Climbing the steps to Sooke Community Hall’s foyer, you see the remarkable black wrought iron hinges that connect the heavy planked doors to the wall. They are the work of blacksmith Lyall Sheilds. This 1937 view shows the broad shouldered blacksmith with his youngest daughter Elaine at the entrance to his rustic blacksmith shop.
His shop stood at the roadway (now called Belvista) between the harbour and the slough that borders the museum. Until 1940 this was the main Sooke Road route leading west from the river. Later the swamp was dissected by a built up berm roadway that allows a good view of the brilliant yellow skunk cabbages that currently dot the many shades of green wetland vegetation.
The extensive property was held by the Charters family, and their nearby sawmill on the waterfront meant work for the blacksmith. Watching the blacksmith hammering white hot steel to shape it, marveling at the ringing of the hammer on the anvil, eyes alert for flying sparks, were experiences treasured by children walking home from school. Some days it would be a horse standing on three legs while being shod.
One of the inventions fabricated by Lyall was a hand-pedaled tricycle, used to patrol for leaks, which ran atop the 27-mile long flowline that carried water from Sooke Lake to Humpback Reservoir at Goldstream. He also built the salmon barbecuing racks for the first All Sooke Day in 1934.
Early maps show James Sheilds taking up Crown land way up Sooke River in the 1880s. Son William Sheilds who sailed on sealing schooners to the Bering Sea, was also a farmer, raising cattle and sheep in an attractive valley west of Sooke River (later farmed by Rex Kendrew). Hikers venturing up Phillips Road in early days brought back tales of being chased by the Sheilds’ roaming bull.
Another son Ed, also a sealer, married a neighbour girl, Louise Charters, and it was their youngest son Lyall who grew up to become the blacksmith. While good-natured Lyall, his wife Lizzie, son Will and daughters Helen and Elaine joined in the happy celebrations when the hall was opened in 1937, he had little time to enjoy it all. A level crossing accident in 1941 between a truck on Woodlands Road and a coal-fired steam locomotive on the CNR line cut his life short.
Organizers of the 75th anniversary event next Saturday, April 28th at Sooke Community Hall are hoping that Sheilds and Charters family connections will be among the crowds coming together to visit.
Sooke Region Museum