by Leslie anthony
Last week, while leading a writer’s workshop there, I was reminded there are few places left in North America where the notions of idyll, idle and ideal come together quite as well as in Tofino, B.C., on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island.
Here, on Canada’s outer edge, it’s always better to move with the tide than against it. When the Pacific roars across the table-top ramparts of Tofino’s hard-sand beaches, threatening to continue its advance across an entire continent, one either takes to the water—as a growing international contingent of seasonal surfers do—or heads inland to the cafés.
Beneath the area’s famously twisted, wind-blasted cedar spires the former logging and fishing hub remains unquestionably B.C. and quintessentially coastal, a funky mix of surfer vibe, eco-tourism, renowned coastal gastronomie, native culture and commercial fishing—all with the ghosts of forestry both good and bad ringing the beaches in a sun-bleached log farm.
With any number of eco-touristic or outdoor operators you can quickly leave the human artifice behind to plunge into Clayquot Sound, a stunning archipelago owned by eagles, whales, cougars, wolves and bears that come down to the water during low tide to roll rocks and scarf the small purple crabs and occasional fish they find.
A 20-minute kayak will get you to Meares Island—site of a world-famous native logging blockade and subsequent logging protests that ultimately saved most of the Sound from the chainsaw. Here you’ll find an elevated boardwalk of hand-split cedar threading through undisturbed rainforest, passing “nurse” stumps before arriving at a grove of 1,000 year-old cedars.
But perhaps most emblematic of the area are the world-renowned string of interlinked beaches, breaks, and coves, where people come to surf and paddleboard in summer, stroll through wisps of cold mist during “Fog-ust” and watch the big Pacific storms roll in during fall and winter. Walking routes around here always live up to their billing, the timeless writers-and-strollers dream also a beachcomber’s paradise that comes to life at low tide with Purple, Bat, and Leather stars, Dungeness and Spider crabs, myriad jellyfish, and an unimaginable bounty of kelp.
You can come here to surf, and you should, but perhaps the single best reason to visit Canada’s wet coast is for simple observation, to just sit on a log to watch the waves roll in from Japan, and see how whatever light filters in from the horizon turns each advancing plume of water into a million shards of broken glass on the sand.