WATCH: It was a small community built on the logging industry but Port Renfrew is undergoing a major transformation and now bills itself the Tall Tree Capital of Canada
The discovery of a grove of massive and unusual cedar trees six years ago has slowly been attracting more and more tourists from around the world to the tiny community of Port Renfrew.
And now the business community says it’s better for the local economy to move on from logging, and set its sights instead on ecotourism.
Port Renfrew is a two hour drive from Victoria, along Vancouver Island’s west coast.
“To be able to drive somewhere, and to be able to immerse themselves in an environment that looks the same, is the same, the way it was perhaps 1000 years ago, is a wonderful experience,” said Dan Hager, President of the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce.
A short drive from the centre of Port Renfrew brings you to Avatar Grove.
TJ Watt discovered the unusual and massive cedars while exploring the area with a friend in 2009.
“We found these incredible gigantic trees that are covered in these amazing burls,” said Watts.
Watt’s group the Ancient Forest Alliance along with the Port Renfrew Chamber of Commerce campaigned to have the area saved and in 2012 the provincial government declared Avatar Grove a protected area and word of it’s unique beauty started to spread.
“Avatar started to bring a lot of people, and they started coming and every year they came more and more and more,” said Hager.
In the peak of summer, it’s estimated up to 200 people will visit the “gnarly” trees each day, many from Europe, and the United States.
“There’s been a massive influx of tall tree tourism and the town has re-branded itself as the Tall Tree Capital of Canada,” said Ken Wu with the Ancient Forest Alliance.
But the Tall Tree Capital was actually built on falling trees and signs of the forest industry dot the hills all around.
“Logging really has the origins of Port Renfrew, the reason the road is there because of logging, but we can bring more people and more revenue into Renfrew through tourism than from logging, taking the trees out,” said Hager.
Hager says you can see the impact ecotourism is having on the tiny community of 250 as developers build cabins and cottages for people from around the world who want a closer view of Vancouver Island’s raw beauty.
One of the most iconic tall trees in the Port Renfrew area is affectionately known as “Big Lonely Doug”.
The second largest douglas fir in Canada, it is nearly four meters wide and 67 meters tall, and estimated to be roughly 1000 years old.
It was saved as a wildlife tree when the area was logged a few years ago.
And it is just one more reason local business and environmental groups say the remaining ancient forests in the region need to be protected.
“Giant douglas firs, big red cedars, these are primeval forests, sort of Jurassic Park type landscapes that really deserve protection there’s so little left,” said Wu.
But for many in the area the tall trees remaining are a sign of transformation, for a town ready to cut ties with its logging roots and plant a new seed for a future in tourism.