by Jo Dickins

I’ve just done the math and I’ve spent 30% of my life in BC. I’m still lucky enough to spend vacations at my parents’ house, in one of the nicest spots in Victoria.  For my most recent trip, naturally my first-choice pitch to Good Food Revolution was to visit and photograph Sooke Harbour House, about an hour’s drive west.  Owners Sinclair and Frederique Philip have been blazing the local food movement trail for over 30 years.  They helped to officially bring Slow Food to Canada and are still active in their Vancouver Island convivium.  Their inn and restaurant has consistently been featured in many venerable “world’s best” lists.  And recently, Sinclair and Frederique were honoured for their contributions in the inaugural Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the Nation’s Table (featured in Good Food Revolution Vol.2 No. 26).

The following photo essay, the first of two parts, features the Inn’s grounds, gardens, and farm.  Next week, part two will highlight some observations in the kitchen and at the table.

Sooke Harbour House has recently expanded its grounds to include a farm, just up the road.  Much of the work has and continues to be done by “WWOOF’ers” (willing workers on organic farms), travelers from around the world who work in exchange for room and board.  Here, Fred (from France) tells me how he ended up in this corner of the world: by bike. As in, he crossed Canada, and much of the globe, on a bike! Check out his journey here.  On the right, an early morning view of the crops, parts of which are labeled with charming, hand-painted signs.

The inn’s immediate waterfront surroundings feature gardens of veggies, herbs, and edible flowers; even most of the shrubs and trees are edible in some way and used in the kitchen, not to mention some 15 – 20 varieties of seaweed from the beach.  Seen here are plum trees, bergamot, oregano in bloom, daylilies, calendula, and a fence to keep those pesky deer at bay.

A section of the farm is devoted to a cutting garden and includes liatris and gladioli.  Although we visited on a typically misty “fogust” day, we did have some sunny moments.  Right, trimming a bay tree near the inn.

I rolled out of bed in time to catch the rooster doing one of his duties, up at the farm’s barn; shasta daisies near the original farmhouse.

The farm includes greenhouses for peppers and tomatoes; co-owner Sinclair Philip welcomes us with a cappuccino on the patio just outside the dining room.

The inn by night: through a kiwi vine-draped portico between the dining room and the garden, the art-filled lobby is visible. The inn is chock full of local art. Some is for sale, some belongs to the inn; it is all collected under the guidance of Frederique’s eclectic and whimsical eye. The lovingly layered assemblage of work makes the inn feel more like a home than a hotel.

Rain coats and boots at the ready; another sculptural work amongst the lavender.

A view from the Thunderbird room’s patio to Juan De Fuca Strait; the trippy leaves of the Fuki plant (yes, it’s edible, kind of a Japanese rhubarb) at the base of a wooden sculpture of an eagle and its prey.

Ah, the blissful Thunderbird room! It also includes a very large, windowed shower to the left, and past the kinger to the right, stairs lead to a sitting room, wood-burning fireplace, patio with soaker-tub (that’s three ways to bathe! not including the ocean!) and then a grandiose view of the sea. In the hall outside, I loved this incredible, arresting wall sculpture.

A bucket of beautiful items from the garden for the evening’s menu includes tuberous begonia blossoms (who knew the petals were so tangy and delightful?) passion flowers, and oregano.  In the cutest elevator I’ve ever ridden in, Sinclair is bathed in the green glow of the mural-covered interior. It’s absolutely spot on: the B.C. ocean water seems green, not blue!

After 30 years of excellence and accolades, lots of walls feature symbols of recognition.  Here beside a great wall of crabs in the dining room are several plaques from Wine Spectator magazine, honouring the inn’s consistently stellar wine list.  On the right, beyond the tall, sprawling anise flowers, on a lower level descending to toward the shore, is a patio graced by a totem pole; lounging in a chair below is my traveling and eating partner and husband Chris.

Gardener Byron Cook leads guests through a morning tour of the gardens; another kiwi vine, this time a hairless, hardy variety.

More WWOOF’ers gathering delicate and densely flavoured arugula; a stately, thriving bay tree stands on guard.

Jo Dickins is a Toronto-based professional photographer. Find out more about Jo Dickins at

[Photo: John Gundy.]