SOOKE HISTORY: Remembering Bob Acreman

Elida Peers || Contributed

He grew up with a view of the sea from his parents’ cottage overlooking Sooke harbour, lived out his life on the ocean, serving from deckhand and right up to ship’s master, and retired with a view of the sea again, overlooking the harbour from his red-roofed log house on the pioneer Muir property.

Robert (Bob) Acreman was a great-great grandson of John Muir of Kilmarnock Scotland who immigrated to Canada in 1849, establishing a dynasty which included mining, lumbering, shipbuilding and farming. While the senior John Muir had originally come out with his family to the new colony of Vancouver’s Island at the behest of the Hudson’s Bay Company to supervise the mining of coal, it was in Sooke that he settled in 1851.

For a time in the 1850s and 60s the Muir father and sons held much of the land between today’s John Muir School and Kaltasin Road. The Muir sawmill, the first successfully operated steam sawmill in the new colony, was located within the harbour, and shipped out lumber to destinations such as San Francisco, Valparaiso, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Australia.

John Muir’s son Robert, great-grandfather to the subject of this story, became a millwright, largely responsible for keeping the mill running, and was involved in the building of the fleet of Muir vessels as well, the Ann Taylor, Matilda, Isabella, the Robert Cowan and the steam ship Woodside.

Robert’s grandfather was J. S. Muir, who married Eliza Throup, daughter of another early pioneer. That union produced Florence Muir, who in turn, married Bob Acreman, a shipwright, one of the seven sons of mariner Benjamin Acreman and his wife Rebecca who had come to Vancouver Island from Newfoundland. It’s no wonder that young Robert grew up with a love of the sea.

Robert was born in 1935, and was joined a few years later by sister Diane. The two children, born into such an illustrious group of pioneer families, were soon immersed in the history of Muirs, Throups and Acremans.

While as a kid Robert got a job at the fishtraps, he soon went on to join Island Tug and Barge, working alongside two other young Sooke fellows, Darryl Sheilds and Harold Forrest. Working his way up on the job, by 1967 he had gained his master’s certification; Island Sovereign was one of the first vessels where he served as master.

In 1970 Island Tug and Barge was bought by Seaspan International and Bob took command of a series of vessels, including the Seaspan Ranger, Seaspan Navigator and Seaspan Cavalier.

When Sooke’s Susan McLean interviewed Bob Acreman in 1991, he recounted how his towing jobs took him from San Francisco and Los Angeles to the Queen Charlotte Islands and the Gulf of Alaska, to Bella Bella, Alert Bay and Prince Rupert. Crews generally consisted of six members, who worked two weeks on and two weeks off.

It was when he had been crewing on the Island Champion in July 1956 that he met Marilyn Bell when she made her epic swim, crossing the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Port Angeles to Victoria in about 14 hours. He also took part in several marine rescues, as Seaspan tugs were called upon for help when vessels were in distress on the high seas.

In 1960 Bob married Joyce Crighton and the couple raised three children. After 40 years at sea, he retired, and particularly enjoyed his time serving with Mt. Shepherd Masonic Lodge, hunting, fishing, camping and enjoying spectator sports. Always mindful of his Muir family roots, he built a log house on property that had been in the Muir family for five generations.

As the Sooke Region Museum is working on a documentary movie on Woodside Farm, the family seat of the Muirs, Bob Acreman was happy to speak of his Muir background on camera. This film is to be launched in 2018. We were fortunate that this could happen, before his health began to deteriorate and he was hospitalized.

Predeceased by his son Dennis, Bob leaves his wife Joyce, son Jack (Jodi), daughter Sharon (Tracy), seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild, his sister Diane Acreman Alexander and nieces and nephews.

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

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