HISTORY: Clay family established early roots in Sooke

Family connected to Donaldson clan

William and Victoria Clay celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

William and Victoria Clay celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. (Contributed - Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

In the early 1970s, when we were starting the Sooke Region Historical Society, I visited Tofino. I stopped in to see a small cottage museum run by Leonard Clay, exhibiting various maritime history artifacts. At that time, I didn’t know he was the son of Victoria Donaldson, the fascinating woman who grew up on the Donaldson Farm at the far end of East Sooke Road.

I was always enchanted by Victoria Donaldson (she was Mrs. William Clay when I met her). She recounted how, when she was a young girl, she was despatched to row across the channel to the far point of Whiffin Spit each evening to light the flame of the lighthouse lantern, and in the morning, it was her job to row over again and douse the flame.

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William Clay and Victoria were married in 1918, and their sons grew up to take a prominent role in the marine and forest history of the Island’s west coast.

William Clay went overseas in the First World War and, when he returned, found work in construction, helping to build the new Sooke River bridge in 1921 after a flood had taken it out. He then found a job at Ocean Falls, where the young couple established a home and raised their youngsters. Eventually, they returned to the South Island area.

Eldest son Don became a forester. While Len Clay earned a living as a commercial fisherman, his heart was in maritime history. He accumulated various interesting maritime objects over his years of collecting on Vancouver Island’s west coast. He shared historical knowledge and photographs with the museum.

The Clay son Eric worked at fishing and logging, settling at Metchosin, where he married Ruby Bickerdike. He treasured the Donaldson family history he shared with us, and many years later, a generous bequest in his will proved a tremendous financial boost to our museum.

Today’s photo shows the family party at Cedar Hill X Road in Victoria when William and Victoria Clay celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. While none of the three sons are in this photo, they and their wives and children were proud to celebrate with their happy parents. The photo shows William Clay holding the cake across from his wife Victoria, while Eric’s daughter Elaine stands near her grandpa and Eric’s wife Ruby stands next to mother-in-law Victoria.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email historian@sookeregionmuseum.com.


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