Torn between his family’s longtime roots in Sooke and his love of farming, John “Jake” Acreman, by his mid-years, was drawn to expand his vision. He moved first to a rolling ranch spread in Campbell River and then further afield to Didsbury, Alberta. On May 1 John passed away at age 72.
The Acreman name came to Sooke from Newfoundland, when Benjamin Acreman brought his wife and seven sons to the West Coast in 1916. The Acreman sons, all of them tall of stature, all played roles in the development of southern Vancouver Island, with brothers Rueben, Robert and Bert living out their lives in Sooke. While Rueben married Jessie Phillips and Robert married Florence Muir, Bert wed Annie Johnson, the pert young schoolteacher who had arrived in our village from Prince George, through the route of Vancouver Normal School.
John, the only child born to Bert and Annie Acreman, took great pride in the almost legendary reputation developed by his mother, as she taught three generations of Sooke schoolchildren. She was referred to as the “mother of Sooke” when she was recognized in 1976 by the Sooke/Jordan River Chamber of Commerce as Citizen of the Year.
Bert Acreman, John’s dad, was a logging truck driver and from him John developed a love for trucks and tinkering with motors, leading no doubt to establishing his own trucking company as a young man. Though too ”rough and ready” by nature to be particularly scholarly, John graduated from Milne’s Landing High School in 1958 in a class of 11.
With his tall, rangy Acreman build, John had been involved with softball and basketball in high school, and it was natural for this enthusiastic young man later on to umpire softball games at the ball park, and to coach youth hockey after the arena was built.
It was his “uncle” Ralph Strong who initiated John into a love for farming, helping him to get his feet wet, so to speak. The Strong farm was on Church Road and back in the days when Sooke was a close-knit community, your neighbours were often your extended family as well. John went on to assist youngsters with 4H work. When he established his trucking business, with a five-ton International, one of his missions was hauling livestock, such as cattle and sheep.
He married high school sweetheart Loretta Moore, and the couple raised sons Derek and Lorne, and daughter Charlene. By 1964 John and Loretta managed to buy 55 acres of the Strong farm on the west side of Church Road and it was on this acreage that his actual farming began. At the same time, though, his fascination continued with trucks, heavy equipment and off-road vehicles. It was no surprise that he began driving the heavy diesel trucks operated by Butler Brothers Ready-Mix.
Farm space soon became an issue, however, and he needed more acreage to expand his cattle herd. When their Church Road land was subdivided into a housing development now called “the Ponds” the couple were able to relocate and indulge their cattle ranching dreams to their hearts’ content with a substantial ranch at Elk Meadows, north of Campbell River. Sharing John’s farming dreams, Loretta worked alongside him in full partnership.
Visiting their ranch, one would have the opportunity of watching small herds of elk roaming amongst the cattle, browsing not so much in the open fields as in the pockets of evergreen and poplar trees where the stately animals were somewhat sheltered from view. With a herd of 85, half in purebred Red Angus and half in mixed breed, John had become interested in artificial insemination as a method of stock development. It was fascinating to listen to this man discuss his studies of scientific methods of beef ranching. Another aspect of his life on the Elk Meadows ranch was watching out for wolves, that, he explained, had a nasty trick of attacking a steer in the nose and leaving a poison behind that would sicken the animal.
A few years ago, with their sons both employed in Alberta, John and Loretta decided to move once again, to even more spacious grazing pastures at Didsbury. A “man’s man,” John took every opportunity of chewing the fat and discussing issues with men in the ranching fraternity that he would meet at cattle auctions and on prairie road trips.
A high school classmate, Sally Bullen, recalls John as a very caring man who got his grad class friends together for their 25th anniversary reunion. When Sally came to the 75th anniversary of the Sooke Community Hall last month, she brought a message from John Acreman saying how much he wanted to attend, but lung cancer stood in the way.
John leaves Loretta, his wife of 49 years; son Derek, a hospital administrator in Mayerthorpe (Traci); granddaughter Kelli; his son Lorne, (Kathie) a heavy duty mechanic in Carstairs. At the family home in Sooke he leaves his daughter who shared his passion for farming, Charlene. A celebration of his life will take place at the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch #54, Sooke at 1:30 pm on Wednesday, May 30th.
Historian, Sooke Region Museum