Tofino Local Profile: Mike White, Browning Passage
It’s fair to say that few people know Tofino or the surrounding waters the way Mike White does.
He was born in Tofino and spent early days on Clayoquot Island, where his parents had a crab cannery, in 1945 and spent his entire life boating, fishing, crabbing and exploring the coves and inlets and rocky islets of this ruggedly beautiful coast. He’s never moved away, except for one homesick year of high school in Victoria. He married a local girl, Linda Craig, and they raised their three kids here. He even worked for 17 years patrolling local waters as a Coast Guard Seaman.
Today he is the owner-operator of Browning Pass Tofino Boat Charters, which offers private and organized tours of Clayoquot Sound and up to Freedom Cove, specializing in bear watching and other wildlife viewing excursions. And if there’s one operator who knows where the wild things are, it’s Mike White.
Over seven decades, he’s watched “Tuff City” grow from a small cluster of fishermen, loggers and First Nations to the vibrant and fast-growing community it is today. Back in the day, he recalls, “There was nothing but feast or famine industry work.” Today, though, the community has an “up attitude,” he says. “The place draws a lot of nice people.”
Among them was the McDiarmid family. White was 10 when Dr. Howie McDiarmid arrived in 1955 to become the village doctor, and has known Charles McDiarmid, the Inn’s managing director, since he was born. In fact, he used to babysit him when Charles parents, Howie and Lynn, went out.
He remembers, too, when the Inn opened back in 1996, and like most of the locals – especially the old-timers – was thrilled to welcome the new opportunities it would bring. Each has happily supported the other’s business. For White, that means taking guests out on his 37-foot, 12-passenger cabin cruiser to see what they can find. From mid-April to mid-October, that typically means bears, especially up in Fortune Channel and Gunner Inlet. His boat has a special platform where photographers can get great shots without disturbing the wildlife.
“My most memorable trip, it was a couple years ago now,” he recalls. “A wolf was laying behind a log watching the bear cubs, and when the mother and cubs went in the bush, the wolf followed. The guests were thinking the worst, that the wolf got one of the cubs. But five, six minutes later the wolf came out of the bush with the mother bear chasing it. It was quite the sight. The size difference was amazing, the mother bear was so large compared to the wolf.”
In the last couple of years, private cruises have become more popular, and he offers personalized day trips, sunset cruises and onboard wedding parties. One popular destination is the Floating Gardens in Freedom Cove, where a pair of artists have created a magical floating sea world.
This summer, he’ll be expanding the business when his daughter Lynn joins him. Like her father, she worked for the Coast Guard for 10 years.
Meanwhile, White says, spring is the best time to explore the waters around Tofino. “May is the nicest,” he says. “The bears are out, there are lots of birds and ducks, and the weather has calmed down from winter storms.”