure, which also encompassed Capital Regional District services, and which after the incorporation vote that followed in 1999, came under municipal jurisdiction.

A Victoria newspaper photographer is seen at left foreground in this photo, which shows T’Sou-ke Chief James Cooper and T’Sou-ke Elder Frank Planes presenting a gift of the carved Lazzar crest for the department to chairman Wickheim and Fire Chief Ric Raynor.

The ribbon to officially open the firehall was cut by youngsters who won a draw for the honour – Kayla Parchem and Richard Gray.

Also in this photo were Jack Planes, onetime T’Sou-ke chief, who served as a volunteer fireman for 25 years, his wife Phyllis, and Frank Planes’ wife Bunny, along with elder Grandma Sue Johnson.

A manually drawn hose reel given to the Sooke Region Museum many years ago (used by volunteers a century ago) was given to the fire department, so that it could be on display for public interest.

When formal fire practices for volunteers began during the Second World War, with a makeshift firehall on Sooke Road, at Anna Marie Road, Sooke’s fire chiefs were volunteers, elected by their fellows. First was Albert Wilson, followed by Ken Shepherd, Don Morrison, Bill Stephenson, Jubiel Wickheim, Ray Pimlott, Gerhart Hansen, Len Jones and Bill Meikle.

Following this period, paid fire chiefs have included Lorne Fisk, Ric Raynor, Bob Kelsey, Steve Sorenson and Kenn Mount.

In 2001, Sooke’s first mayor and council gave the firehall a name, the W. J. Stephenson Firehall. A few years later, Bill Stephenson was recognized as the longest serving volunteer fireman in Canada and honoured at an impressive banquet ceremony in the building pictured.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.