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Salish Sea Sentinel | May 22, 2018

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Effervescent Agnes George, 1877-1979

By Elida Peers, Historian, Sooke Region Museum

I first got to know Agnes George in the 1960s, just about the time this photo with a smoked salmon was taken at the T’Sou-ke Reserve. An effervescent lady who always welcomed visitors with a big smile, she introduced me to many stories and customs of the T’Sou-ke Nation.

Her heritage had taught her many skills for her nimble fingers—besides being adept at preserving seafoods, she wove baskets and mats. She was an expert at knitting sweaters with raw wool, and one day she demonstrated how to spin wool from washed, teased and carded rolls of wool, by attaching it to a doorknob as a spindle and twisting as she moved backwards.

The annual salmon run, so important to the food supply, fully occupied the T’Sou-ke people as they harvested and smoked racks of fish to carry them over the winter. Agnes learned the skills at her mother’s knee, and passed them on to her own daughters and other relatives.

Agnes George

Agnes George

Agnes was born at Esquimalt, raised at Clo-oose and grew up to marry Louis George, eldest son of Mary George who raised her five children alone at T’Sou-ke after her husband was lost when the sealing schooner Walter Earl went down in the Bering Sea in 1895.

Agnes and Louis George—he was elected Chief from 1931 to 1956—raised a son and five daughters. Eldest daughter Sophie won a prize for naming Saseenos, “Sunny Land Gently Sloping from the Sea”, while she was working at the Belvedere Hotel, which stood on the headland at the mouth of the Sooke River. Sadly, tuberculosis took her while still young.

The next George daughters—Lizzie, Hilda, Mabel and Alice—married into the community of southern Vancouver Island and enjoyed a large circle of friends. Their son Lewis made his home on the reserve and had a job at the fishtraps. Agnes celebrated her 101st birthday with a party at St. Mary’s Priory.

Today, the son raised by Lewis George, who attended school in Sooke but moved to Cowichan to work in the forest industry, is demonstrating the nimble-fingered artistic traits inherited from his grandmother Agnes. Harvey George’s meticulous carving skills and incredible eye for design has led him to create his own legacy: a collection of fishboat models.

Harvey has donated models to institutions, and they have been on display at the Cowichan Bay Maritime Centre, at the Sooke Region Museum and at the Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre.

This article originally appeared in the Sooke News Mirror and is reprinted here with permission and minor edits.