HISTORY: Port Renfrew’s history a rich tapestry

Many changes have taken place in the seaside community

Elida Peers | Contributed

When you look at the busy village of Port Renfrew today, with its many tourists and sports fishermen, and with the Pacheedaht Band undertakings, you marvel at the turns that the once remote community has taken over the years.

In this 1976 photo, Hereditary Chief of the Pacheedaht (People of the Seafoam), Queesto, Chief Charlie Jones, stands by his carving shed with his wife Ida, his daughter, and their visitor Josephine Godman.

It was around the turn of the century that Josephine, daughter of Rev H.G.W. Ellison had first come to Port Renfrew with her parents, and though she had spent most of her life elsewhere, Josephine was back in the village visiting with old friends and gathering history.

Immigrant settlers had begun arriving in the San Juan River valley in the 1880s, living alongside the Pacheedaht people. While forestry was to become the driving force for the area, with the great stands of timber becoming a significant part of the economy of Vancouver Island, it was actually the hope of farming that brought in the first homesteaders. Amazing crops were harvested from the rich loam soil, but the drawback was the lack of transportation to carry the produce to market.

The prospect of mining was also considered an asset that could be developed in the future.

When Rev. Ellison, a British clergyman who had come out to settle and farm in Metchosin initially, picked up stakes and went to the San Juan River valley, he established a sawmill, a general store and post office, and a salmon cannery. His daughter Josephine did not appreciate the confines of an isolated village when she was young, and preferred Victoria where she met and married, at age 19, a member of the British gentry, F.T. Godman.

Much later, back in Port Renfrew as a senior lady, the widowed Josephine Godman visited with not only the Jones family, but with descendants of pioneer settlers as well, in her efforts to gather the history.

Personally, I had the good fortune to meet Mrs. Godman shortly before she died in 1981, but I was sad that she was then in the Veterans’ Hospital in Victoria and suffering from a stroke.

The current Pacheedaht chied, Jeff Jones, is a relative of Queesto, the distinguished and eloquent hereditary chief who shared his knowledge and skill so generously with us at the Sooke Region Museum. Many flocked to Port Renfrew to celebrate the life of Queesto when he died in 1990 at the age of 114.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.

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