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SOOKE HISTORY: All Red Route connected British Empire to all corners of globe

A telegraph line passed through Sooke
A piece of cable from the All Red Route is exhibited in the Sooke Region Museum. (Contributed – Sooke Region Museum)

Elida Peers | Contributed

When there is a barrage of instant cable news, and much attention is being focused on Britain and the Commonwealth Nations, I remember when I was a schoolgirl, and the word “cable” had a different meaning for me.

I had this romantic notion of going away to sea, getting a job on the cable ship Restorer and seeing the world.

Growing up with the history of the British Empire, I was familiar with the term “All Red Route,” referring to the communications system that connected together almost all components of the Empire. I understand the expression came about because world maps coloured all British territories, such as Canada, red.

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Victoria was a port of call for the cable ship Restorer when she needed repairs in this part of the world, as Victoria had the nearest shipyard to Bamfield, the Canadian terminus for the Trans-Pacific cable.

Our photograph shows a section of the type of cable that was laid on the ocean floor for so many years, starting in the mid-1800s. A cable across the Atlantic was laid well before us, of course.

When the CPR completed the cross-Canada railway, it also initiated a luxury passenger liner service from Victoria to the Orient; the gleaming Empress liners also promoted the All Red Route.

From Bamfield, the cable lay on the ocean floor to Fanning Island, Suva on Fiji, and Norfolk Island before it branched off to Australia and New Zealand. The Bamfield Cable Station was built in 1902 and lasted until the Marine Sciences Centre replaced it in the 1970s.

What became known as the West Coast Life Saving Trail started as a telegraph line in the 1880s, with a tree-to-tree wire running from Bamfield to Victoria, an extension of the communications system. As the telegraph line passed through Sooke, its route was a few hundred metres from the museum.

Years later, when the sense of the British Empire was long gone, a newer cable ship was in Victoria for repairs when Burrard/Yarrows Shipyards employed my husband.

When the refit was completed, we were among the guests invited aboard by the captain to celebrate the completion. Don’t think for a minute that we partied on the upper deck – instead, we went down to the hold, made friends with the crew, and were gifted with sections of cable – now on display at the Sooke Region Museum.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email

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