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a stormy love

Those who come to Vancouver Island come for the wind and the waves, for nowhere is bad weather more beautiful than in the Wickaninnish Inn.

Translated from German by Catherine Campbell

ON THE ROAD TO THE Wickaninnish Inn, the Pacific can be glimpsed just once, after which it can only be heard, the sound reaching you from behind the giant trees along the beach. On the outskirts of Tofino, the road winds its way through primeval forest, past spruce trees, ferns and fir trees, and comes to an end before a covered driveway.  This is a place where you can hear the twittering of birds at dusk and smell the scent of the jungle mingling with the salt sea air. The roaring waves are quite near now and very loud. A colonnade made from cedar wood leads the guest to a big double door with two carved eagles.  Behind the doors, from the lobby, the view of the ocean opens out in front of you.

Perhaps it was the endless Pacific ocean, overflowing with life, together with the green shield of the powerfully abundant rainforest, which kept Howard McDiarmid on Vancouver Island. He moved to Tofino at the beginning of the fifties, a time when no one willingly went to the remote coast of west Canada. At that time a few hundred people were living in the small village. However, Howard had studied medicine, and the mayor of Tofino was urgently looking for a doctor for his small community. Howard stayed, and discovered Chesterman Beach, recognizing at once that it was the perfect place for a hotel. He didn’t want to build it a few kilometres away in the quiet Clayoquot Sound, but rather here, on this beach, surrounded by rocks and overlooking the endlessly breaking waves.

It is a rugged, precipitous coast, an area with one of the highest probabilities of rain in the whole of British Columbia. The Transcanadian highway ends in Tofino.  There are no roads going further west. It’s not the place where one would expect a luxurious hotel. 10 years ago Howard’s son made his dream come true – and his own. Charles McDiarmid created the Wickaninnish Inn as if the natures coast and the regions history have been his guideline. And he built it at a place where it is even more beautiful during the storm season.

In every room there is a panoramic window. You sink into one of the soft, deep armchairs, the open fire burns, and right in front of you the sea rages. It’s as if you hadn’t left the outside at all, but had simply exchanged it for a more comfortable, warmer version. No matter where you are, whether it’s in the library or in the lounge, you always have the feeling that this is the right place to be. Furniture made from washed-up wood, stones from the beach holding up books, a weathered tree root supporting a glass tabletop – everything comes from this coast. The hotel has brought nature inside.

In the Pointe Restaurant the roar of the waves and the hum of conversations mingle. Even in the Ancient Cedar Spa, the ocean is present when it showers its spray onto the terrace behind the rocks. Those who are drawn outside to the beach or the rainforest can find rain jackets and trousers in the cupboard. There are also rubber boots. For those who can’t even resist the waves at night, there is a torch ready next to the door.

When the tide is out, the beach is wide, and, far in the distance, the waves thunder. They roll towards the beach, sometimes coming so surprisingly quickly that it is difficult to dodge them. On one side you have sea, on the other side you have land, so you actually walk through the mist of both the ocean and the rainforest at the same time, regardless of whether the weather is good or bad – it gives the senses a refreshing spa treatment.  If you look back, the round building of Pointe Restaurant seems like a lookout on the cliffs. A little further along, it merges almost completely with the coast. The buildings of the hotel disappear amongst the trees and in the grey of the rocks. Only the lights of the restaurant show those wandering along the beach the way home.

Just in front of the Wickaninnish Inn, there is a cabin situated between the sand and the forest. The rain drops from massive ancient cedars onto the roof, collects in puddles and flows towards the sea in rivulets. The cabin once belonged to Henry Nolla, an immigrant woodworker from Spain, who came to Tofino and never again left the coast. Indigenous northwest coast art is the style that characterizes the hotel, the gigantic double doors which lead into the main building, the totem pole in the restaurant – everything originated in this shed, which was Nolla’s home and workshop.

Today, Joe Martin works here. The motives of his masks and the ornaments of the traditional cedar boxes and canoes tell the myths and stories of his people. But Martin not only works with this art; he speaks for the culture of the native people and has already been at the UN and the European Parliament. Joe tells the guests about the values his ancestors held dear –a sincere respect for and awareness of nature.

Lyn and Don Morris, both over sixty years of age, live not far away but have been coming to Tofino and Chesterman Beach for ten years. They always come in November at the beginning of the storm season and always book the same room.  Through the two massive windows they watch the sea. “Once, I remember that the ocean looked as flat as a pancake,” says Don. “It only lasted for a moment, but it was unique. The calm was as devastating as the storm.” The couple let the day pass by, along with the grey whales and orcas they sometimes spot in the Pacific.

“There is nothing to do here, besides living in harmony with the countryside and nature. This area is soothing and invigorating at the same time,” says Lyn.  Nature acts as a counterbalance. The couple have booked a room three years in advance.

In the hotel there is a small canoe which the wood carver Joe Martin made in the traditional manner. A canoe to travel in. His great-grandfather was a warrior chief under the chieftain Wickaninnish.  Wickaninnish means “the one who has no one in front of him in a canoe”. A good place to be – like on Chesterman Beach.

Wiebke Böse, mare-editor, born in 1970 and Photographer Ingo Glaesmer, born in 1966, both live in Hamburg. For both of them, it was their first trip to Vancouver Island – but most definitely not their last.  They‘ll be back for the next storm season.

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