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All Sooke Day: A day the community came together

First of a three-part series: Origins of All Sooke Day can be traced back to early 20th century
Bagpipers play at All Sooke Day in 1986. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

All Sooke Day has its roots in a simpler time, and it’s a celebration many believe should be part of the community’s future.

The origins of All-Sooke Day can be traced back to between 1914 and 1916 when most of the small, tightly-knit community came together in the summer to celebrate with picnics and friendly, spirited sporting competitions.

The tradition continued on and off, eventually evolving into the Celebration of the Progress of Sooke, held at the Sooke River Flats in 1934 when the Great Depression was in full throttle.

Despite the economic hardships of the time, everyone contributed to the event in their own way. Loggers spent their evenings building picnic tables while their wives prepared food from the garden and baked treats and desserts.

The event was organized by what would be considered an old boys club by today’s standards: executive, finance, athletic, publicity, grounds and property, prize and dance committees, all led by men.

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From 1935 onwards, the Sooke Community Association handled everything, and that tradition continued until the final All Sooke Day in 2002.

In the early years, Horace Goodrich, manager of Sooke Harbour Fishing and Packing Company, donated salmon so everyone in attendance could enjoy a free barbecue. Athletic skill demonstrations, gold panning shows, and lumberjack demonstrations were all part of the event, which concluded with a dance in the old community hall on Charters Road.

One notable highlight with a historical connection to the local T’Sou-ke Nation occurred when Jack Planes, the son of Ida Planes, was selected as the prize-winning baby in 1934. Ida and her husband lived adjacent to what was called Reserve No. 1 on property facing Glenidle Road.

In 1964, 120 babies competed in their Sunday finest for All Sooke day, showcasing the event’s burgeoning popularity.

According to the B.C. Directory, the population of Sooke had grown to 600 strong by 1936. Funds raised during the early editions of All Sooke Day were earmarked to purchase materials to build a larger community hall. The new hall on Shields Road was completed in 1936 to replace the old community hall on Charters Road, with the majority of work done by volunteers from the community.

Excerpts from the journal of Const. Allan Quinn with the B.C. Provincial Police, on July 21, 1949, described putting in a particularly long shift during All Sooke Day. Following work on crowd control and dealing with traffic at the Sooke Flats for the event, Quinn eventually called it a day at three in the morning after the crowd at the dance at Sooke Community Hall finally headed home.

All Sooke Days continued to grow in popularity, with the lumberjack skills featuring birling, crosscut saw bucking and springboard chop competitions drawing participants and spectators from well beyond Sooke’s borders during the glory years in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

The Wickheim brothers were instrumental in turning the log-birling competition into an international draw. Early footage available at the Sooke Region Museum captures the skill, strength, and athleticism required to compete in the events.

One memorable tug-of-war between local loggers and workers with Elder Logging lasted a gruelling 20 minutes, leaving more than a few of the competitors with hands rubbed raw from the rope and backs strained and sore from the prolonged exertion.

A precursor to Sooke’s celebrated link to early feminism can be found in photos of women competing in the Ladies Nail Driving contest in 1961, many dressed more like they were heading to church than to a battle that involved swinging a hammer repeatedly with an emphasis on strength, precision, and determination.

The size of the crowds expanded annually as well, with the record for attendance of 10,000 people in 1964 only lasting a couple of years before it topped 12,000 in 1966.

All Sooke Day was still going strong into the 1990s. As the population of Sooke grew in leaps and bounds, the logging industry declined. The closing of Lamford Forest Products Mill around 1990 marked for many the end of an era in the community and the beginning of the end of All Sooke Day.

UP NEXT: Health board says no and logging woes

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A logger ready to climb at All Sooke Day. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)