By Jagdeesh Mann,
Special to The Post
A century earlier when W.B. Yeats wrote ‘the world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper’, Tofino, British Columbia joined Canada’s postal grid.
The two events hardly seem congruent – a remote Canadian fishing hamlet gaining municipal recognition hardly seems awe-inspring.
Yet fast forward a century onward, and the kernel of that inauspicious beginning has blossomed into a town that is a traveller’s Shangri-La, a place as wondrous as a Tibetan valley yet within the reach of a ski weekend.
Where once only miners, fishermen and loggers journeyed to the extreme edges of Western Vancouver Island, today Tofino is a resort that attracts tens of thousands of tourists annually – and that is no statistical legerdemain.
Located at the finger end of a dangling peninsula, the town is as far west as the ocean will permit it to go. Tofino lies at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and its infamous Ring of Fire, on a recess of land where it is forever leaning in on the ceaseless conversation between the land and the sea.
The spectacular is the norm in Tofino, as regaled again and again in the stories travellers tell each other.
Look up into the sky and at any moment you may see a pair of bald eagles, their talons clasped in a lover’s tryst, plunging hundreds of metres to the earth only to break away at the last second.
In the summer months, it is common to catch sightings of families of bears snooping beaches for shore crabs.
And during spring’s migratory season, visitors come from around the world to witness pods of giant gray whales breach the surface of the Pacific.
Wildlife abounds in Tofino as the region’s eco-system is home to the only temperate rainforest in North America, one holding greater biomass than even the Amazon.
Towering hemlocks, and cedars of the surrounding wilderness are the sovereign rulers of these parts.
Pick up a piece of bark off the forest floor and it is possible it came from a tree that first broke seed when the Buddha was born 2,500 years ago – in the words of another poet William Blake, dare you will be holding infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.
There is an abundance of life teeming everywhere, from the tiniest tidal pools to every inlet, sound and channel in the region.
Yet despite its unique and pristine eco-system, Tofino is only a short two and a half hour drive from the Nanaimo ferry terminal – for Vancouver residents it is a total 4 hour journey.
In summers, the village of 2,000 people swells ten-fold to over 20,000 permanent residents.
If nature is a blanket, Tofino has become the favourite (and well-contoured) couch for thousands of nature-lovers to curl into and experience a sublime connection with all life.
In recent years, Tofino has increasingly become a draw for urbanites seeking to unplug and re-align their inner balance.
As much as there is to do in Tofino, there is easily as much not ‘to do’.
The region is a retreat for anyone seeking to replace the blind urgency to ‘do something’ with the bliss of ‘doing nothing’ - save listening to the Pacific Ocean crash blithely onto the rocky shoreline.
The Coastal First Nations people who have lived in the village of Opitsat across the harbour from Tofino have known of the region’s rejuvenating powers for millennia.
Opitsat is one of the oldest permanent settlements in North America dating back more than 5,000 years.
Where life for Canada’s First Nations people further inland was harsh and formidable, the rich abundance of the Pacific not only gave West Coast First Nations people all their necessities but also the leisure time to invest in story-telling and art creation that have gone on to form an essential part of British Columbia’s own story-arc.
And on these fertile shorelines, British Columbia’s own political history emerges, via the journeys of discovery by Captain George Vancouver. His travels two centuries ago along BC’s West coast provided for the initial points of contact with First Nations people.
Vancouver would go on to claim the Northwest for King George III. A document with the King’s seal presenting the English captain as his emissary hangs today in Tofino, in the library of the Wickinninish Inn – the elite resort in the region.
The word ‘Wickaninnish’ comes from the Tla-o-qui-aht people of Clayoquot Sound – in the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) language, Wickinninish means ‘having no one in front of him the canoe.
For the eponymously named Tofino based Wickinninish Inn, this has truly become the case. The hotel which is located on Chesterman Beach, has established its reputation in BC and internationally. It has even earned the much acclaimed Relais & Châteaux seal.
This unique accreditation is attained by only the finest of hotels and resorts around the world. Currently there are only four hotels in BC that have attained the Relais & Châteaux standard including The Wedgewood in Vancouver.
Worldwide, elite hotels like the Meadowood Napa Valley in California or the Hotel Saint James Paris in France carry the standard.
Having attained that mark in 1997 two years after the hotel opened, The Wickinninish Inn has not looked back. ‘The Wick’ as it is affectionately called by locals, was founded and is still operated by Tofino’s McDiarmid family who have lived in the region for 60 years.
Thanks to an extremely attentive staff and its five-star facilities, the 75-room hotel attracts repeat visitors from around the world for both the summer and winter when travellers come to Tofino for ‘storm-watching’ season.
The Pointe Restaurant situated in the hotel offers the finest dining experience in Tofino. It has likewise received considerable critical acclaim for a menu that sources B.C. based seafood like wild salmon, spot prawns, and side stripe shrimp to create dishes that are uniquely West Coast.
The growth of finer establishments like the Wickininnish Inn and of the tourism industry in Tofino in general has led to visitors repeatedly booking their vacations year after year.
It is advisable for all visiting the region to plan ahead, particularly in the summers as accommodations can be reserved well in advance.
Putting the time aside to come is the only obstacle that remains for anyone wishing to visit Tofino. Finding magic – that is just a matter of being present.
In a clockwork world of autonomic routines and punishing schedules, Tofino just refuses to play by the rules and thankfully so.
As you sit and face the immensity of the Pacific, all that is loose, unhinged and unwanted will begin to wash away with the rhythm of the surf.
You will feel more alive, lighter than you have in some time. And you will awake the next day, and the day after that with something to look forward to – the call of the Ocean asking you to come and listen to its escapades from the time you were away.