SOOKE HISTORY: Sandwich Islands trade

Sooke area had great significance in the industrial development of B.C.

Elida Peers | Contributed

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today, we are hearing a lot of international news about tariffs and trade wars.

We found it interesting to read this editorial published in the Daily British Colonist and Victoria Chronicle, Aug. 20, 1867:

“What obstacle prevents the government of this colony taking steps toward negotiating a reciprocal trade treaty with the Sandwich Islands? We are large consumers of their produce, and so are they of ours. Coal from this island already enters Hawaiian ports free of duty … Our lumber, fish, shingles, barrels, etc., which we now export in considerable quantities, and on which we pay a duty of 10 percent, will be driven out of the markets there if American goods are admitted free, unless we take immediate steps to be placed upon a similar footing.”

Today’s photo was taken in September 1869, in Sooke harbour. The ships were awaiting loading via barges carrying lumber out to them from the Muir sawmill, which was located at the right beyond the photo, which would place the mill on the harbour front a bit south of today’s Wright Road, and pretty close to where Ray Vowles lives.

Through the assistance of marine historian R.E. Wells, we have learned that the sailing ships were the Lady Lampson, the Robert Cowan and the Dominion. The steam tug Emily Harris was standing by: it would have been used to tow the loaded vessels around the narrow channel at Whiffin Spit.

The Muir sawmill and its related industries shipped out many products, including lumber, squared timbers, barrel staves needed by the Sandwich Islands for molasses, bark used for tanning of leather, and pilings used for wharf construction in San Francisco.

In early British Columbia history, the Sooke area had great significance in the industrial development of the province.


Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

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