A photo like this, which shows a transport at Port Renfrew (c 1950), might be startling for young people nowadays, but that’s really how it was.
Bear Creek Camp, alongside the famous Bear Creek trestle, was 14 miles by rail from Beach Camp, the part of Port Renfrew fronting San Juan Inlet, that most readers are familiar with today.
On the eastern side of the Bear Creek Valley, beginning in the late 1940s, vehicle traffic could drive from the Shawnigan Lake Road to have the speeder meet them at the trestle and continue the transport on the western side, through the San Juan Valley.
This speeder/vehicle route was a godsend for the folks at Port Renfrew, limited to the once-weekly visit of the CPR’s Princess Maquinna until then.
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The road connecting Port Renfrew to Jordan River and Sooke was not opened until 1958.
This photo given to the Sooke Region Museum long ago by Metchosin’s Ben Swindell, a member of the Sooke School District.
While the photo shows the main camp office and the store at Bear Creek, the scene looks as though it has dressed-up visitors; possibly it was a school board function, though the school is not in view.
The gas speeder was run by employees of B.C. Forest Products, often Andy Davidson or Johnny Krachuk. Superintendent of B.C. Forest Products, San Juan division, was Bob Robertson, whose daughter Jeannette Wilford grew up in Port Renfrew and now runs a business in Sooke.
Another local individual with fond memories of this Port Renfrew scene, and very familiar with the speeder, is Lorne Christensen, who as a youngster of 10 in Victoria began spending summers with his grandmother at Bear Creek Camp.
He recalls “Grandma was a great cook and baker, so we picked berries for her delicious blackberry pies.” The pies were set out on a shelf to cool, and suddenly Lorne and Grandma heard a big commotion and the pies were on the ground with a feasting big black bear.
Lorne says “Grandma opened the door and yelled and swore at the bear … hitting him with a broom … after he licked the plates clean he sauntered off as if it was the most normal thing in the world.”
It’s not likely that the bears manage to get at the pies in Port Renfrew today.
Elida Peers is historian of the Sooke Region Museum.