Sitting with friends on the Wakefield Inn's big deck, keeping an eye on passing marine activity, is important work in this part of the world. There's tradition to maintain, after all. The rustic Sunshine Coast neighbourhood pub has been a well-loved landmark in West Sechelt for more than 60 years. Later this fall, though, the Wakefield will make way for-what else?-a townhouse complex.
Old-timers are savouring their remaining deck time. They watch boats buzz back and forth to the three low Trail Islands just offshore. When tugs bring log booms into the lee of these barriers for safety, residents know that the barometer must be dropping. And there's plenty of wildlife action to check out at Wakefield Creek, which enters the Strait of Georgia right next to the inn.
I was down by the creek last month, taking photographs. Dozens of glaucous-winged gulls stood round, and seven common mergansers rested at the water's edge. A movement beside the stream revealed three tiny sandpipers probing among the stones. Then a flock of red-necked grebes paddled in to feed voraciously at the creek mouth. Finally, two humans and a dog strolled out from a beachfront home and prepared for a swim, scattering the peaceful assembly of birds.
The stream was once named after Joseph Bouillon, who first preempted land there in 1889. He was an architect, hired to oversee construction of the twin-towered Our Lady of the Rosary Church that pioneer Catholic bishop Paul Durieu commissioned for a nearby Sechelt First Nation reserve. This imposing beacon was visible to mariners miles away until it burned to the ground in 1906.
It was around this time that William Wakefield acquired his land and ran a little farm with pigs, cows, and chickens. (He didn't control his livestock, apparently, and the neighbours filed a litany of complaints about the destruction of their gardens.) Wakefield sold in the mid-1920s; by then his name had become attached to the local geography.
The next owner was a well-known figure on the Sunshine Coast: "the Major". T. Douglas Sutherland had been a tea planter in Ceylon and earned a Military Cross in the First World War. He became the B.C. provincial police constable and game warden for the area. He had the Wakefield built as his home in 1928. His office or station (though not, as the building was sometimes misdescribed, a jail) stood directly across the street, in a tiny log cabin.
Sutherland hired a fine Sunshine Coast craftsman, Hector McDonald, to construct his Wakefield residence. With its shake roof and enormous two-storey stone chimney and fireplace (today covered in Virginia creeper), the building has a spacious, prosperous air. Vertical logs, darkly varnished, serve as the basic foundation, giving a sense of solidity.
In 1938 the home was sold to Charlie Reda and transformed into a roadhouse-style pub. It would be ironic to imagine the strait-laced major in his office, forced to observe alcohol-fuelled celebrations taking place directly across from him in what had once been his own home, but, in truth, the station had been vacated the year before and the police department moved to Sechelt. Besides, Sutherland was in Europe by then, serving once again in the army. He died in 1946. (The little log cabin lasted another 40 years or so and was home to a series of coffeeshops.)
In its life as the Wakefield Inn, the lodge went through several proprietors and renovations. None, fortunately, changed the essential atmosphere or shape of the place. Over the years, a number of logging artifacts-axes and saws, mostly-were donated and put on display. Old logging photos were enlarged and attached to the walls.
In the 1970s and '80s, under the ownership of brothers Gary and Rick Radymski and their wives, Nancy and Donna, the Wakefield became a veritable social centre. Loggers' sports days were held in the summer in the open field beside the pub. Windsurfing regattas took place off the beach. The Wakefield kitchen ventured out to provide baking and fresh seafood as well as the usual pub fare (all hail the Wakie burger). The lodge evolved into a live-music venue. In 1981, jazz-rock musician Steve Hubert (aka Stevie Sparks) recorded his first album there.
Now the Radymskis have sold their property. The taxes are so high today, Donna says, that it no longer makes sense to run the inn as a business. "We have mixed feelings about leaving," she said. "We've been at it for a long time. But it will probably be good for us to do something else for a change." What that will be she doesn't yet know. And what will happen to the pub is up to the purchaser. The land beside the creek must be preserved as park, and perhaps some remnant of the old building can be incorporated into the new development. But the Wakefield Inn will have served its last round.
Andrew Scott's latest book is Secret Coastline II: More Journeys and Discoveries Along BC's Shores (Whitecap Books). The writer can be contacted through www.andrew-scott.ca/.