The logging truck trestle over Bear Creek

Sooke History: The roads to Port Renfrew

Road access to Port Renfrew via Shawnigan Lake Road opened up the secluded community to the rest of the world.

After years of isolation in Port Renfrew, when one had to travel by coastal steamer to get out into the larger world, it was a pretty exciting day when a logging road connected them to Shawnigan Lake Road.

Today when we can whiz on a paved road from Sooke to Port Renfrew in little more than an hour, it may be hard to visualize what was written in the Victoria Daily Times in May 1957: “Port Renfrew was once one of the most isolated communities on south Vancouver Island.”

The newspaper goes on to say: “At Port Renfrew we found that most of the people haven’t yet recovered from the shock of being connected with the outside world. ‘The road has opened the door to a new life for us’ said one logger. ‘Some of us, before, only got out of here once a year.’”

Service between Victoria and Port Renfrew was provided by the CPR’s SS Princess Maquinna from 1913 to 1952. In the late 1940s and early 1950s a patched together route of the logging truck railway systems in the San Juan Valley could carry passengers by speeder cab as far as Bear Creek, where they could then drive by motor vehicle to Shawnigan Lake and on to the Malahat highway.

Two well-known Sooke men who can recall travelling through to Renfrew by this route when they were young are Lorne Christensen and Doug MacFarlane. So to actually sit in an automobile and drive the entire scenic mountainous access route on weekends when the trucks weren’t running, was cause for celebration indeed.

A year later even more good news came for the logging community when a series of logging roads connected Port Renfrew to Sooke in 1958.

Today’s asphalted circle route from Victoria to Sooke to Renfrew to Cowichan Lake and back to Highway One would have seemed a miracle to those hardy pioneer loggers and their wives.

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Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.