If there is a place that symbolizes the coast of British Columbia and all it stands for it must be Tofino.
On the edge of Clayoquot Sound, site of one of the largest battles ever between environmentalists and the forest industry, Tofino is a peninsula of civilization sticking out of an ancient rainforest.
Surrounded by mist, ocean and the green giants, its a cauldron where the values and activities of the West Coast are thrown together: fishing, whale watching, tourism, forestry, conservation surfing.
In some ways Tofino resembles Whistler 25 years ago. Its a long way from anywhere, for one thing. There is also that immediate attachment to the land, the outpost-in-the-wilderness feeling that existed here prior to the development of the Whistler Village.
But any sense of desolation is pacified by the ocean, which is never far away. The water contributes to the tranquil, meditative, even humbling feel of the area. In Tofino you are not only at the edge of the rainforest, you are on the rim of the Pacific Ocean, just opposite Japan, and only a couple-thousand miles away.
Tofino is also a centre of culture on the West Coast. The art galleries of Tofino many of which feature First Nations carvings and paintings reflect the coasts influence on man, and mans interpretation of the coastal environment.
The Tofino Legion is another reflection of the culture on the coast. In a recent two-week period the legion featured The Jim Rose Circus Show, punk band D.O.A. and Edmonton ska band The Mad Bomber Society. One can only meditate on their surroundings for so long.
Just outside of Tofino, three kilometres down Highway 4, the Middle Beach Lodge sits on a point jutting out into the Pacific. Situated on 40 acres, the lodge is a perfect reflection of West Coast values. A collection of buildings is nestled in amongst the giant cedars and Douglas firs. Each room has views of the water and beaches, but the trees werent mowed down to create unobstructed views.
The lodge offers a variety of accommodations, from self-contained cabins to simple rooms. Guests come together in the lodges two lounges, where the focal points are massive stone fireplaces. Overstuffed chairs offer comfortable perches for studying eagles, whales and the ever-changing scenes presented by the ocean and the beaches.
Middle Beach Lodge was built with the environment in mind. Recycled, natural materials were used throughout, and although there is space to add more rooms, no further accommodations will be added.
Even the recycled materials have their own tale to tell. The teak doors on most buildings were taken from the P&O liner Rampura, built in 1925 at Newcastle upon Tyne, and which spent most of its working life sailing back and forth between England and the Far East. Douglas fir timbers were reclaimed from Victoria-area warehouses, including the Andrew Sheret building and the Kelley Douglas building, and re-milled for the heavy timber-framed buildings of the lodge.
You immediately feel at home in the cabins. Hand-crafted queen- and king-sized beds are covered with duvet comforters. There are small wood-burning fireplaces and the open kitchens are simple but warm. Cabins are filled with books and a selection of CDs, but most people prefer to step out onto the porch and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
And once established at the lodge there are any number of activities available. Fishing, whale watching, surfing at nearby Long Beach, kayaking or soaking in natural hot springs are options. But the activity that perhaps most fully embodies the West Coast experience is a tour of Cougar Annies Garden.
Cougar Ada Annie Rae-Arthur came to Clayoquot Sound in 1915, when the Tofino area was truly remote. She built a formal garden in the rainforest, bore eight of her 11 children there and outlasted four husbands. She earned her nickname by shooting and trapping dozens of cougars that prowled nearby. The garden is now maintained by the Boat Basin Foundation, which works to preserver her botanical legacy.
Cougar Annie, like the Tofino area today, was a mixture of juxtapositions: conservationist, hunter, harvester, survivor. Her West Coast spirit remains alive.