SOOKE HISTORY: The North Star and Sven Johansson

Sven Johansson’s North Star of Herschel Island. (Sooke Region Museum)

Sven Johansson’s North Star of Herschel Island. (Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

Learning recently of the passing of Sven Johansson, a member of the Order of Canada, we were reminded of Sven’s connection to Sooke and how he brought his vessel North Star of Herschel Island to help celebrate our bicentennial.

His square-rigged sailing vessel, seen here at the government wharf, was one of the fleet which joined in the major bicentennial celebrations that took place in Sooke in June 1990.

Many will recall that this maritime event was the largest such happening that our region has seen.

Along with the North Star of Herschel Island, many vessels joined with then-chief Larry Underwood of the T’Sou-kes, with the Royal Canadian Navy’s Oriole, the SS Sylvia, SS Duen, SS Lady Washington from Washington State, Jack Homer’s Roche Cove and other local vessels such as Jack Egland’s and Frank Mitchell’s, plus our longboats.

The busy waterfront traffic was under the direction of Ray Vowles and Doug MacFarlane.

Swedish born Sven Johansson’s pioneer spirit had led him to the Canadian Arctic, where he was working with the Canadian reindeer herd. He immersed himself in Arctic life, marrying an Inuit woman and participating in northern customs.

His ingenuity and skills in animal husbandry led to his appointment as manager of the great reindeer experiment. Around 1940, it was decided that a herd of reindeer in Alaska would be moved to the McKenzie River delta area, near Aklavik and Inuvik, where their meat and hides would help provide the needs of the Inuit.

Johansson was credited with the successful husbandry of the herds, receiving much acclaim for this accomplishment. He was also recognized for celebrated exploits in Arctic navigation, including navigating the northwest passage when the frozen north was far more ice-bound than it is today.

Living on his vessel in Victoria at the time that B.C., Washington and Oregon were planning the bicentennial celebrations, he was quick to join dozens of Sooke volunteers in planning the maritime re-enactments.

Bob Hudson recalls: “I sailed with him many times, helping him tow the longboats to Port Townsend.”

Johansson also persuaded friends in Sooke to join him in pioneering a gravity-defying dance apparatus which he previewed at MacPherson Theater.

Where he shone, though, was as the exuberant ship’s master as he held court on the deck of his North Star of Herschel Island, regaling everyone with tales of his pioneering journeys.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.