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The Tin Grotto and me

A date with wrecking ball brings back memories
The 1946 building in Sooke known as the ‘Tin Grotto’, located at 2076 Otter Point Rd, is set to be demolished in the coming weeks. (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)

Dan Chambers | Contributed

I see the old Tin Grotto is going to be demolished. Perhaps it’s time.

In 1986, it was an empty shell of a building whose days of operation as a practical business were long over. Seeing something unused in Sooke’s center seemed wrong to me, so I created the Tin Grotto.

As a business owner (the original Fish Trap), I listened to my customers and learned about the things we didn’t have. We didn’t have a bottle depot or a place to take our empty pop bottles and cans. So the original Tin Grotto became just that a bottle depot.

RELATED: Sooke approves demolition for dilapidated downtown building

The Tin Grotto quickly evolved into much more. The sign out front read: “We Buy, Sell or Trade Everything under the Sun.” The flood gates opened. We were buying and selling tools, furniture, even the odd motorcycle or car within a week.

As an executive director on the Sooke-Jordan River Chamber of Commerce responsible for economic development, I knew jobs were tough to get, so my principal mandate, other than turn a profit, was to employ as many locals as possible.

After setting up a young couple in part of the space’s expanse as small engine mechanics, I hired two full-time and two part-time staff to run the re-cycling depot and the trade center. A beehive couldn’t have been busier. The five-ton truck purchase opened up things even more. A small local moving company was born, which created three more jobs. Then a junk removal business became a necessity.

Within six months of opening in that big, cold building, it was employing 11 people. It is funny how the knowledge of the demolition of an old building can bring back so many memories.

At the time, the Tin Grotto was just a junky old building to most that drove by, but it was a job to many.

Being elected to the Sooke-Jordan River Forum Council allowed me to work alongside Phil Wilford. Phil was one of the greats in my life. Strong, gentle and passionate about his town, Phil and I would talk about many things, and one of them was the Tin Grotto.

I used to tell Phil I felt the Tin Grotto was an eyesore, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. He told me it didn’t matter because I was creating jobs. Phil was right.

Sooke was a great town with the bones of an elephant, and the people, for the most part, were extraordinary. They were a rare breed of individuals who had found themselves there because they were different. The loggers and fishers complemented the artists and wandering souls. Most people got along, no matter who they were. If they didn’t, there was plenty of room to veer away, many times to the left. It was a town of exceptions and exceptional people.

One thing, I never did know if we should call ourselves Sookeaphones, Sookeites or what? I guess it didn’t matter because we all lived there between the ocean and the Sooke hills – a very special place.


Dan Chambers is a former Sooke business owner. He lives in Ottawa.