Nelson Martins still remembers spending weekends in Sooke with his family – but he wasn’t there to enjoy the scenery. He was there to work at the now well-known ruins at Sooke Potholes Regional Park.
As a boy, he would make a few dollars an hour oiling and staining wood boards that would be used in the construction of the Deertrail Resort. His father, Fernando Martins, was in charge of the stonework.
“My dad had a part in every stone laid,” Martins says. “He worked there every day for about six years.”
Today, the stones are all that’s left of the ill-fated resort. The site has since transformed into Sooke Potholes Regional Park. The ground under the lodge’s stone foundation and chimneys is sliding into the Sooke River below, and parts now overhang the cliffs. Fenced off for public safety, the ruins are covered in graffiti artwork. Occasionally, a hole in the fence appears, indicating curious visitors have likely wandered through to the structures. Some interlopers aren’t too shy to post their exploits on Instagram.
As Martins contemplates his father’s legacy, the Capital Regional District is contemplating dismantling it. Last year, it released a request for proposals to assess the site and make a plan to return it to a natural condition. However, at this time the CRD is unsure if it would be safe to have decommissioning crews on site, says spokesperson Andy Orr in an email. For now, the fate of the ruins is unclear.
The Deertail Resort was dreamt up by the late Albert and Rosabelle Yuen in the early 1980s, according to an editorial written by Sooke Region Museum historian Elida Peers and published in the Sooke News Mirror. Albert Yuen was a developer from the area who planned to make a 160-acre parcel of land along the Sooke River into a world-class resort. It would have a focus on preserving the environment and use materials organic to the land it sat on. Plans also included 250 luxury rooms and suites and a conference facility with space for 450 people.
A stone fire pit large enough to “drive a truck right inside it” was erected, Martins recalls. Mass timber structures began to go up on top of the steel and stone base in the early 1980s. His father spent days at a time on the site, building it from the ground up. Sitting in a bucket lowered by a crane – that was sometimes operated by Martins’ 14-year-old brother – Fernando carefully placed stairs on rocky, cliffside outcrops leading down to the river.
“Albert really trusted my father and really liked his work ethic,” Martins says. “I know he was just a stonemason, but he really put my father in a bit of a leadership role, kind of like a superintendent on the project.”
But over the next two decades or so, those lofty dreams would change.
As Martins recalls, loss of investment dollars and skyrocketing interest rates forced work on the Deertrail Resort to halt. But he says the Yuens didn’t give up on the idea for decades, until the land was sold.
Peers’ editorial says alternate plans included a housing development and a “media village,” but none of it ever materialized.
The parcel of land where the ruins sit was acquired by the Capital Regional District (CRD) in partnership with the Land Conservancy of B.C. in 2005 and 2007.
The lodge’s timber frame was later dismantled for safety purposes, according to Peers’ article.
The resort ruins imposingly stand 1.5 kilometres past the entrance of Sooke Potholes Regional Park. They break up the natural surroundings with stone and steel – remnants of a decades-long dream that went unfulfilled.
Rosabelle and Albert Yuen both passed away in recent years, Martins says.
The future of the resort
In December, 2018, Regional Parks staff noted two separate slope failures near the resort, says Orr, the CRD spokesperson. One was directly below the lowest viewing platform that is part of the resort site and another was slightly to the north under another viewing site. An engineering firm recommended the CRD keep the resort area closed to the public and add warning signs about slope and rockslide hazards.
Orr says the original plan was to look at possibly remediating the site and returning the ruins portion to a natural setting for visitors. According to the request for proposals, it would be up to the contractor to determine precisely what the remediation would look like, and which parts of the ruins might stay on site. The contractor would also determine the location of fencing to keep the public safely back from the cliffs.
The CRD is assessing the most efficient, safest, environmentally sensitive and economical way to remove the structure, Orr says. But “we are not sure if we are going to be able to do work at this time.”
A legacy in the woods
Last summer, Martins took his wife, daughter and mother to the ruins of the Deertrail Resort site. His father died about 15 years prior to that, and Martins says the place is still full of memories.
Martins recalls telling parks staff about his father’s work, and sharing stories with his daughter, who never met Fernando.
“It’s kind of touching to share that with her and have the memory of him and everything he did there,” Martins says.
His mom, who also has many memories there, is proud of Fernando’s work as well, Martins says.
Despite the memories, Martins says it’s a “blessing” that the Yuens’ dream was never realized. He says the whole place would be completely different with a small town sitting there rather than a park. While he understands the safety issues associated with the ruins, he says he wishes parts of it could be preserved as an homage to the amount of energy and work that went into building the structure.
“I’m really really sad to see it go,” Martins says. “It’s such a legacy of my father.”