The historical Glenairley property, which has been used in several capacities over the years, will now be the new Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue training base.
The RCM-SAR purchased the East Sooke acreage from the Sisters of St. Ann, to use as a training centre for members across the province. The cost of the property was $1.5-million.
“It’s perfect for us in that it’s got access to some good, rough water for training purposes,” said RCM-SAR President Jim Lee.
The 25-acre property, which fronts the Sooke basin, will allow the non-profit agency to run their simulator program, electronic navigation programs and search and rescue programs all in one place.
The sprawling acreage also has several individual cottages, which will be used to house members, a lodge, which will be used as office and instructional space, and a barn, which will be used to house the simulator — a system designed to emulate the cabin of a boat at sea.
“This is a location where we can not only do our training, but we can house members who are there to be trained. I think this is a long term deal for us and it’s going to radically change how we do our training,” Lee said, adding each training session will have six members at a time.
In the past, the RCM-SAR used to have to foot the bill for five-day hotel stays for members who would travel from up and down the coast for training.
He also stated the centre means “a lot more autonomy and a lot less reliance” on the Coast Guard, who have been providing training space for the RCM-SAR.
“They’ve been awfully kind to us over the last 15 years, so I guess it’s time we grew up and moved on.”
Also, now that their training centre will be off Coast Guard property — which is members only — the RCM-SAR can offer their courses to community members and other rescue agencies.
“If we’re not full, there’s no reason in the world we couldn’t throw that spot open to people in the community,” Lee said.
“We have no intention of shutting the community out of that property. As far as I’m concerned, it’s part of the community.”
It was a five-year process to acquire the land from the Sisters of St. Ann, who sent out a proposal for different non-profits who were interested in the land.
According to Sooke historian, Elida Peers, the Glenairley property has served as a family home, farm, resort, religious retreat, community centre and eco-centre over the years.
The Glenairley property had its beginnings as a family home to the Gillepsies around 1912. It was later purchased by the Sisters of St. Ann in the late 1950s, when it was used as a vacation retreat for nuns.
Lee said the RCM-SAR have pledged to act as stewards to the idyllic land and intend on leaving all the buildings as they are, aside from some minor upgrades.
“We don’t want to change anything there, and the less we change things, the better off we are,” he said, adding there are also plans to make use of the arable land.
“That land has been farmed before, about 60 years ago…what we’d like to do is lease some of that out to an organic farmer.”
The non-profit agency, which receives federal funding strictly for search and rescue missions, intends on launching a campaign to fund the land purchase.
“We’ll be starting a campaign to raise money for that, and we’re hoping that we’re going to get some corporate interest, and some community interest.”
Lee said the RCM-SAR hope to be moved in by the end of November.
The RCM-SAR currently has 46 stations along the coast, and on inland lakes. At any given time, there are about 1,000 members.