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Population density

2,410.6/km2 (6,243.3/sq mi)

Population

15,086

Land area

266.5/km2 (690.3/sq mi)

Territory

Sc’iane & T’Sou-ke First Nations

Main Industries

marine, tourism, retail

A ‘small town with a big heart’ is how locals describe Sooke, the stunning coastal community on the most southwesterly tip of Canada. The ocean-side treasure is just 45 kilometres from Victoria but feels like a world away.

It’s also the community closest to nature, ‘Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea,’ flanked by beautiful rainforests, provincial parks and hiking trails, and windswept coastlines and beaches. “I’m still in awe of the fact that there’s just so much natural splendour around us,” says Tugwell Creek Farm’s Dana LeComte. “Living here provides an amazing opportunity to engage with unspoiled nature.”

Sooke is home to a population of just over 15,000 and known for its community pride, with residents fiercely committed to celebrating the good life (with world-renowned restaurants, hotels and arts) while preserving the fragile ecosystem within which they’re located. It’s one of the fastest growing municipalities in B.C., with plenty of options for commercial and business development.

Sooke occupies the unceded traditional territories of T’Sou-ke and Sc’ianew First Nations, and acknowledges and promotes these Nations’ ongoing presence, influence, and rights.

Business Climate

The average household income in Sooke is $71,296 and the average age 44.8, with 65% participation in the labour force. It’s a common misconception that most people move to Sooke to retire. Instead, they either commute to nearby Langford or further into the urban core, or own or work at independent local businesses in the heart of the town.

Bustling town centre: Most of the town’s retail and service providers are located in the town centre, an eclectic mix of businesses that give Sooke its intensely local character.

Tourism destination: It’s no surprise Sooke has been dubbed the bed and breakfast capital of B.C. With its local artisans, cafes, restaurants, marine adventures and extensive parks and hiking trails, Sooke is a popular local getaway as well as attracting visitors from around the world. Close by are the Sooke Potholes, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, Port Renfrew (the Tall Tree Capital of Canada), the spectacular old-growth Avatar Grove and the entry point to the West Coast Trail. 

Artistic community: Sooke is home to many painters, writers, sculptors, potters, fabric artists, jewellery crafters and more, many of whom belong to the renowned Sooke Community Arts Council. Greater Victoria residents and visitors mark the annual Sooke Fine Arts Show as a ‘must-see’ on their calendars.The Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra, founded by world-renowned maestro Norman Nelson, is a 60 member semi-professional orchestra that performs numerous concerts each year.

Community Assets

A key feature of Sooke’s attraction as a community is its excellent quality of life, low crime rate, competitive property tax rate and streamlined business regulatory system. The majority of its business base are small and locally owned, serving residents of their immediate surroundings.

“We’re here because Sooke is affordable and close to nature,” says Dana LeComte, “and that’s why a lot of people choose to locate here too. It’s a bedroom community for Victoria, given lower house prices, and there are the folks who want to be here precisely because it’s got such amazing natural beauty right at their doorstep. And they’re very community minded. We have an orchestra run by volunteers, we have a Fall Fair run by locals dedicated to celebrating what makes the region special.”

Moving away from traditional industry: Forestry and commercial fishing markets were historically the backbone of the local economy, but both have lost prominence in the past few decades. Sooke has become a tertiary employment market consisting primarily of locally serving industries. Public services, manufacturing and innovation, and trade services dominate the local economy. 54% of residents commuted outside of the District of employment in 2016.

While it continues to support the traditional economic base of resource and service sectors, including forestry, manufacturing, fishing, and agricultural practices, the community is seeing a shift towards emerging sustainable resource management opportunities such as green technology, tourism, education, and value-added industries.

Marine bounty: The Sooke Harbour plays host to a number of marine-based activities, including sailing, boating, whale watching and commercial and sport fishing. The region is considered one of the world’s best fishing destinations, offering a year-round bounty of salmon, halibut, cod and trout and both salt-water and fresh-water sport-fishing activities.

Undeveloped land: there are still a number of parcels available for commercial and residential development within the region, allowing for several opportunities for businesses considering locating to Sooke. There are approximately 22 hectares of underutilized commercial land and 7 hectares of vacant commercial land.

Aging population: Over the next few decades it is expected that Sooke will continue to have a slightly older average age and decreasing working age population ratio when compared to larger urban centres on Vancouver Island. As such, Sooke is experiencing a slowly increasing reliance on in-migration, primarily from other areas of the Province, as well as a small amount of immigration from those born outside of Canada. 

Opportunities

As one of the outlying communities in Greater Victoria Sooke is facing the pressure, challenge and opportunity of rapid population growth and increased development while simultaneously grappling with climate change. Its community goals are focused on finding the right balance between meeting demand and protecting habitat.

We’re witnessing a very interesting scenario as population and development pressure will affect the community,” notes Dana LeComte, “so there’s a lot of debate about how to grow without sacrificing everything that makes Sooke a great place to be.”

Growing tourism: The community recently established the Sooke to Port Renfrew Tourism Association as part of their bid to encourage more tourism to the area, particularly promoting it as an untouched example of Vancouver Island’s historical natural landscape.

Council is currently researching options to attract a major recreation-oriented land use which can serve as a catalyst for expanded hospitality, tourism, hotel, and conference facility investment by the private sector.

Lights, camera, action: The film industry injects millions of dollars into the Vancouver Island economy each year, with numerous movie and television productions shot in Sooke locations. The community seeks to encourage further growth in this industry.

Focused residential growth: Sooke wants to support diverse housing types and offer new housing choices within already developed areas, while minimizing pressure on outlying ecological and agricultural areas. It advocates for and facilitates housing pilot projects for a range of incomes to promote affordable housing.

Current plans include the redevelopment of a 10-acre property at Church Road and Wadams Way, dubbed “Wadams Farm” and overseen by Aragon Developments, which would add over 133 new homes in a friendly, walkable neighborhood. 

Healthcare industry: Sooke realizes the urgency of providing healthcare for its residences. The community wants to expand their current primary health centre and is encouraging proposals for the development of a regional health centre, expressing a desire to work with businesses who can help them improve access to healthcare services.

Promote vibrancy in the urban core: The town centre north of Sooke Road is envisioned as the vibrant commercial core of Sooke. The district intends to revitalize the area and to foster walkability, an inviting public realm, and building and landscape design is sympathetic in form and character to Sooke’s context.  

Council supports mixed use development, such as commercial with residential above the ground floor, in areas that are served well by existing infrastructure, transit, major roads, and trails. 

Climate action: Sooke has set the ambitious goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. To do so, it welcomes low carbon resilient businesses who contribute to a circular economy, protect natural resources and carbon sinks, provide protection from climate risks, lower GHG emissions and identify social, environmental and economic co-benefits as part of their business vision. 

Going green: As part of their goal to discourage dependency on fossil fuel, Sooke intends to expand the public EV charging station network and is considering providing a top-up incentive to provincial e-bike incentive programs to increase uptake of electric bicycles. The community is also keen to address ride-hailing and other “new mobility” options as they begin to emerge. 

Blue future: Its location on the water positions Sooke to play a strong role in growing the regional ocean economy. There are more than 100 companies in B.C. in the ocean science and technology sector, with several working in Sooke’s waters. Collaborations between companies like MarineLabs and the T’Sou-ke First Nation, who are leveraging ocean data collection for marine stewardship and seafood harvesting capacity building are becoming increasingly common. 

Food economy: Sooke wants to create economic opportunity by supporting agri-food system businesses, and to benefit communities and individuals by expanding opportunities to experience growing, preparing, sharing, and celebrating food. The municipality is working with the Sooke Country Market to identify a permanent farmers’ market location.

The Right Fit for You?

Sooke enjoys a distinct west coast character, with exceptional amenities, housing choices, diverse employment, and an eclectic arts and culture scene. The caring community welcomes those who respect the region’s natural resources and contribute to a holistic way of life.

Interested in learning more? Contact the team at South Island Prosperity Partnership.

History

Sooke was first settled by the Coast Salish, including the T’Sou-ke First Nation and Sc’ianew First Nation, hundreds of years ago.  

In the SENĆOŦEN language, the word “T’Sou-ke” is the name of the stickleback fish that lives in the estuary of the river. The word “Sc’ianew” (pronounced CHEA-nuh) translates from the Klallum language as “the place of the big fish”. 

Europeans first encountered the Sooke Harbour in 1790 when Spanish explorer Manuel Quimper came ashore. After the Hudson’s Bay Company established a fur trading fort in 1843, European settlers began making the area their home. In 1864, gold was discovered on a tributary of the Sooke River by Lieutenant Peter John Leech, causing a population boom. 

Mining activity gradually declined over the following decade and the economy transitioned to forestry. In the early 1900s commercial fish trapping became the mainstay of Sooke’s economy. 

In 1999 the residents of the District of Sooke voted to become a municipality and, upon incorporation, elected their first Mayor and Council.