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Sooke History: Longboats built for 1990 bicentennial

Spanish-replica vessels created by designer Greg Foster

Elida Peers |Contributed

You can still see them today, rowed through the basin weekly, those beautifully crafted longboats Sooke built back in 1989.

For 33 years, these classic vessels, intended to help celebrate the bicentennial in 1990, have maintained their allure for boaters, an opportunity to enjoy the sun, wind and waves in a picturesque inlet.

It was in the spring of 1989 that the Spanish-replica longboat plans created by designer Greg Foster matured to the point where they could ask Simmons Mill (later Warburton’s Mill) on Otter Point Road to cut 30-foot lengths of Western Redcedar from Franklin River into planks that would form the stylish longboats pictured here, the Dona Rosa and the T’Sou-Ke.

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The upper photo shows the ribs fitted onto the keel in the boatshed at Edward Milne Community School, where the boatbuilding project took place under the leadership of EMCS coordinator Phoebe Dunbar and principal Del Clark. It was the Williams Creek area that supplied the yellow cedar that was turned into masts, oars, and other components. Yew wood from Jordan River, so traditionally used by First Nations for the creation of tools, was used for items such as the tillers.

While the EMCS boatbuilding course took place in the evenings, students assisted as well. Home economics students also contributed, helping stitch the canvas sails.

When launch day came on April 25, 1990, there was great excitement at the Sooke River Flats as the crowds gathered to help and cheer as the boats slipped into the river. Chief Larry Underwood of the T’Sou-Ke Nation helped christen the boats with fir boughs, sending them on their maiden journey to Sooke Marine Industries where they would be berthed.

Historically, longboats were sent out from their mother ship to undertake survey work and other maritime chores on a voyage of discovery. Among the many who enthusiastically supported the project were Bob Rempel, Tom Handford, Byron Cook, Chris Hyde, Sid Froman, John Nicholson, Bob Dunbar, Joan Titus; sorry, too many more to list.

Today the historic vessels, with faithful continuing support, are managed by the Sooke Classical Boating Society, which can be reached at

“After all these years, I am still rowing the longboats and enjoying every minute,” says president Linda McMillan.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email

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