Karl Linell’s connection to All Sooke Day spans the decades from its halcyon heights to the final last hurrah.
“My parents were quite involved for many years,” said Linell, whose memories date back to attending as a child in the 1950s.
Linell also recalls the sense of volunteering that personified the event by sharing stories of how he helped park cars at the event in his teens. “My dad wore many hats for the event, as did all the volunteers. My mom was secretary and looked after Sooke Community Hall.”
Linell got involved with the Sooke Community Association board, the volunteer organization that puts on the annual event every year in the 1990s.
“All Sooke Day started going downhill in the late 1980s,” he said. “There were more and more events going on, like the Nanaimo bathtub race and the air show in Sidney. Everything seemed to be happening on the same weekend and took away a lot of people from our event.”
Organizers couldn’t change the date for All Sooke Day because it would have meant losing two logging competitions that couldn’t change dates because of international scheduling commitments.
“It was a big attraction, but it cost a lot to put on,” Linell said. “With the number of events going on that weekend, sponsors had to pick and choose where they went. We started losing a few sponsors, and that didn’t help.”
Another factor that came into play in the 1990s was the public’s perception of logging in general.
“The logging industry was being hit very hard, and anything to do with logging was a big turnoff for many people. The logging competitions had been our big draw, and the sponsorship from the logging companies was a big source of our funding,” Linell said.
Another major blow was delivered when the health department shut down the sale of the enormously popular beef sold at concessions because of how it had always been prepared.
Wrapped in canvas, large slabs of seasoned beef were soaked overnight in the Sooke River. This traditional method prevents the fat from catching fire when cooked later on a bed of coals. Cooking of the meat began early in the morning. It was repeatedly turned and buried under the coals throughout the cooking process for a flavour that locals still rave about.
The health board crackdown eventually extended to how the salmon was prepared as well, a part of the food preparation that Linell played a major role in for years.
“We did it on an open fire on metal racks, and they (the health board) didn’t like how long it took to get it from the racks to be de-boned and portioned to serve,” he said, adding that one fish was often big enough to serve 30 people.
“They followed me around with a thermometer,” Linell recalled with a sad shrug and slow shake of his head. “They said it took too long, and they were always on us. How the salmon and beef were prepared was a big attraction and a huge source of our fundraising for the event.”
Dwindling crowds, rising expenses, the changing perception of logging, and competition from other events all conspired to push All Sooke day to extinction after the last one was held in 2002.
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