Only a masochist would crave foul weather on a pleasure trip, unless the jaunt is to Tofino, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island's rugged west coast, and the haven from the elements is the Wickaninnish Inn. The waves that crash on rocky promontories – reminders of the large number of shipwrecks in this region that is called "the Graveyard of the Pacific" - are among the area's compelling visual attractions, especially during winter storm season.
The nearby town of Tofino is literally at the end of the road. As you survey the scene in Tofino, with its crab dock and herring skiffs limned by the weak winter sunlight, you might see a Beaver floatplane take off, as if to underscore the word remote. Although the Trans- Canada Highway's official western terminus is the city of Victoria, another highway leads north and farther west, finally ending here, some four and a half hours from Victoria by car. But during World War II, the Canadian military built three long runways within the nearby Pacific Rim National Park that provide much faster access to the inn. The Wickaninnish, or "Wick," a Relais & Chateaux property sits within a UNESCO biosphere reserve on land that the First Nations people have populated for some 10,000 years. The property abuts a, rain forest and faces the open ocean. Surfing is possible throughout the winter (the season is stormy, but temperatures remain mild), and each March, guests gather to watch gray whales migrating north. Other outdoor pursuits include hiking, kayaking, and salmon fishing.
In the 1960s, hippies gravitated toward Tofino and stayed here. Next came the conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War, who lived on the beaches in the summer. Amnesty was granted in 1977, but many of the objectors stayed. Protesters of the green variety converged on Tofino beginning in the 1980s to campaign against clearcut logging, sparking the largest mass arrest in Canadian history - more than 800 people - in 1993. For now, turmoil appears limited to the storm season.
Subtle reminders of nature's wrath decorate the spacious rooms and suites at the Wick. Night-lights convert to flashlights, and the closets hold Hudson's Bay blankets to wrap up in as you sit on the balcony to watch for eagles, seals, or whales. (All rooms have binoculars.) The Pointe restaurant offers views of ocean spray and serves seafood potlatch and local salmon. Fittingly, the spa specializes in thalassotherapy, or seawater treatments. The 900-square-foot Canopy Suite, the inn's premier accommodation, is located on the top floor and has floor-to-ceiling windows.
"'When I was a kid, I always hoped for a big, shrieking storm," says Charles McDiarmid, the inn's managing director, who grew up here and returned after four years at Cornell and 13 with Four Seasons. "For many this is a spiritual place, where you can walk on the beach and in the silence of the forest. Still, people thought we were crazy to build a high-end place in a spot as remote as Tofino. We weren’t sure that anyone would show up for the party."
Clearly, that has not been a problem. For all its remoteness, the Wickaninnish has no difficulty eliciting RSVPs.