Tofino: Discover Vancouver Island’s wild west coast once again—or for the very first time
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Original Article for Joanne Sasvari for Vancouver Sun
On March 12, 2020, I woke up to the sun shining golden through the mist on Chesterman Beach and wondered if it was the last time I’d ever see this view. Already, everything felt different. Breakfast was hushed. Our departure was hurried. There were no hugs. Even the surfers had disappeared.
Within hours, of course, British Columbia began to shut down.
Tofino, a remote village at the end of the highway, was one of the last places in B.C. to reopen after the global pandemic was declared. Even when other destinations had begun to entice visitors back to their golf courses and beaches and wineries, the local Nuu-chah-nulth peoples, whose communities had been devastated by smallpox in the 19th century, were understandably reluctant to welcome strangers who might come bearing disease. At least, not until proper protocols were in place. Their neighbours agreed, and accepted that summer might have to be a write-off.
Eventually, though, visitors started to trickle in. And then something strange happened.
Canadians from across B.C., Alberta and as far away as Ontario, unable to visit the U.S or Mexico or Europe or just about anywhere, made their way west, and eventually found themselves in Tofino and its neighbour Ucluelet. Campgrounds and hotels overflowed. Back roads were filled with RVs that had nowhere else to go. Restaurants were so busy that one chef I spoke with joked about another, who had a single table on his patio: “That table’s going to pay his mortgage.” Another bemused Tofitian noted that visitors were looking for beaches where they could Jet Ski. “It wasn’t our usual crowd,” she said with a laugh.
How lucky those visitors were to discover this magical place. Imagine expecting the hot, crowded beaches of Florida or Cancun and instead stumbling across the wave-swept expanse of Long Beach, where the ocean seems to stretch for ever and ever. How exhilarating it would be to walk alongside the surge channels on Ukee’s Wild Pacific Trail for the first time, or to take a dip in the steaming waters of Hot Springs Cove, or to see an orca breech in Clayoquot Sound.
It never gets old, watching the carved yellow cedar doors at the Wickaninnish Inn swing open onto a world of serene comfort, but imagine experiencing it without knowing what to expect on the other side. Think of spotting a bald eagle soar above the rain forest or dipping your toes into the Pacific, so much colder and warmer than you might expect. Consider inhaling the briny tang of the ocean on the breeze, feeling the smooth grain of a carving by Feather George, or tasting the crisp fried oysters at Wild Side Grill or the rich salmon chowder at SoBo.
Vancouver Island’s wild west coast is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, but it takes some effort to get here. How serendipitous then that a global catastrophe could blow so many people off their usual course of travel to end up here instead.
Who knows? Maybe it will be you next time.
As for me, the picture from that March 12 morning still sits on my desktop. And every day I look at it and dream of the day I’ll be back, dipping my toes in the vast ocean.