Dignitaries and invited guests in May 1999 at Edward Milne community school.

When Sooke hosted the Governor General

Elida Peers writes about the history of the Sooke region

In May 1999, “The Commons” at Edward Milne Community School, with the grey whale skeleton framing this view of our group of dignitaries, formed a “once in a lifetime” scene.

The occasion was the 150th anniversary of the first immigrant settler to take up land in British Columbia, marking the arrival of Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant in Sooke in 1849. Sooke has an outstanding history of harmonious co-existence between the two cultures – the First Nations and immigrant Europeans.

We understand that the record of welcome and co-operative co-existence between the T’Sou-ke people and the Europeans so impressed Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc that he decided to make the cross-country trip to share in the T’Sou-ke/Sooke celebration.

At left in this 1999 photograph is T’Sou-ke Elder Jean Whitford, next is the renowned and eloquent Elder Frank Planes with his wife Bunny, followed by the MLA for Esquimalt/Juan de Fuca Rick Kasper with his wife Doni Eve. Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc (in the white shirt and tie) stands alongside T’Sou-ke Chief Jim Cooper, who is followed by Her Excellency Diana Fowler LeBlanc and Sooke Regional Director Diane Bernard.

While a historical pageant was performed, representing virtually the entire community, for an audience of one thousand in the EMCS gymnasium, a pair of Friendship Sticks carved by Salish artist Charles Elliott was completing its journey throughout the widespread region.

Upon arrival of the Friendship Sticks at EMCS, Chief Cooper presented one to the Governor-General and one to Regional Director Bernard.  Forming a backdrop for the ceremonies were the colourful banners designed by T’Sou-ke artist Darlene George.  When one drives now on the newly opened Wadams Way, one sees these same banners mounted along the street, bearing the message designer Darlene visualized:  “The two banners depict the non-Native world and the Native world coming together. Although we live in two different cultures, we still live in the same world and become as one.”

While this event took place in May of 1999, a month later the people of central Sooke voted to become a municipality, and in time a Mayor and six Councillors emerged, with the outlying areas of the region becoming a separate component of the CRD, with its governance in the hands of a Regional Director for Juan de Fuca. The Friendship Stick presented to Regional Director Bernard now graces the office of the Mayor of Sooke.

Elida Peers, Historian

Sooke Region Museum

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