This scene taken on Port Renfrew’s waterfront in 1925 indicates the importance that San Juan Bay and Port Renfrew have occupied throughout the years.
The two young women posed in front of the cannery were Gretel Nicholson and Katie Pratt, and the photo was taken by their friend Elaine Hill, the schoolteacher newly arrived from Victoria to teach at Port Renfrew School.
The cannery was by the Godman family, early pioneers at Port Renfrew, to process the fish caught in the ocean by a fleet of gillnetters and seiners.
Where was Elaine Hill standing to capture this view? She would have been in front of the Port Renfrew Hotel, and facing out into the inlet.
This hotel was managed by Maj. George Nicholson, who had for the previous few years been manager of the Sooke Harbour Hotel (the Belvedere) which had been built in 1912 on the headland at the mouth of the Sooke River.
While we are not up on the history of Katie Pratt, we do know that Maj. Nicholson’s daughter Gretel married Trygve Arnet and her sister Bonnie married Bjarne Arnet, two of the brothers in the well-known fishing family of Tofino, all whom played a role in Sooke’s history as well.
Years later, schoolteacher Elaine Hill recalled her friendship with the Nicholson girls, and described how she would help them in their chores, housekeeping the hotel rooms.
Elaine had arrived in port through the CPR SS Princess Maquinna in September 1924, after completing her year at Victoria Normal School. She said when she and the two male passengers arrived at the port at 4 a.m., the ship’s officers instructed them to disembark by jumping onto a supply scow when the surge raised it up the side of the ship.
From the scow she was picked up in a rowboat and rowed to the wharf, where she climbed the ladder to reach the wharf deck. Eventually, shivering in the dark, she was met by a man carrying a lantern and escorted to the household that would board the teacher.
Elaine enjoyed her adventurous two years in the port, where she met a swashbuckling tugboat captain, Arthur MacFarlane, who claimed her heart. The son born of that union, Douglas MacFarlane, carried out his father’s seafaring traditions, running a tugboat himself, the DEMAC, which many in Sooke got to know well.
It is our good fortune that Doug, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, is so willing to assist the museum with maritime history.
Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.