SOOKE HISTORY: Tall ships in Sooke Harbour

Many tall ships have entered the harbour over the years

The Pathfinder, pictured here in the 1880s, was a sealing schooner, part of the Victoria-based sealing fleet. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

Even though the decision of the Hudson’s Bay Company factor James Douglas when he toured Sooke Harbour aboard the schooner Cadboro in 1842 meant that the inlet was considered unsatisfactory as a major port, there have been several tall ships enter the harbour over the years.

The Pathfinder, pictured here in the 1880s, was a sealing schooner, part of the Victoria-based sealing fleet, which held reign in the North Pacific and the Bering Sea for almost half a century.

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This image came to the Sooke Region Museum from Mabel Cook, one of the daughters of Joseph Poirier Jr., who was a sealer before he turned to forestry and farming in Otter Point. Helen Sheilds Michelsen Gibson, daughter of blacksmith Lyall Sheilds, who recalled her grandfather had sailed on the Pathfinder, along with John Charters, told us “many of them never came back.”

Another famous vessel was the “Aggie” MacDonald (named for the wife of Canada’s first prime minister) which was built in Lunenberg, N.S. in the late 1880s.

While built by the federal government as a fast patrol vessel, the Aggie was bought by a group of local men and brought to the West Coast. Purchasers and crew included Capt. M.B. Cutler, Capt. William Sheilds, Capt. Oscar Scarf and the Poirier brothers. After a career in the Pelagic seal hunt, the Aggie was wrecked on the coast of Japan in 1897.

Before those adventures, it was Spain’s Sub-Lt. Manuel Quimper entered Sooke Harbour in June 1790 in the vessel he had captured from the British trader Capt. Meares, a billandra which he renamed Princesa Real, planting a cross for the King of Spain.

Another vessel of renown at the time was the Halcyon (later named Vera) which bore a reputation in the opium trade (rumour had it that Whiffin Spit was one site of such shipments). In 1846, Capt. Henry Kellett of the Royal Navy in the HMS Herald that surveyed Sooke Harbour.

In 1859, the bark Euphrates sailed from Sooke to London carrying spars and 40,000 feet of lumber, and the forest industry established by the Muir family was underway. In 1900, John Mugford, a Newfoundlander whose wife operated the Mugford Boarding House at Church Road, began a freight service between Sooke and Victoria with his schooner Kilminnie.

Today it’s mostly smaller pleasure craft we see in the harbour, alongside the many sports fishermen who are now based here.


Historian Elida Peers writes for the Sooke Region Museum. Email

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