SOOKE HISTORY: Grandma Sue shared First Nations’ traditions with visitors

Susan Lazzar Cooper Johnson (Grandma Sue) with Sandra Cooper, left, and Kathy Johannesson. (Sooke Region Museum)

Susan Lazzar Cooper Johnson (Grandma Sue) with Sandra Cooper, left, and Kathy Johannesson. (Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

We have had a number of books published by authors in Sooke, and that’s so good to see.

An earlier little booklet was one written by Susan Lazzar Cooper Johnson, and in this photo we see her lovely smile as she pulled the first booklet out of the box.

Susan, or as we at the Sooke Region Museum called her, Grandma Sue, is flanked here by her granddaughter Sandra Cooper, at left and by Kathy Johannesson, who helped her in writing the book That Was Our Way of Life.

The year was 1990, and back in those days, Grandma Sue spent Sunday afternoons in the summer seated on the museum lawn with a pile of handiwork spread around her, and showed the many visitors how to weave mats with cedar bark, or baskets with swamp grass.

The Sooke Region Museum was indeed fortunate that this kindly lady was happy to share her great knowledge and traditional crafts with visitors.

Grandma Sue was born into the Lazzar family, youngest daughter of Chief Andrew Lazzar and his wife Annie (nee Jones), who was a sister to Queesto, Hereditary Chief Charles Jones of Pacheedaht.

Susan’s T’Sou-ke grandparents were Chief Louis Lazzar and his wife Mary. Of the 14 children born to Andrew and Annie Lazzar, who as youngsters played along the riverbank at Sooke and visited at Port Renfrew, only five lived to adulthood.

Grandma Sue described how, along with Lizzie George, she had been taken on the train to Kuper Island School, “… and the nuns would make us not say a word of Indian, just English.”

Grandma Sue also commented: “I didn’t really dislike school, it’s just that we were there so long.”

Her favourite times were being with her parents, harvesting foodstuffs and particularly watching how her mother prepared the foods, such as feasting on salmonberry sprouts.

“My mother, she’d say, ‘Watch me. I don’t have to tell you. Just watch me.’ So we did.”

As a young woman in 1929, Susan Lazzar married George Cooper, son of Chief Cooper of Songhees and her son James was born of this union.

Many of us remember James Cooper who was elected chief of the T’Sou-ke people, serving from 1963 to 1976, and again in the 1990s.

Susan married again and raised Gerald and Annabelle Lazzar and Nick Johnson.

In 1997, this memorable lady died.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.