The deck at the Port Renfrew Hotel offers views of the harbour and mountains.

Port Renfrew sets sights on new vision for village

The 'end-of-the-road' waterfront hamlet has been discovered

Things are happening in Port Renfrew. The sleepy little hamlet that has been home to fishers, loggers and surfers is changing – rapidly. Rapidly in Port Renfrew terms.

Back in 2006 there were 270 residents, in 2013 there were 268. But with the 60 vacation homes (West Coast Cottages) development by Jack Julseth of Three Point Properties, the population in the summer months expands considerably.

Victoria developers Julseth and Ian Laing are putting their energy and money into three fixtures in Port Renfrew which they just purchased; the Port Renfrew Hotel with its 11 waterfront cabins, the Lighthouse Pub and the 25-room West Coast Trail Motel.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Laing. “We want to get the Tofino feel and vibe and with a little more growth in town, it will be perfect.”

The Port Renfrew Hotel has a long history in Port Renfrew. Built in 1927 by James Islay Mutter, it had replaced a similar structure across the cove. Fires plagued the first couple of hotels but it was re-built each time in Snuggery Cove. The last reincarnation, built by Richard Bonnycastle and Perry Heatherington, opened in 2006 and included the waterfront cabins. Their plans, at the time were expansive and included 32 cabins, a 21-suite hotel and restaurant and full-time employment for 40 people. That didn’t happen.

“The hotel is truly a pub and not a hotel,” said Laing. He said it carries the name, but not the hotel rooms and they’ll change the sign to reflect what it is.

The waterfront cabins by the Port Renfrew Hotel will be substantially upgraded to create what Laing said will be the “Four Seasons” of Port Renfrew. The Lighthouse Pub will have a cold wine and beer store and renovation work has already started on the motel.

Laing said they want Port Renfrew to become The Gateway to the Pacific.

“You can fish in the Pacific Ocean from here,” he said. “Give us 90 days,” said Laing. “We can’t wait for this season, we love Port Renfrew.”

Mike Hicks, Regional Director for the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, said there is nothing new going on except new energy. “If you’re looking at development,” said Hicks, “Jack Julseth built 80 cabins and doubled the number of parcels – almost doubled the assessments in Port Renfrew. He also donated $10,000 towards the new fire truck.”

Hicks said Julseth (and Laing) will bring “a wonderful new energy and professionalism to the whole hospitality industry in Port Renfrew.”

Hicks thinks the new developments will absolutely change Port Renfrew from a seasonal economy to a year-round one.

Other players in the mix are Karl Ablack who owns 500 acres and wants to create two-hectare parcels to attract families out to Port Renfrew.

Richard Bonnycastle is currently developing a mine in the hills above Port Renfrew, and a potential sale of same to Chinese investors.

Andrew Purdy is looking to increase the size of his marina from 45 boats to 150 boats and open it year- round.

Hicks also mentioned the entrepreneurs who are holding the Tall Tree Festival and encouraging tourists to visit Avatar Grove. Then there is the Pacific Marine Circle Route which is helping draw tourists and investors to Port Renfrew.

“They’re coming, they’re building… we’re just humming,” said Hicks.