SOOKE HISTORY: T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht paddlers

The 1990s saw a resurgence in canoe carving in British Columbia First Nations communities. The Elder Spirit is being paddled in Sooke Harbour by a group of enthusiastic T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht paddlers. (Sooke Region Museum photo)

The 1990s saw a resurgence in canoe carving in British Columbia First Nations communities. The Elder Spirit is being paddled in Sooke Harbour by a group of enthusiastic T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht paddlers. (Sooke Region Museum photo)

Elida Peers | Contributed

This 1993 photo taken by Angela Bailey when our district was at the height of its waterfront celebrations, shows an enthusiastic group of T’Sou-ke and Pacheedaht paddlers.

Danny Jones, father of current Pacheedaht councillor Tracey Turner is the steersman at the stern of the canoe. Left to right, is Dwayne Cooper, commonly called Bozy (son of Sandra Cooper Laurie, he is a grandson of onetime elected T’Sou-ke Chief Jim Cooper). Next is Peter Planes, son of Louis Planes; next is Bobbie-Joe Jones, grandson of Jumbo Jones, of Pacheedaht; next is Jack Planes, who had been an All-Sooke Day baby show winner in 1934 and was elected T’Sou-ke chief at the time of this photo; Gary Planes, son of Louis Planes; Michael Ryce, grandson of Jean Whitford of T’Sou-ke. Next is Jolene Charlie, with Carleen Charlie in the lead; they are great-nieces of Pacheedaht’s Art Jones.

Elder Jack Planes explains the scene: “Maywell Wickheim had this log in his pond at the marina that he’d got from the woods and he said let’s get it out so you can carve your canoe.”

Back in their history, of course, the T’Sou-ke peoples had many canoes, ranging from traditional ceremonial canoes and cargo canoes to smaller single-paddler canoes.

With the many lifestyle changes in the last century, canoes had become a thing of the past for the T’Sou-kes, so that when we had the Bicentennial Festival in 1990, we actually had to borrow a Nuu- Chah-Nulth canoe from the Royal British Columbia Museum to carry out the re-enactment.

As Phoebe Dunbar was co-ordinator of Edward Milne Community School at that time and a maritime fan, she provided her school’s program support for the carving project.

Fred Peters was the master carver for the T’Sou-kes, and the first canoe of the T’Sou-ke Nation’s canoe program, the 38-footElder Spirit, soon took shape. Jonathon Ryce, trained by Fred, became chief carver for the T’Sou-kes.

We are appreciative of T’Sou-ke councillor Rose Dumont’s help in identifying the paddlers; we’d also like to mention that the 52-foot canoe Kwaq a Yuk, carved by the T’Sou-ke a year later, is believed the largest carved cedar canoe on the Pacific coast of North America today.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.