Hard as it may be to imagine today, 70 years ago the world was at war, and our west coast shores were not immune. In the current 21st century conditions, when international travels, educational/friendship exchanges and experiences and TV have broadened social outlooks and concepts, the idea is unthinkable.
The image shown here is the view seen by lifetime Sooke/Otter Point resident Velma Jessiman as she was growing up in the house barely seen at the upper left edge of photo. As Velma Cook, living on the historic property pre-empted by her grandfather, Joseph Poirier, Velma had a first hand-view of this segment of Canada’s defense.
The military training camp at Otter Point, utilizing structures from the depression era relief camp at the foot of Kemp Lake Road, was in place prior to Canada’s declaration of war in September 1939. It had been used by Victoria’s Canadian Scottish Regiment for training exercises and quickly developed into a more specialized training camp, housing soldiers from the east, particularly the Dufferin & Haldimand Rifles and the Sault Ste Marie & Sudbury Regiment. This camp pre-dated the Milne’s Landing training camp established in 1942.
Poirier sheep grazing near the beach at the photo’s left, can barely be seen with the naked eye. A bit closer to the rock, one can pick out the chicken house and fenced yard. On the right, or eastern side of the rock, one glimpses an army tent from the main camp that extended eastward.
After Pearl Harbour, with the west coast visit of the Japanese submarine I-26, its sinking of the American cargo vessel Coast Trader off Cape Flattery and its shelling of Estevan Lighthouse and Radio Station, both in June 1942, coastal installations went on high alert.
Velma recalls that her dad, like all vehicle drivers at night, had blackout fabric on his headlights, with only a slit of light allowed to illuminate the gravel road. Jim Arden, 94, whose family ran the Sheringham Point Lighthouse, recalls that even the lighthouse was required to have blackout curtains.
RCAF Lysander planes out of Pat Bay participated in the training exercises, flying past the Otter Point Camp towing targets well behind to enable firing practice. Velma recalls that anti-aircraft guns were mounted on the rock in our photo’s foreground, firing out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Fortunately, there was no actual enemy fire from the air that we are aware of.
Elida Peers, Historian
Sooke Region Museum