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SOOKE HISTORY: Sun River’s apple orchard a tribute to pioneering Phillips family

Apples have always played role in the life of settlers
This photo captures the Phillips family, whose dedication to farming paved the way for the thriving community orchard today. The parents, William and Janet, stand in the center with their sons John, Edward, and William standing behind them and daughters Eliza and Jessie on either end. (Submitted - Sooke Region Musem)

Apples have always had a role in the life of our pioneers, and it is good to see the apple orchard now established as part of the community gardens at Sun River.

A stone’s throw away, across from the gardens, the apple orchard started by William and Janet Phillips kept the Phillips family in good eating apples for many decades.

William Phillips arrived in 1868, a Britisher who had come to Sooke while serving aboard a Royal Navy vessel.

He obtained work with the Muir family enterprises. He soon bought land on the west side of the Sooke River, upstream from DeMamiel Creek.

A couple of decades later, the Edward Milne family arrived from Scotland and established a farm on the east side of the river, acquiring the land where Joseph Poirier Sr. and his wife Ellen had set up a cabin earlier. His grown family accompanied Edward Milne Sr.

One of his daughters, Janet, caught the eye of William Phillips and became his partner in establishing a farm and orchard. This orchard was the forerunner of the current grove of apple trees that form part of Sun River Community Gardens today.

Glen Thelin, the horticulturist for Sun River Orchard, has been able to take a cutting from one of the original century-old Phillips trees and graft it onto one of the new trees and will be watching to see how this develops. A tree the pioneers favoured was lemon pippin, and a tree planted alongside Moss Cottage at the museum was grafted long ago with a scion from a lemon pippin grown by B.C.’s first independent settler, Walter Colquhoun Grant.

Bears continue to be a problem for apple trees throughout the community, and it is nice to note that the Sun River Community Garden is fenced with tall pickets, which tend to thwart access to deer and bears.

Our photo shows the Phillips family, whose pioneering efforts established the farm on which the community orchard sits. Standing behind their parents are sons John, Edward and William, while daughters Eliza and Jessie are at either end. While the second generation remained in the community, the Phillips family left no issue; it is good to note that the new apple orchard helps remember them for their farming legacy.


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

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