If you’ve been in the Port Renfrew Hotel since it was rebuilt after the 2003 fire, entering through the lounge, you’d have noticed a spectacular slab of Douglas-fir, welcoming the hotel’s bar patrons. Measuring 22’ 4” long, 30” wide and 4”deep, it is a showpiece.
Almost a decade ago, I was one of a group standing watching the falling of the seven-foot diameter Douglas-fir that stood as a sentinel at the entrance into the beginnings of the Sun River development on the old Phillips farm. Years ago, a team of fallers would have used a two-man crosscut saw to fell a tree of such a size, but with the use of power saws in recent times, this stately Douglas-fir presented a different sort of challenge.
Troy Lovbakke was one of the fallers given the task, and he worked in tandem with Lance Lajeunesse and Bud Beam. The men started with 33” bars on their Husqvarna saws, moving on finally to saws with 52” bars. The belts of the high riggers could not encircle the bulk of the tree but they managed to get a steadying anchor cable in place to secure it from falling across Phillips Road. A pneumatic jack was used as well but could not withstand the weight. Finally two 40-ton screw jacks were required for the tree to be laid down safely in an area so near to a public road and houses. It was near nightfall by the time the gigantic tree came down with a resounding crash.
None of us bystanders knew the next step in the route ahead for the centuries-old Douglas-fir. Bucked into lengths, the tree was trucked to Mike Warburton’s mill on Otter Point Road. While some of the tree was conk, as feared, much of the lumber was likely used in construction and we’re not certain where those lengths are today. We do know that Mike used a six-inch double cut saw 24-feet in length to shape the slab specially ordered by the hotel to be cut from this massive old-growth specimen.
While no longer towering aloft, this section of the Douglas-fir lives on today, still a prize of the rainforest as it attracts the attention of hotel guests, its patina showing off the fabric of its grain – a bit of our West Coast culture still.
Sooke Region Museum