Beach House and Port Renfrew History

The Beach House is a modern day relic of the long & storied history of Port Renfrew.

Port Renfrew – A Frontier Town on the West Coast

The San Juan Valley has been home to the Pacheedhat First Nation for centuries, long before Port Renfrew started its history as a logging town. The inlet where Port Renfrew lies was named Port of San Juan in 1790 by Spanish-Peruvian explorer  Manuel Quimper. The first European settlers began carving out their homesteads in 1859 shortly after the completion of Fort Victoria. In the 1880s, to spur growth, the government offered up to 350 acres of free land in the San Juan Valley to homesteaders. Emily and Alfred Deakin, with their daughter Violet, were one of the original European families to settle in the region. They developed 40 acres of land around the Deakin Trail in 1889 with intentions to farm. In the beginning the town was named Port San Juan, but mail confusion with the San Juan Islands spurred the Renfrew name change in 1895. Some claim that the settlers changed the name to honor Baron of Renfrew Prince Albert Edward who planned to encourage and develop crofting in the region.

Chief Pacheedat

During this isolated period supplies were brought exclusively by boat. This was especially dangerous in winter months and many ships and lives were lost. Following the loss of 133 lives in 1906 aboard the Valencia the government moved to enhance an established First Nations trail from Port Renfrew to Bamfield (what is now The West Coast Trail) to provide communication and support when shipwrecks occurred. This safety trail also followed the Cape Beale telegraph line that was erected between 1889-1890.

In 1912 Canadian Pacific Railway (1912-1957) began operations which connected Port Renfrew and Shawnigan Lake creating the first safe, constant flow of supplies to the region. By 1916 the community of 50 people had a hotel, school, post office and telegraph office. In 1923 the first large-scale steam logging operation began when T. Cathels and C. Sorenson moved to Port Renfrew and built the first logging camp. Their endeavor was financially backed by Victoria capitalists Todd and E.P. Butchart (Butchart Gardens). In the 1930s the Malahat Logging Company moved into the San Juan Valley and extended the railway with the completion of the Bear Creek Trestle in 1939. Standing 242 feet high the trestle was the highest in the world at that time. Malahat Logging Co. also created three camps for workers: Bear Creek, Harris Creek and Beach Camp, where the Port Renfrew Beach House is located today. The railway was the artery of the region. The lines were consistently busy moving logs, workers and supplies for the communities until the completion of the Bear Creek truck trestle in 1957.

This new trestle allowed vehicles to travel to Port Renfrew from Shawnigan Lake on the Renfrew Road (todays Red Creek Fir Main Line). The promise of the road was finally realized almost 75 years after European settlers began to call this region home.

Between 1957 and 1963 the Harris and Bear Creek camps were closed and their bunk houses moved to Beach Camp. At this time all logging activities were moved from Beach Camp to the present day Port Renfrew Marina on the Gordon River.

Upon the completion of this newly-designed camp, the town of Port Renfrew began to take its current shape and contained nearly 100 homes. Electricity came to Port Renfrew in 1958 along with the development of a new road from Victoria. For some perspective on the development of electricity in cities consider that Victoria had its first street car in 1890.

Port Renfrew continued to grow as road improvements made the trip easier and safer. Port Renfrew relied heavily on industrial logging as its principle economic engine until 1990 when Fletcher Challenge moved their operations to Cowichan Lake. The Capital Regional District (CRD) began accepting ownership of the services and utilities in the 1990s when Port Renfrew joined the district and began its economic transition to one that is driven primarily by tourism and fishing.

Beach Camp & The Beach House

Located in the Beach Camp area of Port Renfrew, The Beach House was once a bunkhouse in a logging camp. The house epitomizes the expression “If these walls could talk”. The house itself may have lived in two other camps before it arrived where it is today. The Beach House certainly has an historic and colourful past. We know that the owners before us were Mrs. and Mr. William Seiglar, or Ziggy as he was known. Mrs. Seiglar worked from home and provided the laundry service for the community. For a period, Ziggy operated a bar out of the house called “Seiglar’s Little Brown Jug Bar”. During our extensive renovations we found numerous treasures in the attic. Our favorite by far is the bar’s sign that now proudly hangs on the wall.

  • The bridge over bear creek helped join Port Renfrew to Shawinigan Lake.

  • The San Juan Valley had an extensive logging railway that helped to move the gigantic logs being harvested.

  • Bridge over the San Juan River showing the log booms of days past.

  • Here’s the beach house as it had just arrived by barge in Beach Camp.

  • Hard men working the log booms in the San Juan River estuary,

  • Log Booms dominate the foreshore in Port San Juan in the early 1930’s.

Port Renfrew Beach House - Your Idyllic Choice for Oceanfront Accommodation in Port Renfrew, BC.