SOOKE HISTORY: Logging and trucking in Port Renfrew

SOOKE HISTORY: Logging and trucking in Port Renfrew

Elida Peers | Contributed

Not a sight you would see every day, a logging truck crossing a logging railway!

This truck driven by Port Renfrew’s longtime personality Frank Elliott was owned by Stan Harrison. The rail line that had been constructed earlier by Malahat Logging, and seen years of hauling, would later be sold to B. C. Forest Products when that company was formed in 1946.

The gigantic log of Sitka Spruce was being hauled out from Harrison’s operations in the San Juan valley, from a giant stand south of the San Juan River, east of Port Renfrew.

This scene dates from early in the 1940s, and this particular log, scaled at 7,000 board feet, was destined to become part of the war effort. As spruce is a light, soft wood, it was in great demand in those years for the manufacture of airplanes, and called “aircraft spruce.”

Once dumped in the inlet, this log would have become part of a boom of logs towed to Vancouver for milling.

Railway logging had been the backbone of the industry in the valley from 1911 to around the 1950s, when truck logging had taken over the hauling function.

Frank Elliott, whose home, the oldest in Port Renfrew, still stands on Beach Road in the valley, was a renowned logger, fisherman, and a great teller of yarns.

He once had the distinction of hosting former prime minister John Diefenbaker on a steelhead fishing expedition, and then to a luncheon of roast pheasant cooked in the Elliott house by his wife Joyce. Several generations of Elliotts have been part of Port Renfrew history since the house was built in 1892.

Port Renfrew was a fairly isolated community until the road was put through from Jordan River in 1958, and the people who lived there generally became adept at creating their own social life and entertainment.

We have heard that logging operator Stan Harrison, who had hailed from Salt Spring Island, was a natural musician who sang and played the piano at neighbourhood parties.

Fortunately, the San Juan Valley still retains a few of these large specimens of spruce; be sure to look for the Harris Creek Spruce if you’re taking the route from Renfrew to Lake Cowichan.

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Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.