A recent trip to Vancouver Island found your writer savouring the delights of the Tofino BC area. It’s a visual and sensual extravaganza of beaches, ocean waves and rainforest jungles. It’s also the destination of 800,000 tourists annually – not bad for a small area that has about 1,800 fulltime residents. Most of that tourist activity is concentrated in the summer months with accommodation ranging from sleeping on beaches by footloose young people to ultra-luxurious beachfront resorts frequented by rich folks flying in from around the world. Tofino over the past 50 years has evolved from a fishing and logging economy to one that is now dominated by the tourist industry. That development has its own good and bad aspects with the usual BC hypocrisy mixed in. It all causes one to ponder a few perspectives.
One notices that Tofino residents seem to have embraced the goal of becoming an environmentally-correct paradise. One of the groups leading that cause is a lobby group, “Friends of Clayoquot Sound” who seem determined to destroy whatever resource industry remains. They recently celebrated a victory that saw the operation of a local fish farm terminated. With the demise of the commercial fishery, salmon farms have provided critical local employment and permit income to area First Nations, but that now seems threatened by radical anti-development groups. In one of those “only in BC” moments, that same lobby group convinced the local Hesquiaht First Nation to stop a logging operation on their traditional lands. Curiously, the company doing the logging was owned by that same First Nation that employs their own people – a case of cutting off the hand that feeds you. One suspects that the diabolical tactics and money of duplicitous American green lobby groups are behind these supposed local environmental groups. I guess all those folks who used to work in well-paid local resource industries can now look forward to jobs as minimum-wage food servers and hotel cleaning staff in the tourist industry.
A dominant sector of the Tofino tourist industry is the surfing business. Why this has become so seems baffling. Firstly, this area is not warm southern California – the ocean water that pounds the west coast of Vancouver Island is very cold. That requires surfing fans to squeeze themselves into skin-tight wet suits to ward off hypothermia from the cold water. From personal observation one notes that surfers seem to spend hours paddling around in the ocean trying to find a suitable wave to ride, but when an attempt to ride a wave is made, surfers fall off their surfboards seconds later. The hours of paddling are then resumed until the cold drives these folks out of the water. I am not sure where the fun is in this sport, but I expect it must be cool to call oneself a surfer. Speaking of cool, one notes that Tofino seems to have become home to a large number of well-worn Volkswagen and Mitsubishi vans with colourful surfboards tied to their roofs. I expect driving those vehicles around are symbols of surfing coolness and status – it sure beats suffering through any actual surfing.
Some further interesting observations
One notes a trend to change local names into new unpronounceable native language titles. The Wickaninnish Centre is now the Kwisitis Centre. The Ucluelet First Nation now calls itself the Yuu-thlu-ilth-ath Nation. I can appreciate the cultural value in these changes, but I suspect not even local folks will be using such tongue-tying words much, never mind baffled tourists.
Surprisingly, for an area that is so environmentally obsessed there are no windmills providing clean power – surely there is enough wind roaring in from the ocean. I guess they prefer those eyesores to be in faraway Alberta – another case of BC hypocrisy. Forget solar power, local’s claim the sun only shines about eight days of the year. Speaking of Alberta, propane is trucked in from a thousand miles away only to be burned away on patios of trendy Tofino restaurants. It gets worse – at the time of my visit gas was selling for $1.11 in Tofino whilst it was $1.09 in Calgary. Moving fuels of every kind to this area involves a lot of pipelining, refining, trucking, ferrying, storing, distributing and retailing – all of which cost money. Add in the BC carbon tax and it should make gas on the fringes of Vancouver Island a lot more expensive than in Alberta. But then again walking on a remote beach watching the waves roll in makes it all worthwhile.