Heritage & Culture of Tofino BC | Tourism Tofino

  • Photo credit
    Ken Gibson Collection
  • Photo credit
    Ken Gibson Collection
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    Melody Charlie Photograhy
  • Photo credit
    Stuart May
  • Photo credit
    Ken Gibson Collection
  • Photo credit
    Ken Gibson Collection

Heritage & Culture of Tofino BC

Deep West Coast Roots

Tofino: In the Beginning
Located in a geographical region called Clayoquot Sound, Tofino comprises approximately 400,000 hectares of land and marine inlets, all draining into a central marine catchment area. The Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations have made Clayoquot Sound their home for thousands of years. The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations village of Opitsaht – across the water from Tofino on Meares Island – is thought to have been continuously inhabited for at least the past 5,000 years (according to carbon dating of a long-buried stash of discarded clamshells). The word Clayoquot comes from Tla-o- qui-aht, and is said to mean “people who are different from who they used to be.”

Setting Sail to the West Coast: Who Arrived First?
The earliest recorded European contact with Vancouver Island’s First Nations residents occurred just north of Clayoquot Sound, between Estevan Point and the Escalante River. In 1774 Captain Juan Pérez was sent north to reassert the long-standing Spanish claim on the west coast of North America. Pérez reached the Queen Charlotte Islands in July, 1774. After some trading with the Haida people from aboard the Santiago, Pérez turned south and made contact with Hesquiaht people near what are now called Perez Rocks, approximately 40 km north of Tofino. Curiously, Pérez and his crew did not go ashore.

History buffs will appreciate that Pérez preceded the more celebrated Captain James Cook, who arrived three years later at Nootka Island in the spring of 1778. Cook claimed the region for England, giving rise to heated interactions between the British and the Spanish. War was averted through various agreements outlined in the three Nootka Conventions signed between 1790 and 1794.

And They Called it Tofino
During the 1792 exploration of Vancouver Island by Captains Galiano and Valdez, Clayoquot Sound’s southernmost inlet gained the name Tofino Inlet honouring Vincente Tofiño, a Spanish hydrographer who taught Galiano cartography

The current townsite of Tofino was officially established in 1909 on the Esowista Peninsula, taking its name from Tofino Inlet. Until this time, the outpost called Clayoquot was the main European settlement in the area. Located on Stubbs Island, about 1.5 km across the water from the current site of Tofino, Clayoquot had been a fur trading post on and off since the late 1850s. By the turn of the century it boasted a store, post office, hotel, saloon, dock, and a small resident population.

By the late 1890s, a scattering of homesteads had appeared on the Esowista Peninsula, across the water from Clayoquot. Gradually, the new townsite of Tofino took shape here, as more settlers arrived, mostly Norwegian, Scots, and English. The Anglican Church (still standing at Second Street and Main Street) was built in 1913 after the Church of England provided funds, instructing that a church be built on the most beautiful spot on Vancouver Island.

Tourism in Tofino:  The Early Days
The concept of Tofino as a tourist destination has been around for a long time.

In fact, tourism in the region dates back to the late 1800s when the occasional adventurous traveler would hitch a ride on the steamships transporting miners, fur traders and their equipment up the coast from Victoria. But through the early decades of the 1900s this region was mostly known as an isolated maritime trading town, earning the nickname “Tough City” for its long, rainy and tempestuous winters.  References to this name carry on to this day.

The Long and Winding Road to Tofino: Highway 4
In 1959, a long-awaited logging road was punched through the mountains between Port Alberni and the coast. The earliest road travelers, eager to reach the ocean, could only use the logging road on the weekends when loggers had days off. Over time, restrictions on road use eased, and Tofino became an increasingly popular destination.

By the late 1960s young people arrived in droves, striking up makeshift camps at a few different beaches along Long Beach. At around this time, the beaches welcomed just a few surfers – forerunners of today’s thriving surf culture.

In 1970, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was created. The road was paved in 1972, making it Canada’s only paved road to the open Pacific Ocean. Accordingly, Tofino became the official western terminus of the Trans Canada Highway, as evidenced by the official sign at the First Street dock.

Yes, We Really Do Save Trees
In 1993, Tofino and Clayoquot Sound entered in the limelight, both nationally and internationally. After a contentious summer in the woods, 856 activists were arrested at Kennedy Lake, just south of Tofino (you will pass it on your drive here) for protesting the practice of clear-cut logging.

The protest garnered worldwide media attention and stood as the largest mass arrest in Canadian history, until June 2010 when 900 protesters were arrested at the G20 Summit in Toronto.

Today, Clayoquot Sound remains home to some of the largest areas of intact coastal temperate rainforest on the planet. Accessible, environmentally rich areas like ours are rare treasures, found in few other locations on the planet. The recognition of Clayoquot Sound by the United Nations as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in January 2000 garnered official international distinction.

Many residents take preservation of the environment hyper-seriously, evidenced by how local people banded together to save an 800-year-old tree in the town centre in 2001. The effort to save this tree – known as the Eik Cedar (pronounced ‘ike’) – attracted significant media attention. You can find the Eik Cedar on Campbell Street, across the road from Shelter Restaurant.

Tofino's Natural Riches: Yours to Discover
Today, Clayoquot Sound welcomes over 600,000 visitors annually.

Every year in March over 20,000 grey whales pass through Clayoquot Sound en route from Baja to Alaska.

Every April and May tens of thousands of shorebirds stop to gorge themselves on Clayoquot Sound’s nourishing mudflats and sandy beaches before following the whales north.

And then there are the salmon. Millions of salmon – five different species – mingle and feed in the inshore and offshore waters throughout the summer before the fall rains point them to the rivers and streams where they return to spawn.

For the Love of Tofino: Community Projects
Looking to the future, Tofino’s residents and visitors aim to collaborate on projects that will enhance and build upon our vibrant community. And we think big.

One of our dreams, the extension of the Tonquin Trail which began in 2011 and continues today towards Middle Beach. This 2.6 km (1.6 mile) trail begins at the Tofino Community Hall and meanders through old-growth forest to Tonquin Beach and Third Beach, respecting the local ecosystem and reflecting the spirit of the community.

Adjacent to this trailhead is the Tofino Bike Skills Park, completed in June 2012. Built with sections for all skill levels, this park welcomes everyone from toddlers on run bikes to seasoned BMX riders.

More on unique Tofino experiences.


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