The narrow reach of land, known as Whiffin Spit, that almost encloses Sooke Inlet has seen many different histories.
The first that we know of was when the First Nations used it as a lookout post to protect their encampments within the inlet.
While Spain’s Manuel Quimper, in the captured Princesa Real, rounded the spit to enter the harbour in 1790, and the British Royal Navy’s HMS Herald surveyed the entire inlet in 1846, these excursions did not leave much visible effect.
When J. H. Todd established the headquarters for the fishtraps industry within the harbour in 1904 and used the spit as a place to store the fishtraps pilings each winter, this would have been the first industrial use.
For the past half-century, we have come to understand and value the natural beauty of this marine feature, and today countless thousands enjoy walking along this route, in all seasons, and all weather.
Some of us grew up listening to stories told by elders of the T’Sou-ke nation. When the museum was compiling the history of Sooke in 1999, we asked a T’Sou-ke artist, Willow Planes Dodge, a granddaughter of Ida Lazzar Planes, to illustrate one of the most prominent legends of Whiffin Spit, the Massacre of the T’Sou-ke people.
“There was a night when a war party of Clallams came from across the strait in stealth, and struck en masse, leaving only a mother called Hoy-U-Whit, and two sons who escaped to a cave in the hills … the trio laid their plans for revenge, watching a group of Clallam warriors that remained feasting on Whiffin Spit, guarding their spoils.
“The elder of the sons would begin the revenge by swimming across the basin to reach the eastern shore, at a spot opposite from Whiffin Spit. The mother and younger son would go to the base of the spit and wait for the elder son to give the signal – he would hoot like an owl. On the far shore, the son hooted three times, and when he had swum across the channel to creep up on the Spit itself, he gave one long hoot for his mother and brother to proceed.
“Each armed with a club, the mother and sons crept stealthily from group to group, killing or maiming every Clallam but one. It was that one warrior, the story tells, that carried the tale back across the strait to his own territory.”
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.