{review} Sooke Harbour House

Sooke Harbour House

Sooke Harbour House offers local cuisine and an amazing beachfront wedding venue for large or small weddings, indoors or out

As The Ring sat waiting to interview Frederique Philip of Sooke Harbour House, we could immediately feel what draws so many couples and events to this incredible location… Breezes wafted through the white curtains and caused the myriads of flower blooms to sway back and forth. The sunshine was casting a glow over the fantastic ocean view and the peace and tranquility, for which Sooke Harbour House is internationally famous, washed over us. It’s no wonder that since the Philips took over the care of this quaint resort, it’s become well known amongst both destination and local couples for its seaside weddings and elopements. One couple told us, “This is one of the most romantic spots on the planet, bar none!”

Located on Whiffen Spit Beach in Sooke, BC, this boutique hotel offers reception spaces, restaurant, spa and twenty eight luxury guest rooms. Local art of every type graces the premises. The walls are lined with magazine articles from around the world, each highlighting the resort and the numerous international and national awards they have won over the years.

After touring, researching, interviewing and reviewing the team at Sooke Harbour House, we had to share some of the many things that explain why so many, including bridal couples, have been raving about the Sooke Harbour House….

Experience has to start somewhere…

Frederique first met her Canadian husband, Sinclair, in France in 1967, and later, they returned to Canada together. A brief foray in Toronto helped them decide they were not city people! However, they knew they also wanted to start their own business. Frederique says, “We knew nothing about hospitality or the restaurant business,” they admit, but then the couple proved that sometimes, it’s just meant to be. “We talked to those who were doing a great job and tried to copy their success.” So in 1979 they bought the small Sooke Bed and Breakfast, which had been running since 1929, and went with the philosophy, “we are in British Columbia, by the ocean, so we will do BC cuisine, grow a large garden and rely on local produce.” They have stood beside with this mantra throughout the years. Frederique says it’s simple, “Do the best you can and highlight British Columbia. Everything is truly local – art, wood, furniture, food etc. We are very proud of our organically certified garden!”

The picturesque views are rivalled only by the cuisine prepared by Robin Jackson and his team of young talent. In fact, a lot of people that started at the Sooke Harbour House are now great chefs all over Canada.

Frederique and her team are famous for starting the local, regional and seasonal cuisine movement here on the Island. She says, “If it’s not from around here, we don’t use it. The exceptions are oranges, coffee and chocolate!” But Frederique is not one to rest on the laurels of the views, cuisine and edible landscape gardens. She works hard to ensure that the Inn continues to be at the top of the class.

One thing Frederique definitely does not lack is experience with weddings. She estimates she has dealt with thousands over her 33 years in the business. The romance of the occasion suits the house and she loves the creativity that weddings allow. “I am able to create a memory for someone. I like seeing people happy and weddings allow me to contribute to that happiness.”

The Sooke Harbour House ensures that there is nothing they cannot accomplish. They host weddings, elopements, rehearsal dinners, destinations weddings, and ‘Key to the Inn’ weekends (which allow you and your guests’ exclusive access to the entire hotel). Services include ceremony and venue sites, event planning and décor, floral design, menu design and planning, extensive wine cellar, indoor and outdoor activities, accommodations, restaurant and spa services.

Venues to suit every wedding and every taste…

Sooke Harbour House can cater to all sizes and tastes when it comes to weddings. From the beachfront ceremony to the large tent wedding, anything is possible!

Ceremonies can be held for 30 to 150 guests at one of three locations – The Totem Site and the Upper and Lower Garden Sites. All three boast spectacular ocean views and Frederique can arrange anything from musicians, décor or canapés to taste.

Receptions can be held in various rooms throughout the House, as well as at the Summer Pavilion. The Pavilion is a wonderfully spacious, enclosed white tent filled with whimsical furnishings such as sofas, rugs, mirrors and lanterns. Beautiful lighting completes the mood for after dark when you and up to 150 guests dance the night away.

If an indoor reception room is more to your taste, then the Potlatch Room, with its unique West Coast flair would be for you. Sixty to seventy guests can enjoy the seclusion of this venue as it has its own entrance. Or the Garden Room, with ocean views, can be enjoyed with about fifty guests.

Frederique says that “If a couple have come and looked around then it is obvious – the feel of the House is so original and different. It’s more like a home than an impersonal banquet hall. Here you can feel like you are having friends over instead of going to a formal building. And we work hard to be sure that our reputation does not translate in overcharging. We are within most couple’s price range.”

Another great thing about the House as a venue is the aesthetics. Frederique makes things look eclectic but with a certain casual elegance. She has a real great knack to transform spaces. As she says, “I cannot live without art and the need to make things comfortable. I’m not against expensive spaces or things but its fun to try to reuse and not be stuffy.”

Frederique has gathered a crack team of wedding specialists to help you with your vision. In-house florist, A Sea of Bloom, has even won a BC Wedding Award. Photographers, hairstylists, makeup artists, officiate and musicians are all at her fingertips for you. A recent bride explains, “If you are getting married and want a stress free day with class, romance and elegance; get married at the Sooke Harbour House!”

Local food, incredible menus

When it comes to the menu at Sooke Harbour House the mantra is ‘location, food and you’. Nothing is left to chance! The belief here is that food is very important and it’s not just a physical aspect, but a mental and emotional one as well and they are famous for embracing the Slow Food Movement and the 100 Mile Diet. They have the rewarding commitment to use only the best ingredients from the Southwestern Coast of Vancouver Island. They have developed a network of local organic growers that supply them with the wonderful meats, produce and seafood for the daily changing menu. There are even ‘seasonal foragers’ who find wild greens, mushrooms, berries and edible flowers to grace the kitchen’s plates, including First Nations traditional foods.

If it’s at all possible, come and sample the menu ahead of time. Many couples enjoy a romantic weekend at the House while planning their wedding day. The Chef and his staff provide prepared menus for events or a la carte. There are so many choices!! And not only are the Chef and staff willing to help with special diets such as vegan meals and accommodations for food allergies. They go out of their way to create these meals with care, art and taste.

Once your menu and wine choices are set, a formal menu card for you and your guests is prepared with a cover that suits your wedding. The Pastry Chef at the House is also ready and waiting to create your wedding cake. And don’t forget that the Harbour House has won countless awards for its Wine Cellar.  You will have some of the best advice possible while choosing your wine!

Sooke Harbour House is famous for its cuisine, but it’s always nice to hear newlyweds who are thrilled with their wedding fare. A recent bride says, “Guests said the food was the best they have ever had period, not just at a wedding. I am not exaggerating when I say that I still fantasize about the food at our wedding. It was so incredibly tasty and fresh and just downright amazing. At the end of the evening the chef even came to congratulate us on our wedding and thanked us for letting him cook for us!”

Thomas loved the meal at his wedding. “We thought the focus at our wedding should be the food. And it was. Perfectly prepared, presented and delicious!”

Arranging a wonderful experience…

Jacqueline knows from experience that you don’t leave anything to chance when it comes to a wedding. She encourages a couple to talk about how they see their day unfolding during the first meeting. Often she can help fill in the blanks; helping couple’s to remember all of the important questions!

“It’s interesting how many couples forget that they should keep their guests busy!” says Jacqueline. “We especially try to keep this covered. There are so many wonderful adventures to be had in our area so it’s not hard for us to provide great experiences for guests while the wedding party prepares.”

Once the basics are set, then lots of e-mail exchanges will likely take place as things are added or exchanged. A team of Event Coordinators takes over to look after all the details. Rehearsals can be held upon request though they recommend not having a rehearsal for a small wedding. “It keeps the intimate feel of a small wedding when it’s natural.” Frederique is there to take care of last minute details and she is there for the wedding day.

Jacqueline likes to view weddings as setting the stage for each couple and their family. “The fun is when you wipe the stage and get ready for the next….and it’s all different. Each wedding is like a unique machine that is well oiled – everything needs to purr with good timing!”

Thomas loved his experience. “Everything went smoothly, right down to the two bald eagles which buzzed the wedding thirty seconds before my lovely bride began walking down the aisle. How they arranged that, and sunny weather in October, I’ll never know!”

Incredible details at a budget friendly price

Some might assume that Sooke Harbour House comes with a huge price tag, but Frederique works hard to keep the Harbour House experience within the reach of most couples. As one bride told us, “For what they offer the cost of a wedding here is phenomenally inexpensive. While other venues asked for outrageous prices just for the ground you stand on, the Sooke Harbour house offered everything: chairs, linens, cutlery, dishes and even a few added touches, like dressing up the cake table a bit more, for a very reasonable price (in fact so reasonable we kept wondering what the catch was… no catch, just well priced). We actually had a small wedding on a tight budget, and they were more than happy to work with us and our tight budget.”

The Sooke Harbour House has an online calculator directly within the weddings section of their website that gives you instant quotes (LOVE it!), depending on how many guests you have, what meal you’d like, extra services ranging aisle covering and wedding cake to chair sashes to the inclusion of a two-day wedding coordinator. They say that the average bride spends $20,000 for seventy-five guests, yet they’re always open to working with different budgets. For example, even with many of the bells and whistles included in our trial with the online calendar, prices never seemed to exceed roughly $130 to $140 per person for a full day wedding, including ceremony, reception, hors D’oeuvres and just about everything in between. So there’s certainly room for brides of many wedding budgets to love this location.

A few of our favourite things…

♥ The emphasis placed on local artists, local cuisine and keeping everything within the community

♥ The awesome calculator on their website which helps you tally up costs of what you would like to have for your wedding day. No big surprises at the end of the day when it comes to costs!

♥ The incredibly detailed wedding packages that are viewable online with everything right down to the layouts and measurements of rooms!

♥ The totem pole on the property along with so many other pieces of local art of every type. It’s like having an art gallery all around you.

♥ Personalized wedding favours that are available from local artists – from local teas to carvings. Frederique knows all the local artists and can have them miniaturize their work for your weddings favours!

♥ We were particularly struck by the charming story of a newlywed couple who left behind a gift of a tiny boat they had built – when they returned years later for an anniversary, they were happy to discover their work displayed in the lobby. They promptly left another piece of handiwork which is now on display as well!

♥ Awards, awards, awards….wow! So many, but the latest are Travel and Leisure 2012 – Best Hotels in Canada and the Conde Nast for Top Hotels in the World. The food awards are also too numerous to mention. And we can’t forget that one of the rewards on The Bachelor Canada 2012 was the Sooke Harbour House experience!

♥ Owners and staff are genuinely devoted to making every visit special, especially weddings! “The entire staff went above and beyond. In the morning, my engagement ring actually fell off the balcony as we were getting ready and everyone, including the owner, came out to help look for it. They even rented a metal detector, climbed through mud and pulled up stone slabs to help look for it. The ring was eventually found. The people that work at the Sooke Harbour House, including the owners (we mostly dealt with Frederique) made us feel like we were their family and put just as much investment into our wedding day as we did.”

♥ The original overstuffed chairs in the restaurant that are covered in men’s ties that have been left by clients. Stuffy is not an option – so men are asked to leave their ties behind and the chairs are the result of many years and many ties being abandoned!

♥ Sooke Harbour House tries to support as many local charities as possible including the Culinary Program at MTS. Non-profit organizations can hold meetings at the House at no charge. And their leadership and support of the environmental ideals of Vancouver Island is second to none.

Details, details, details…

• A 25% deposit books your date at Sooke Harbour House. One month prior to the event, the balance is due – aside from the cost for beverages, which is on consumption and due on the date of the wedding.
• Taxes and gratuities are extra.
• Weekday rates are available for weddings with unique date or smaller budgets
• Sooke Harbour House recommends booking at least 3 months ahead of your wedding whenever possible, however they welcome all inquiries.

Contacting Sooke Harbour House…

To find out more about Sooke Harbour House, contact Reaching Frederique by email at functions@sookeharbourhouse.com or by phone at 250.642.3421 or (toll free) 1.800.889.9688. And if you want to browse the wedding packages, galleries, online calculator and more, visit their website at www.sookeharbourhouse.com!

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