Port Renfrew has had a series of hotels situated on the San Juan inlet. The hotel in this photo was the first of three. The museum collection doesn’t have a photo of the second hotel

SOOKE HISTORY: A changing Port Renfrew

Today they would surely stare at their town in disbelief, with so much new development taking place.

On a learning excursion to the Cowichan Lake Hatchery last week, my fellow volunteer Margaret Banner and I finished our trip by coming back the Mesachie Lake-Port Renfrew route.

It was a beautiful day and when we stopped to see the development underway by Three Point Properties, we were quite enchanted by the smart looking little cottages built near the new breakwater.

My first trip on the Sooke/Port Renfrew/Cowichan circle route took place in the 1960s when our local chamber of commerce first began this promotion, even though the route was mainly through active logging roads.

In those days it was Marguerite Beltz, longtime chamber secretary who championed the cause, and it was kind of neat now to meet the current president of Port Renfrew’s Chamber, popularly referred to as “Handsome Dan” who told us there were about 85 units in this compactly built new project.

I couldn’t help but think of the early settlers who went to Port Renfrew by water in the late 1800s, names like Baird, Elliott, Ellison and Godman. Their lives were an everyday struggle, and when a hotel was built alongside the wharf, it was a welcome addition.

Today they would surely stare at their town in disbelief, with so much new development taking place.

Margaret and I stopped for a bite at the new Port Renfrew Hotel and as always checked out the bar at the pub, installed when the hotel was rebuilt after fire razed it in 2003.

We’re always proud to admire the beautifully-grained Douglas-fir pub bar, milled specifically for the rebuilt hotel by Warburton’s mill on Otter Point Road. Residents of Sun River can take pride in it as well, as this Douglas-fir actually was felled where it stood on the knoll at the left as one enters the Sun River subdivision.

I always thought one of the best stories out of the San Juan Valley happened back in the tow boating days when tugs played an invaluable role in the commerce of the coast.

Arthur MacFarlane, skipper of the tug JWP pulled into the inlet at the San Juan late one Sunday in the 1930s, his crew worn out and thirsty, focused on slaking their thirst after the arduous tow. Heading for the hotel, they were told they could not be served as it was the Sabbath.

According to the story, hotelkeeper Isla Mutter, fearing for his license, repeatedly refused their entreaties. Not known for his patience, MacFarlane could take no more. He ordered his six-man crew to reef out the towlines and began encircling the pilings that supported the hotel over the waters of the inlet.

Yes, the hotel opened its doors and the men were served!

•••

Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.

 

 

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