Hundreds of mourners walked in procession on Highway 14 following the casket of the legendary Frank Planes, firstborn son of a T’Sou-ke princess, as the RCMP diverted traffic, and his final journey was made from St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church to Sooke Harbour Cemetery. The heavy downpour of November 23 was broken by lightened skies for the procession.
The services were conducted by Father Mike Favero and Salish spiritual adviser Shirley Alphonse. Participants in the services were T’Sou-ke Chief Gordon Planes and Salish speakers: Pauquachin Chief Bruce Underwood and Al Sam of Tsartlip; and Larry Rumsby, with the eulogy delivered by Elida Peers. Salish drum beating and a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace by the Legion’s Angus Stanfield added to the solemnity of the event.
In June of 1923, Ida, daughter of Chief Andrew Lazzar of the T’Sou-ke and of Annie Jones of the Pacheedaht, grand daughter of Chief Louis Lazzar and Mary of the T’Sou-ke, and wife of Gustave Planes, gave birth to her first son, naming him Frank, for his uncle Francis Lazzar.
In the family’s traditional naming ceremony, this male child received the name Kwaq a Yuk, after a forebear chief. (A note here: Kwaq a Yuk has also become the name of the T’Sou-ke’s 52 foot 6 inch ceremonial cedar canoe, pride of the canoe fleet and a record holder on the Pacific coast.)
Frank came into the family after his sisters Clara, Sarah, Nellie and Alice. Following Frank came Louis, Joe, Germaine, Jack and Ronnie. Ida was particularly dedicated to teaching him the traditions and skills of survival passed down through the generations, though because of her marriage to a white man, her family had lost their native status. Ida’s husband Gustave Planes trapped for furs around the harbour and built his family’s home next to the reserve.
Frank was just a little fellow when his grandfather Chief Andrew Lazzar passed on, and it fell to his uncle Francis to help coach and train the boy. He had his own dugout cedar canoe to bring in food for the table. Frank’s elders, great-uncle Queesto and others at Pacheedaht and Nitinat also helped to train and guide him.
He learned skills needed to live in the woods, and native ocean-navigation. He learned to take note of how the kelp moved in the water, the currents, to calculate wind and weather from keen observation. In time, Frank became so adept at reading nature that he could come into port in pitch blackness or dense fog, by listening to the sounds of the waves and their interaction with the seaweed and the shoreline.
In the small Saseenos community of the 1920s and 30s, neighbours were few and far between, but they visited, and generally on foot. The Planes children and the Wickheim children were among those who walked back and forth to visit and play together, often exchanging salmon and fruit.
Frank and Maywell became the best of buddies, sharing many good times between their chores, enjoying the outdoors and fishing for trout. The two became so close that one day they got out their pocket knives and made cuts in their wrists, drawing blood, making themselves “blood brothers” a kinship which lasted their entire lives. Another special friendship Frank enjoyed was with Andy Davidson; the two shared many days hunting, trout fishing in the mountain lakes and hooking steelhead in the rivers.
While Frank went to Sooke School with his sisters and brothers, fishing soon trumped school, and he took every opportunity to be out on the water. At age nine, Frank accompanied his stepdad Gustave Planes to Rivers Inlet for gillnetting. By age 11 he was hired by Danny George to crew on the seiner Saseenos and at 15 he was crewing out of Campbell River. When World War II came, he was asked to go on special duty for the Armed Forces because of his knowledge of the coast.
He recalled that Sergeant Major Kemp who had a home on Kaltasin Road stopped him and told him he was needed. Frank joined up, where his local experience was put to good use scouting. For a time, he was headquartered at Coal Harbour, attached to a Z-47 vessel. Serving in the North Pacific for three years, Frank earned five medals. (One of his treasured experiences in later years was the Aboriginal Veterans Recognition Ceremony held at the Esquimalt Naval base in 2001 where he was one of those honoured.)
During his war service he stopped in Vancouver with a cousin, Leonard Nelson, and chanced to meet a beautiful girl, Lorraine “Bunny” Engler. By the end of the evening, he said to his cousin, “That is the woman I’m going to marry.” Which he did, in 1944. After the war, the young couple came to Sooke, and set up their home at what is now Saseenos School playground.
In the early ‘50s he again skippered a George family boat, wife Bunny going along as cook. His fishing seasons included the seiner Western Warrior, the halibut boat Joan W, a herring seine boat Taplow II and troller Karmar I. By 1964 Frank and Bunny had bought a home on West Coast Road where they raised daughters Willow and Fern.
After several years on Bill Pitre’s 72-ft seiner Pacific Belle fishing out of the Queen Charlotte Islands, Frank, along with partners, purchased the seiner, taking her to the Aleutians in the Bering Sea.
Maywell Wickheim says, “Frank developed a sixth sense for finding and catching fish, whether commercial or for sport.”
When the partners sold the seiner in 1976, Frank bought a small troller and fished closer to home, enjoying having his wife and grandson Orton out with him.
At this time he was asked by Victoria’s Bob Wright to captain his 50-foot – 16 passenger sports fishing vessel Salmon Princess based at Ucluelet. A passenger vessel, this required that he obtain his Master’s papers, which daughter Fern helped him study for. With his wife and grandson aboard as deck crew, Frank took a two-year absence from trolling to enjoy the Salmon Princess experience.
After the Sooke Region Museum was built in 1977, Frank brought in a gift of a paddle and a carved frog that had been made years earlier by his uncle Francis Lazzar.
With the passage of Bill C-31 in 1985, children of women who had married non-native men regained the legal rights that had been forfeited. Members of the Planes family, with re-established status, were now able to build homes on reserve.
One day in 1990 there was even more excitement than usual, when Frank’s regular purchase of lottery tickets struck pay dirt, and he won a million dollars. True to his nature of sharing and family, Frank divided the cash in three, and daughters Willow and Fern got to celebrate as well. Since 1990 the house that son-in-law Joe Dodge built them on Eagle Heights Drive has been their home. Trap shooting was a hobby that Frank enjoyed, joining in the Pacific International Trap Shooting Association meets, where he collected many trophies, and in 1991 was elected to the All Star Trap Shooting Team of North America. Frank and Bunny also spent time at lake fishing spots and enjoyed trips to Reno.
Frank Planes was gifted with a natural eloquence of expression, and it became traditional in the Sooke community to invite him to speak at gatherings, especially on the Sooke Flats. When he addressed the crowd in his deep resonant voice, everyone listened to his wisdom.
An exceptional example of his leadership was demonstrated when the round-the-world voyage of the replica vessel of Captain Cook’s Endeavour was being planned in 1999. An advance party from the ship’s company came to Sooke from their base in Freemantle, Australia to meet with the T’Sou-ke Nation, Sooke Region Museum and Sooke Festival Society. Three Chiefs of the T’Sou-ke, — Jim Cooper, Frank Planes, and Jack Planes greeted them, expressing a remarkable warmth of welcome. In his usual kindly and generous way, Frank took the lead in offering the community’s hospitality.
The Endeavour’s master, Captain Chris Blake, and Frank established a great rapport, and when the vessel hoisted sail and departed, the two men exchanged gifts.
Capt. Blake presented Frank with a framed section of the rigging of the original 1778 Endeavour, while he gifted the captain with a case of Bunny’s home-canned sockeye.
Kindly Frank particularly enjoyed watching children at play, and cherished the time spent with his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Sadly, he had suffered deteriorating health in recent times. He leaves his wife Bunny, daughters Willow (Joe Dodge) and Fern (Frank Albany), Shelly, Orton, Leaf, Frankie, Ricky and Alyssa, great grandchildren Skye, Lyall, Jessie, Bailey, Brodie, siblings Germaine and Jack and a host of relatives and friends.