The wilderness is what Port Renfrew is all about.

The wilderness is what Port Renfrew is all about.

Port Renfrew on the brink of discovery

Coastal community seeing more tourists and more residents

Port Renfrew. On first glance, it appears to be an accidental splatter of about 200 surfers, fishermen, and tree huggers all living in an unorganized sprawl. Which is to say that there’s no “downtown” per se, although there is a school, business centre, store and library. Here, and there, and over yonder. It is also home to the Pacheedaht First Nation, who according to Aboriginal Affairs have 121 members living on reserve lands in Port Renfrew, with a total registered population of 268.

Anyway you cut it, the numbers are small.

But if you lift that up just a tiny corner of that lazy hazy blanket, you might just discover a vibrant, growing community that is at the brink of being discovered by the outside world.

According to Karl Ablack, the Director/Sales of Live Port Renfrew, it’s a community ready to explode into a fully fledged profitable tourism town.

“We’re on the precipice,” said Ablack, “and things are going to really begin to catapult … within the next two years.”

As far as population growth, Ablack sees the opportunity for telecommuters, remote labourers (as in Fort MacMurray), and young families interested in capitalizing in one of the remaining affordable places on the island to buy a home. VancouverIsland.com puts the population at 190.

And there’s work to be had too, albeit seasonal.

“If you want work, come up here,” said Rosie Betsworth, referencing the many season opportunities in the tourism industry. Betsworth is the former president of Port Renfrew’s chamber of commerce, business woman, and currently works with Ablack on the Live Port Renfrew project.

“There’s a lot of need for trades up here,” said Ablack, referencing the last few years of development seen in their community.

The tourism industry appears to be booming.

“I’ve got rental cabins. We’re sitting at about 85 – 87 per cent occupancy for the summer,” said Betsworth. “This is the best summer we’ve had so far, and I think it’s just because Renfrew is finally on the map.” Betsworth refers to the glossy Port Renfrew flier that lists over 25 accommodations, over 10 fishing charters, and campsites, marinas, restaurants, stores and other businesses in town.

“People are coming faster than the services are,” observed Dan Hager, president of Port Renfrew’s Chamber of Commerce. Hager is also a member of the Live Port Renfrew group.

Key to the growth in the tourism industry in Port Renfrew, speculate all three, is the completion of the Pacific Marine Circle Route (complete in 2009). The construction of the Sombrio Bridge #1 has also helped straighten the road, making it less hazardous to travel. In total, over $20 million in improvements have tremendously benefitted the little town of Port Renfrew.

A 2012 pamphlet from the Port Renfrew Development Fund speculated that some of the interest might be driven by the development of an iron ore mine near Port Renfrew, known as the Pearson Project. A 2013 document from the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines reports, “Reconnaissance work began in 2013 and the Ministry of Mines is processing a Notice of Work that includes drilling. The vendor, Pacific Iron Ore Corp published an inferred resource for the Bugaboo Creek area in 2011 consisting of 14.3 million tonnes averaging 60% magnetite at a cut off of 20% magnetite.”

The Pacific Iron Ore Corporation’s website reports that as of March 31, 2011, the Pearson Project had “285 claims on Vancouver Island cover a combined 170,648 hectares. These are split 266 claims and 162,420 hectares for the Port Renfrew Block and 19 claims and 8,228 hectares on the unexplored northern claims.”

Our requests for comment to the Pacific Iron Ore Corporation went unanswered, so there is no confirmation or denial of a possible mine in the Port Renfrew vicinity.

But whatever the driving force, the recent road improvements are indeed driving many tourists to Port Renfrew, say the three from the Live Port Renfrew project.

Which has in turn created a very furtive environment from business start-ups. The opportunities may exist for those willing to take a chance.

Be forewarned though, the entrepreneurial gains won’t be instant, said Hager.

“They’re not going to make money like that,” says Hager, snapping his fingers to make the point. “They have to go in with some cash and get set up. And sit there and wait. Because they are coming.”

And according to this group, they have already been found by tourists. By many, locally and from afar. And business has been year-round. Hager co-owns Handsome Dan cottages together with France Turcotte. Business is booming, year round, at the cottages. Hager estimates that over the winter months, they are at 70 per cent capacity.

But for all its anticipated growth, its magic is in the wilderness. Port Refrew is the gateway to many hiking trails, freshwater and ocean fishing, surfing, kayaking and canoing, crabbing, whale watching and bird watching. There are a number of beaches for day trips and camping. And Port Renfrew is also home to the Davey Derby and the Tall Tree Festival.

Betsworth, Ablack and Hager all see a clear opportunity for Port Renfrew to position itself as a natural destination similar to Tofino, but much, much closer. It’s pristine wilderness sits at the doorsteps of Victoria, only about two hours away.

“It’s raw, unfiltered nature,” said Betsworth. “People get a chance to relax out here.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Nexii roof panel is lifted during construction of a Starbucks in Abbotsford. Alexzi Building Solutions will be building a manufacturing plant in Langford or North Cowichan to produce the sustainable construction panels. (Photo courtesy of Alexzi Building Solutions)
Langford eyed for facility to make green building alternative to concrete

Langford, North Cowichan possible sites for plant to create sustainable construction panels

Local MP Elizabeth May says the public has a right to know the identity of the company that plans to operate the massive warehouse proposed for Sidney on airport lands but residents who want to stop the project would probably have to go through the courts. (Black Press Media File)
MP Elizabeth May says public has right to know identity of Sidney warehouse operator

Residents wanting to stop the project would probably have to go through the courts, said May

Kenny Podmore, here seen at Sidney’s cenotaph in November, says he feels for the veterans after organizers had to cancel an event acknowledging Victory in Europe (VE) Day for the second time in as many years because of COVID-19. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich event marking 75th anniversary of VE-Day cancelled

Sidney resident first planned event for May 9, 2020 moved to May 8 before being cancelled

Individuals and businesses are encouraged to bring their unwanted electronics to Tillicum Centre May 14 to be shredded, recycled or donated. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can shred, donate electronics safely

Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau hosts event May 14 at Tillicum Centre

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Island Health has confirmed COVID-19 exposures at Ecole des Deux Mondes in Campbell River on May 4 and 5, and at Mill Bay Nature School in Mill Bay on April 28, 29, 30 and May 3. (Metro Creative photo)
Two new COVID-19 school exposures confirmed by Island Health

Health authority contacting anyone exposed at Ecole des Deux Mondes, Mill Bay Nature School

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Most Read