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Sooke sawmill once employed 420 workers

Sooke Forest Products Sawmill operated on Goodridge Peninsula
Sooke Forest Products Sawmill on Goodridge Peninsula at onetime was the region’s biggest employers. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

As it’s mostly quiet today, with pleasure craft cruising the tranquil waters of the inner basin of Sooke Inlet, it may be hard for newcomers to envision the active enterprise which dominated the area around Coopers Cove from the 1960s to 1990.

Our photo shows Sooke Forest Products Sawmill on Goodridge Peninsula in its heyday as one of the largest employers in the Sooke region.

Once a peninsula of parkland, dotted with arbutus and wildflowers, it was a favourite picnic spot until it became an industrial site.

In its peak period during the 1970s, the sawmill employed 420 workers, operating three shifts around the clock. Those who lived within a mile or two would find they could tell time by the mill whistle, as its shrill blast marked the shift changes.

While the mill’s history underwent many changes, it was initiated by Harry Helgesen when he established a small sawmill at the corner of Helgesen and Church Roads when he got back from his wartime service. By 1949, he needed more space to expand. He partnered with truck driver Bill Grunow, and the two began developing one of the most efficient sawmills in Canada on Goodridge Peninsula.

It wasn’t only millworkers and office workers that got jobs there, but the enterprise also required many related industries. Len Jones led the booming crew. Truck drivers, barge crews, and towboat operators such as Douglas MacFarlane with his DEMAC were also kept busy.

Over time, many changes took place in the mill’s ownership, production and name changes. The mill closed in 1990.

Many Sooke folk who once were employees there have remained in Sooke, while others moved away to different forestry towns to find work after the mill closed in 1990. We still see well-known former employees in Sooke today, including Janet Evans, Beverley Isaac, Liz Johnson, and Bob Anderson.


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

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Elida Peers, Historian

Sooke Region Museum