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Rocky coastline along Middle Beach in Tofino
(Albert Normandin photo)

Tofino

Culture & History

Tofino is a world-renowned resort, but a very recent arrival on the world stage.

Thousands of years before it was named after a rear admiral in the Spanish Navy, the people of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations lived and worked here. They've occupied the west coast of Vancouver Island for as long as 10,000 years.

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations

Whoever lives on edge of the continent is intimately and irrevocably tied to the ocean. The Nuu-chah-nulth fished for salmon, cod, halibut and shellfish. They hunted sea lions, seals and whales. Their population reached 100,000 prior to the arrival of the Europeans and their decimating diseases. Their arts, stories, songs and culture have survived and are now undergoing a powerful resurgence.

Captain Cook's Arrival

Legendary Captain James Cook was the first European to explore the area, in 1778. The first British outpost was Fort Defiance, built on Meares Island in 1791. But one of the most epic - and little-known - incidents in Canada's history occurred before this, in 1710.

The Tonquin Story

This is the story of the Tonquin. It follows a heroic voyage from New York to BC by way of Cape Horn and Hawaii. There's a clash of cultures between bravado Americans and the local Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation. And in a literal bang of an ending, both sides were slaughtered and the American ship went to the ocean bottom off the Tofino coast.

The quest to locate the wreck of the Tonquin continues, spearheaded by the Tonquin Foundation, a fellowship of archeologists, divers, historians and researchers closing on the lost ship. In 2003, a fisherman hauled up the Tonquin's anchor.

European Settlement

Eventually, Tofino was settled by a handful of Europeans. Its first doctor arrived in 1905. Its first church was built in 1913. But it wasn't until WWII and the threat of a Pacific invasion of Canada that the country noticed.

Tofino's Expansion

The first logging road opened it to the mainstream in 1959. But until the establishment of Pacific Rim National Park in 1971, it was a territory known only to loggers, fishermen, hermits and hippies. Then the paving of the road saw the ramshackle village explode into high-voltage international tourism.

The Michelin Road Atlas rated the drive from Victoria to Tofino one of the three best drives in Canada. Tofino has never looked back.

Today it's a booming international resort with a dynamic tourism culture. Its potential is year-round, as Tofino's winter storm-watching "season" has clearly proven.

Festivals & Events

A raft of events tailored to maintain vibrancy through the year include November's boisterous Tofino Oyster Festival, May's Shore Bird Festival, the Tofino Food & Wine Festival in June and the big one, the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March. June 21 is Canada's Aboriginal Day, and celebrations in Tofino include Native song, dance, storytelling and arts and crafts demonstrations.