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SOOKE HISTORYKirby property more than just a shingle mill

Elida Peers | Contributed
The Kirby shingle mill in the 1930s. The shingle mill operated through the 1940s . (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum0

Elida Peers | Contributed

While today Kirby Road is still a meandering wooded drive leading off Sooke River Road, the surrounding housing is a far cry from what the scene looked like in the 1930s when this photo was taken.

Ralph Kirby and his wife Catherine lived on the upper side of Kirby Road, alongside the shingle mill. Back in those days, home builders were generally faced with two options for roofing, split cedar shakes or milled cedar shingles, so the mill was kept busy with orders.

Kirby Road is notable for the recurring stream of cyclists who head off the Galloping Goose Trail onto this connecting road, cycling down Sooke River Road towards Highway 14 and downtown Sooke.

When Ed Macgregor, a B.C. born boy who earned degrees in metallurgical engineering, went on from the steel industry in Ontario to become B.C.’s deputy minister of Lands and Parks and, in retirement, was elected as Sooke’s first mayor, it was the Kirby house that he and his wife Linda purchased.

The shingle mill had operated through the 1940s but was long gone, and the grounds were occupied by beautiful shrubs when bought by the Macgregors.

The shingle mill had operated through the 1940s but was long gone before the Macgregor era.

Back in the shingle mill days, on the lower side of Kirby Road, an indentation allowed nearby water to form a large spreading shallow pond. This became a popular site for all ages in Sooke as a skating rink when we had a cold winter spell. And what fun it was! I can remember skating in large circles around the ice, hand in hand with Ralph Kirby, when just a little kid. Generally, little bonfires would be built onshore so that folks could warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.

Ralph Kirby and his brothers Harry and Austin grew up with their homesteader parents, “Ma” and “Pa” Kirby, way out in Shirley district, where they farmed alongside the creek (once called Coal Creek) that now carries their name. This farm is now the site of the Girl Guides’ Camp Jubilee.

Ralph Kirby had become an engineer, and in the days before he started the shingle mill, he had run a steam locomotive on the narrow-gauge railway used to install the concrete flowline that began carrying water from Sooke Lake to supply Victoria in 1914. Brother Austin was also an entrepreneur, operating a bus stage running from Jordan River to Victoria twice weekly during the 1920s.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email

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