Libation Destinations || Dwellers
Original Article by Treve Ring for SIP Northwest
RUSTIC ELEGANCE ON THE EDGE OF NATURE
Tofino. Majestically positioned on the wild, west coast of BC’s Vancouver Island, the last Pacific shores stop before the vast Pacific Ocean with miles of deep sand beaches, old grown rainforests, some of the best surfing on the planet and playground to orca whales and bald eagles. And the heart and core of this unspoiled and pristine environment is The Wickaninnish Inn.
There is truly no other place on earth like The Wickaninnish Inn. The Wick, as the property is affectionately called, is perched on the far reaches of the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, on otherworldly Chesterman Beach, and just a few minutes from the core of the harbor town of Tofino. For coastal locals like myself, Tofino is a shared pride and joy, and the Wick, the respected elder. The property has become a place for private soul-searching retreats, romantic getaways, destination weddings (with nearly as many elopements) and family gatherings. To many of us growing up around these parts, The Wick is that special, unwavering anchor that unites us to our Vancouver Island core deep down.
A FAMILY REGALI A
To countless others worldwide, however, The Wick is a year-round destination exemplifying rustic elegance on nature’s edge. A Relais & Châteaux member property since 1997, the inn is owned and managed by the McDiarmid family. Charles McDiarmid, managing director, has been hands-on from the moment he selected the site on Chesterman Beach. McDiarmid’s father, Dr. Howard McDiarmid, first settled in Tofino in 1955, back when the town was a remote fishing village. When Dr. McDiarmid first moved to Tofino he was a healer with many hats—dentist, veterinarian, obstetrician and caretaker for the health needs of the local population. He assumed great responsibility for the area, oversaw the Tofino General Hospital, and over the years was instrumental in the creation of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve in 1971.
When the family decided to build a modern hotel, rustic elegance was the aim from the beginning. Very forward thinking for the time, Charles McDiarmid was instrumental in establishing relationships with local craftspeople for utilizing nearby wood and stone in the construction, and involving First Nations artists including art, craft and culture in various forms all over the property. From the massive hand-adzed cedar entranceways and carved entry doors from local carver Henry Nolla, to the organic, driftwood furniture
by designer Maxwell Newhouse in the foyer and guestrooms—art and nature is as part of The Wick as the crashing waves.
Though luxury and Tofino were not nearly synonymous at that time, each one of the oceanfront guest rooms and suites was designed with the highest standards in mind, and staff were hired and trained to the highest European standards. In 1997, McDiarmid’s dedication to details was quickly rewarded—in just its second year of operation, the inn was invited to be a member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association.
A CALM IN THE STORM
The family and property have never rested on their laurels, and are always pushing the envelope. They were among the first to set a now-standard luxury Pacific Northwest design style in place, showcasing the majestic outside elements by way of the inside décor. The perennially updated suites welcome guests with a beach or ocean view, gas fireplace, soaker tub with view, local art, hidden televisions, binoculars and an individual balcony. Plush towels and sumptuous bedding comfort, and a closet of rain slickers and umbrellas ward off against the ever-popular “Storm Watching Season,” a term that McDiarmid coined that has turned into a Tofino-wide trumpet call for the powerful winter season on the coast.
Further to storm watching, The Wickaninnish Inn is known for their strong culinary program, widely regarded as one of Canada’s top kitchens to apprentice, work and learn about local food. Local is not an afterthought—it is the only thought. The kitchen brigade is regularly out in the forests, beaches and oceans foraging for the nightly menu. THE POINTE RESTAURANT is regarded by many as one of Canada’s top restaurants and is now overseen by executive chef Warren Barr and restaurant chef David Sider. Chef Sider is new to the property as of last July, arriving from the legendary Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario. Chef Barr has been a key member of the inn’s culinary leadership team since 2010, starting as sous chef and proving his dedication to the environment and program. The duo is successfully filling the very big shoes left behind by The Wick’s past greats in the kitchen, including chefs Rod Butters, Andrew Springett and Nicholas Nutting.
With more than 240 degrees of Pacific Ocean landscape, it’s easy to imagine the restaurant’s view is the draw, but The Pointe’s creative, refined and fresh West Coast cuisine brings repeat customers back and entices new ones. Everything is made in house—from the butter to the ketchup to the breads and beyond. A firm collaboration with the Tofino-Ucluelet Culinary Guild complements a longstanding focus on farm-fresh, organic Vancouver Island ingredients. Sommelier and director of food and beverage Ike Seaman’s deep, wide and award-winning wine list allows choices to match all flavors and budgets, while food and beverage service manager Daniel Vogel’s bar program deftly blends classic craft cocktails with innovative, regionally-inspired drinks.
Everywhere throughout, the friendly and highly knowledgeable staff is quick to assist with any questions. Service is paramount here, as befits the Relais & Châteaux property, and though it is a remote resort, the staff are on par with any property elsewhere. In addition to The Pointe, guests can take a casual coffee, lunch or tapas in the beach-fronting DRIFTWOOD CAFÉ, a comfortable place for lingering over a glass of wine or potent latte any time of the day.
After a day on the surf or combing the beaches, a trip to the sanctuary of ANCIENT CEDARS SPA is a must. Surrounded by the forest fringe and lulled by the sound of the surf, the skilled practitioners provide treatments inspired by the healing of many cultures—First Nations and Hawaiian among them. Highly recommended is the Hishuk Ish Tsawalk Awakening, a very special treatment incorporating techniques gleaned from traditional cleansing ceremonies of the West Coast’s indigenous people and helpful to induce a state of calm and deep relaxation. “Hishuk Ish Tsawalk” is a Nuu chah nulth phrase of wisdom meaning, “everything is one, all is interconnected.”
Visiting this very special place will connect you as well—to the beaches, waves and forests. It is one of those rare places that reaches all five of your senses, plus your soul, with its unobstructed beauty and generosity. Be warned: just like Dr. McDiarmid, you might never want to leave either.
FOOD TO THE POINTE
The Wickaninnish Inn has grown into a hallowed ground for up-and-coming culinary professionals, with a number of Canada’s most highly regarded chefs having passed through the kitchen. Indeed, having a stint at The Wick on your resume is somewhat of a golden ticket, opening doors and demonstrating mettle like few other places. The Pointe Restaurant has won numerous international awards and acclaim over the years—Wine Spectator, Travel & Leisure magazine, Fodors and Vancouver Magazine are just a few of the dozens to recognize the culinary program and their hyper-local, foraged foods expertise. Just at press time, The Pointe Restaurant was named in the top 50 Canadian Restaurants in the third-annual Vacay.ca Dining Guide of 2014.
The Wickaninnish Inn is located in Tofino, on the far West Coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Air travelers can land at Vancouver International Airport, Victoria International Airport, Comox Valley Airport or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and then rent a car for the drive to Tofino. The picturesque road is a curvy, tree-lined three-hour drive from the BC Ferry Terminal in Nanaimo or five hours from Victoria. If you don’t want to drive (or are privy to car-sickness), charter flights are available from Vancouver, and take approximately 45 minutes to the small Tofino airport or the float plane dock.