Bear Creek Bridge was an impressive 242 feet when it was built in the San Juan Valley in 1939.

SOOKE HISTORY: Building the Bear Creek Bridge

Considered the tallest wooden structure in the world at the time, this railway trestle in Port Renfrew was built by Malahat Logging

Wow! Don’t know if we’ll be able to see it in the newspaper reproduction, but there is a ladder affixed to the face of the two supporting towers of the Bear Creek Bridge, that you see here when it was under construction in the San Juan Valley in 1939. Can you imagine climbing 242 feet to the top?

Considered the tallest wooden structure in the world at the time, this remarkable railway trestle was built by Malahat Logging to carry logs cut on the upland hillsides of the San Juan Valley down to tidewater.

The railway ran down the grade in the proximity of the famous Red Creek fir.  It ran to a wharf which extended into the inlet halfway between the curving San Juan Bridge and the government wharf, at Beach Camp, where the logs were dumped.

While Russell Mills of Seattle was the designer of the renowned trestle, Otter Point has the distinction that one of their native sons, forestry engineer Kelso Blakeney, was assistant designer.  The historic Scarf House, which still stands, was where Kelso Blakeney grew up in the 1920s.

The museum’s collections hold photographs of the trestle, whose 517-foot span carried a series of 14 steam locomotives and 375 pieces of rolling stock. It was bunker oil that fired the locomotives, which were predominately Heislers and Shays on this line.

A scale model of the famous trestle, fastidiously created by Horace Arthurs, is on display at the museum.

When Bear Creek camp was established by Malahat Logging some distance east of Port Renfrew in the 1930s, it formed a substantial community, with bunkhouses, a dining hall, cottages, a grade school and sports fields.  The operation was taken over by B.C. Forest Products in 1947.

Records show that in 1953, the population of Port Renfrew, including two large logging camps built some 15 miles up both sides of the San Juan Valley, numbered 1,000, with almost all the working population employed by B.C. Forest Products. Bob Robertson, who was woods foreman at Bear Creek, then went on to become superintendent of BCFP Renfrew Division.

Robertson’s daughter, Jeannette Wilford, known to many of us for her local travel agency, recalls the camps and railways, although when she was growing up, trucks had begun to replace trains for the transport of logs.

After 20 years of heavy traffic, the trestle was blown up by BCFP in 1959, to avoid safety issues for backroads travellers.

While this era is now over, the photo comes to us from the collection of Gerry Burch, longtime chief forester of BCFP.

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Elida Peers is historian of Sooke Region Museum.