THE INN THAT BUILT TOFINO

How a tiny town on the con­ti­nent’s west­ern­most edge went from stormy out­post to revered eco-tourism des­ti­na­tion

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Nick Walker

How a tiny town on the edge of the con­ti­nent went from stormy out­post to revered eco-tourism hot spot

NOT FAR DOWN Ch­ester­man Beach from the Wick­anin­nish Inn in Tofino, B.C., is a small wood­carver’s shed, set back from the piles of storm-tossed drift­wood in the first line of Sitka spruce trees and salal shrubs. Charles Mc­di­armid, the inn’s founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, still vis­its the hut of­ten, some­times on his way to a morn­ing surf­ing ses­sion. It be­longed to Henry Nolla, a long-bearded hip­pie and ex­pert car­pen­ter and carver who ap­peared in the tiny west-coast Van­cou­ver Is­land town in the early 1960s. He died in 2004, but his carv­ing bench and hand­made tools are still there, and the shed is now used by his pro­tégés. One can imag­ine him adz­ing beams in his workshop, or out on the beach help­ing his friend Roy Henry Vick­ers, a First Na­tions artist with a gallery in town, hol­low out a cedar ca­noe. Mc­di­armid, now 62, was just a young boy when Nolla ar­rived on the scene, but his fam­ily’s friend­ship with the hip­pie lasted for decades. The wood­worker was hired by Mc­di­armid’s par­ents, Howard and Lynn, to build their cabin, and later lived rent-free as care­taker on their long beachfront prop­erty. At Mc­di­armid’s re­quest, Nolla left his mark on the Wick­anin­nish Inn as it went up in the mid-1990s, too — from the main hand­carved cedar doors and fire­place man­tels in the guest rooms to carv­ings in the pub­lic ar­eas — a few of many lo­cal touches in a lux­u­ri­ous eco-re­sort crafted to re­flect its coastal sur­round­ings. Putting a high-end inn on the fam­ily beach was one thing; fig­ur­ing out how to in­spire enough people to make the pil­grim­age to such a far-flung place and stay in it was another. Howard, a doc­tor and So­cial Credit MLA for the area whose legacy in­cludes spear­head­ing the 1970 es­tab­lish­ment of nearby Pa­cific Rim Na­tional Park Re­serve, had al­ways said that Tofino could and should be a world-class tourist des­ti­na­tion, but the Wick­anin­nish’s open­ing month — Au­gust 1996 — was slow. Charles, who had de­vel­oped the plan for the inn, se­cured in­vestors and moved back to his home­town af­ter work­ing abroad for years as a hote­lier, de­cided he had to try some­thing crazy: pro­mote the worst weather dur­ing what was tra­di­tion­ally the worst sea­son for ev­ery­one but surfers in thick wet­suits. (Tofino is pum­melled from Novem­ber to March ev­ery year by south-rolling storms gen­er­ated over the Ber­ing Sea.) “We thought, maybe, just maybe, there were people out there who would come to en­joy the big dra­matic win­ter gales, rains and waves we al­ways looked for­ward to,” he says. And come they did. Me­dia cov­er­age of the beau­ti­ful ocean­side re­sort in the lit­tle town with all the storms ap­peared re­gion­ally, then na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, and be­fore the inn’s first win­ter was out, says Mc­di­armid, the phones

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