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SOOKE HISTORY – Sawmill had humble beginnings on Goodridge Peninsula

Sooke Forest Products was once a cornerstone of community
Sooke Forest Products Sawmill in the early 1950s. In the upper right of the photo is Munns Lumber, which operated east of Ayum Creek bridge. (Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

The Sooke Forest Products Sawmill in the early 1950s was located on the beautiful wooded Goodridge Peninsula.

Christian Helgesen bought the peninsula, so his son’s sawmill could expand, and the site has had a remarkable history. It was used by First Nations people before immigrants brought commercial industry to Sooke Harbour and Basin. The site was also a famous picnic spot for the residents.

When Helgesen’s son Harry started a sawmill on Helgesen Road after he returned from the Second World War in 1945, it became apparent that he needed more space to store logs, and the relocation began. This scene was early in the sawmill’s history; as the operations expanded, its structures occupied the entire peninsula, and the waiting log booms extended further into the basin.

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In the centre, the narrow strip of land leads from Goodridge Road to the mill site. When I first learned about this site, when rowboats were in use, we could row at high tide over this narrow spit. For trucks to carry milled lumber back to Highway 14 for hauling to markets, this strip had to be strengthened into a solid roadway.

In the right background, one can see some of the log booms belonging to Munns Lumber, which operated just east of Ayum (Stoney) Creek bridge, next to the highway. Munn’s Lumber operated its sawmill on the Cooper’s Cove site from 1941 to 1956, when it burned down; we can, therefore, date this photo as just before the mill’s burning.

Sooke Forest Products Sawmill went on to become one of Canada’s most efficient cedar mills, employing 400 men in shifts around the clock. Its ownership changed repeatedly, including Bill Grunow, Hershell Smith, and CPR, and in its later days, it became Lamford Forest Products.

It cannot be overstated that this sawmill was an enormous economic driver in the development of the Sooke community. At the same time that the mill cut lumber, it was renowned for sharing its resources with the community at large, contributing to assist many causes. However, with changes in the world economy and policies, the mill was no longer able to function, and it closed down in 1989/90.

The good times were remembered, as almost a hundred former mill employees got together for a reunion on March 1; it was a good thing they wore name tags, as everyone was 35 years older.


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