SOOKE HISTORY: The day Spain came to visit

Sooke celebrated the bicentennial of Spain’s exploration of the B.C. coast

Juan Sebastian de Elcano fired a 21-gun salvo to commemorate Sooke on March 30, 1991. (Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

One of the exciting days in Sooke’s maritime history was March 30, 1991, when the fourth largest sailing ship in the world, Spain’s Juan Sebastian de Elcano fired a 21-gun salvo as she cruised down the Strait of Juan de Fuca as close as she could, to the thousands of viewers on Whiffin Spit.

Too large to enter Sooke harbour, this was the way the ship saluted Sooke, responding to the occasion the year before when Spain’s ambassador participated in the bicentennial celebration of the journey of exploration by Spain into Sooke harbour in the billandra Princesa Real in 1790.

His Excellency Antonio Jose Fournier, Spain’s ambassador, announced to the crowds at the 1990 bicentennial: “We will be back and we will present Sooke with a bust of Manuel Quimper for your park.”

True to his word, the ambassador notified us later in the year that Spain’s pride of the fleet, the four-masted topsail schooner Juan Sebastian de Elcano would sail by and salute Sooke on a training mission, her official greeting on entering B.C. waters.

It was our good fortune that Ambassador Fournier’s cousin, Capt. Pedro La Pique, was master of the Elcano, so it was not difficult for him to ask his cousin to divert from their stop in Hawaii to include B.C. on the ship’s tour. The ship carried 360 feet of canvas, and 300 of Spain’s naval cadets and crew lined the ship’s rails as they sailed by on their way to berth at Ogden Point.

While the crew was entertained by the B.C. government and City of Victoria, its first event was at Sooke for a banquet in the Sooke Community Hall, courtesy of Sooke’s volunteers, on April 1.

A special treat at the banquet was a performance by the Le La La Kwagiulth dancers. Sooke’s Loggers Club also did itself proud, entertaining visitors with its famous logging sports show, including the carving of chairs, and with John Brohman and Danny Herrling hand-bucking a fir log.

Our colourful town crier Mike Thomas carried out his role for both events, featuring regional director Bob Clark and T’Sou-ke Chief Larry Underwood, along with Spain’s ambassador in 1990, and featuring regional director Lorna Barry greeting the emissaries in 1991.

Many cameras were called into use recording the exciting events, carried out by volunteers in the true Sooke tradition of hospitality, camaraderie and community service.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.

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