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Ucluelet is staking its future on tourism

Jack Souther checks out changing face of Ucluelet

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By Jack Souther

The western edge of British Columbia, where the land and the ocean overlap in a maze of islands, fjords, forested ridges, and ice-capped peaks, is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and those of us fortunate enough to live here are never far from either the sea or the mountains. We cherish them equally and many of us have a love affair with both. Ask a Whistler snowboarder where he's going for a holiday and he'll likely say the surfing beaches of Tofino and, asked the same question, the Tofino surfer could well say the ski slopes of Whistler.

Surfer Kim Vertefuille, who lives in Pemberton and works as a ski patroller and fireman in Whistler has been riding Tofino's surf for at least the last 10 years. And Trudy Alder, a suburb skier who moved to Whistler in 1967, first launched her kayak in Barkley Sound 15 years ago and has gone back almost every summer since. "It's an incredible place," she says. And, having been there many times myself I couldn't agree more.

But it was not scenery or recreation that first attracted people there. Raw logs from the forest and salmon from the ocean were once seen as an endless source of wealth. Resource-based communities prospered on both the coast and in the forested valleys of the mountains. But one by one, as their traditional resources diminished, many of B.C.'s logging, fishing, and mining towns turned to tourism as a source of revenue.

Now that it has become a world-class tourist destination it's easy to forget that even Whistler was once little more than another logging camp. The first time I drove the network of dirt haul-roads to what is now Whistler Village there were no ski lifts, The railway brought a trickle of tourists to the solitude of Rainbow Lodge but most of the activity was centred around the Mons logging depot, and the stumps in the 19-mile cut-block were still smoldering from the last slash-burn.

A few weeks ago Kim dropped in for a morning coffee after his night shift at the fire hall and we talked about the changes in our favorite ocean-side resorts during the years we had been going to the west coast. Tofino, where Kim spends his holidays surfing, and Ucluelet, where Betty and I go to kayak, are only 40 km apart. They both face ocean on one side and forest on the other but their histories are very different.

"In many ways," Kim said, "Ucluelet is to Tofino what Pemberton is to Whistler."

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