Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The road to Tofino

I feel as if I could write an entire book on the road. Or, actually, several roads. I'm doing a lot of research and interviewing for the book I'm working on and it seems I always end up talking about roads. Tofino and Ucluelet began as settlements long before there were roads. People arrived in both towns (and Clayoquot, the settlement that predates Tofino) by water on ships such as the Queen City, the Tees, the Maude, the Princess Nora and, last but probably most memorable, the Princess Maquinna. But there was always the hope — and in some cases the promise — of a road or railway. First it was just a "road" (I use the word loosely) from Tofino out to Long Beach. From there people drove on the beach for much of the way before heading upland again to connect with a road pushed through from the Ucluelet end of things. During the Second World War, these two roads were connected, although driving on the beach was still an option into the early 1970s.

Yesterday I drove on the other road — the road that eventually connected the west coast to the Albernis (Port Alberni and Alberni were two separate towns not so long ago). I also interviewed some people who were in the first cavalcade of cars that drove across this road. That was only 50 years ago this coming September. There's going to be a celebration this fall although, of course, I've mixed feelings about celebrating a road. Still, it's part of our history and this place — for better or worse — wouldn't be the same without it. There are many other towns on the west coast that have pretty much died because of the lack of access to the outside world.

Besides the history, the other thing that occupied my mind yesterday as I drove Highway 4 was how beautiful the drive was. Although I've lived most of my life on the island, the years immediately preceding my move to the west coast were spent in the Canadian Rockies. I think for many years I pooh-poohed our island mountains as not real mountains; not real like the Rockies at least. But it really is a beautiful mountain pass we drive through to get to the west coast and I've been trying to pay more attention. Yesterday, I finally took some pictures.

Early in the morning.

You know you're almost at the coast when you come upon this beauty, but this is a lake (Kennedy Lake); you're not at the ocean quite yet.

Our name for this mountain had become naughtier as the children get older. What would you call it?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Solstice on the Beach

This is what solstice brings ...

... exceptionally low tides during the day.

When people come to visit they often ask for the weather forecast. Most of the time I've no idea. The weather makes no difference to me — if I didn't do anything when it rained I wouldn't get much done. There is one thing I do pay attention to though, and that's the tide table. If you're into beach walking and mucking about in the intertidal, the tide table is the tool to help you structure your day. Yesterday morning, before work, I nipped down to the beach and here's some of what I saw:

This is what a live sand dollar looks like. (See the spines? They're related to sea urchins.)

Sea stars and anemones, clustered together waiting for the tide to come back in ...

Sometimes it's good to stop and look closer ...

you never know what you might find.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gluten-Free Tofino

Tofino has no shortage of places to eat. For a town of 1500 or so people, we are spoiled rotten when it comes to great restaurants. You can find a lot of information on-line about Tofino eateries (including here courtesy of Tofino Time) — and I will, no doubt, add to that pool of info. on this blog as well — but I do want to make an effort of make special mention of gluten-free food available in Tofino. My husband has celiac disease and thus cannot have anything with gluten in it, so we are pretty pegged into what's available in town. Most restaurants will be able to accommodate celiacs (at least with a salad with no bread, no croutons, and a vinaigrette dressing) but if you are coming for a visit I'd suggest bringing your own breads. That's one of the toughest things, although I will check out the new natural foods store and get back to you. (Update: Green Sol Natural Foods on Fourth St. does have Glutino brand g-f bread. More later.)

SoBo is one of our favourite restaurants. It helps (well, maybe it doesn't help my hips) that it's very close by, but we'd travel to the edge of town to visit, too. And you used to have to. SoBo got its start in the purple catering truck. The truck was first parked at the Beaches/Live to Surf lot near Chesterman Beach, then at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, but now the truck is gone and SoBo has moved indoors in the Conradi Building at the corner of Neill and First streets. Regardless of where they prepare it, SoBo's food is always fabulous. Especially the "po fries" (pictured above).

Polenta fries started as polenta croutons on one of chef Lisa Ahier's salads. People cried out for the salad when it came off menu, but when Lisa realized it was the croutons that people really missed, she started making polenta fries (aka "po fries") instead. And my they are wonderful, if very filling. My husband loves them too and they're fine for him to eat as long as he asks for "No Dust." This is the dusting of flour they get at the end. If you are a celiac, just ask for no dust and you too can enjoy these Tofino staples.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Wet Coast

West of the west coast is the wet coast. Tofino is in a rainforest; a temperate rainforest. It rains here a lot. An awful lot — we get up to four metres a year. In fact, it is raining now, but that's okay. It's been dry for several weeks and the forest, my garden, and the village's reservoir is soaking it up. Water is a topic of conversation in Tofino. We wonder when the rain will ever stop; or, as in the last few weeks, when it might start up again. Tonight we're having a town meeting about water conservation. It's something we need to keep in mind at this time of year because a few years ago we almost ran out of it.

It seems odd to think of a town smack in the middle of a rainforest running short of the stuff, but just before Labour Day, 2006 our water reservoir was so low that water usage was drastically curtailed. Word got out, and the tourists stayed away. In reality, it was more of a storage problem — the reservoir is fine for a village of 1500 people or so, but the population of Tofino swells to 10 to 20 times that in the summer. That's a lot of people using a lot of water. It hadn't rained for weeks, the reservoir was frighteningly low and we didn't have the best system for water storage. It eventually rained, but the damage had been done to businesses the rely on tourism.

Since that crazy time, which put us on the map for the wrong reasons, the village has been working on this issue, increasing the size of the reservoir and our capacity to store water, and hopefully the residents (and businesses and visitors) understand they have a big part to play, too. We now have a four-stage water conservation plan. For the last few weeks we've been at Stage One — we could only water twice a week between restricted times. I suspect we were on the cusp of Stage Two, but today's rainfall will ease the pressure off. (It's a full-on winter style rainfall, with a bit of wind tossed in too.)

We have the most fabulous water here. This is where it comes from and how it looks today.

Our water comes from the mountains, forests, and streams of Meares Island. It's very misty today (obviously) and most of the island is actually obscured. On a clear day, this is what Meares Island looks like.

You may have heard how there are "fights" in the Tofino area (Clayoquot Sound, on the edge of which we are perched, to be precise) over protection of the forest. Meares Island is where it began. In 1984, the Tla-o-qui-aht people and Tofino residents set up a blockade that eventually turned the forest company MacMillan-Bloedel away from Meares Island. Here are some memories of that event 25-years-later. Although this was a fight over many things — the home of the Tla-o-qui-aht people, the stunning backdrop for the town of Tofino, the forests and the wildlife, it was also a battle about water. Those forests and soils on Meares hold a fabulous amount of water. They filter and clean it to make some of the best water in the world. (I cringe when I see people lined up at the Co-op with cases of bottled water. There is no need. "Meares Island water" straight from the tap is the best thing going.)

The thing that I remember most from that summer when water ran short was when I heard that every night — even after a day without any rainfall — the reservoir slowly and steadily filled. That water was coming from somewhere — slowly released by the forests of Meares.

I'm thankful for many things when I look across the harbour and see the mountains of Meares Island (there are two "peaks": Lone Cone and Mt. Colnett) that form the stunning backdrop to our village. But most of all, I'm thankful for the water this place brings us every day and the people who stood their ground to keep it clean.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tofino Stars in One Week

We finally watched One Week this past weekend. It's a fairly simple story line: man finds out he has cancer, asks himself, "What would I do if I had one week to live?" In his case, he decides to take his motorcycle on a road trip from Toronto to Tofino. I enjoyed the film, but mostly because of its trip down memory lane and its in-your-face Canadiana. Protagonist Ben is regularly seen rolling up the rim at Tim Horton's (and is told to "go west, young man") and we see a lot of Canadian kitsch: the Sudbury nickel, Wawa Goose, the giant muskie from (I think) Kenora and more. This all brought me back to my days in northern Ontario in the early '80s. He also stops to pay homage to Terry Fox at his monument in Thunder Bay (I think that was the Sleeping Giant in the background) and, of course, has some obligatory time in Banff. (The sound track was great — very Canadian, including Joel Plaskett, Emm Gryner, the Great Lake Swimmers, Patrick Watson and more — and several of the artists had roles in the movie.)

But it was most fun to see Tofino through the lens. We saw Ben having breakfast at Tuff Beans, sleeping on Chesterman Beach, wandering into Storm, and, most fun, having his bike run over by Pete Moffat in his old truck. The town came off pretty well, I'd say, and played the part of "west coast funky."

Here's an article written when the crew was filming in town and a few reviews, here and here.

(Photo on this post from the photo gallery at the One Week website.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sunday in the garden

It was a doosie of a weekend, following a busy week, so I've no time for a long post at the moment. I did have some time in the garden yesterday while FH prepared a French-themed dinner. (Yes, for those of you who know the FH, you read that correctly. It was fabulous, especially the French onion soup, and it was a lovely evening talking about France with friends who'd recently visited Paris.) So, in lieu of a more specifically Tofino-related post, here's a bit of what's blooming in my garden.

I adore these poppies, but they are just getting settled in my garden. (Do they sulk like peonies do?) I see others in town with great swathes of them, but I have just a few precious blooms. There's a lovely cotton candy pink one in bloom right now.

This monster lupine is being a bit of a thug — it totally overpowered and shadowed two poppies, which I discovered when I cut it back. They'll be moved to a new home where I hope they'll be happier. Still, the lupine is lovely, if a bit bossy, when it's in bloom.

Although there are exceptions, roses don't grow particularly well here. Rugosa roses seem to like it though. I have three big bushes that bloom steadily for over a month. I planted a white one last year — hope it takes off too.

If you come to visit, look for the purple chair. (And the mounds of lady's mantle that threaten to take over my yard.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

In season: thimbleberries

Next up for wild berries? Thimbleberries. Currently, the bushes are filled with flowers and maturing berries. I think these are my favourite wild berries. The red berries are soft and they fall apart almost immediately after picking, but they're like eating a not-too-sweet (but just sweet enough) dollop of jam. They're even more impossible to pick and save (without them disintegrating into mush) than salmonberries. Best eaten right off the bush.

I was out of town for meetings the past few days and loaded up on local island strawberries on my way home. It was warm out as I drove and the smell of strawberry jam accompanied me the entire way home. I know what I'll be doing this weekend.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tofino's Surf Sisters

I've been doing some very interesting interviews lately for a book project I'm working on. Surfing may be one of Tofino's major "industries" at the moment, but it actually got it's start out here in the early 1960s. Back then, several harding pioneering surfers like Jim Sadler, Bruce Atkey, and others, were pulling on stiff, awkward wet suits and hopping on boards they either made or had to drive to California to get. How things have changed. A quick scan of the phone book under "Surf Boards" yields eight entries for surf shops and schools and there are more that aren't listed. All summer, the waves at Chesterman Beach and other will be swarming with little black dots on their boards. Perhaps I'll even get out there.

CBC's The Inside Track had a great interview the other day with Catherine Temple (nee Bruhwiler) about female surfers on the coast and the history of how it all started for her generation. You can listen to it here.

These photos courtesy of my bud, Jacqueline Windh. (This is about as good as I ever surf:...)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Memories of fishing

Tofino used to be a thriving fishing village. The government docks were filled with commercial boats; often stacked two or three deep. Today, you'll see more live-aboards, touring sailboats, whale-watching boats and sport fishing boats at the local docks, but there still are a few commercial fishermen; for now at least. Here's a poem by Carolyn Borsman that alludes back to those days of commercial fishing. (I'm sorry, I can't find any links or information on Ms. Borsman, so let me know asap if you have any links. This was published in 1979 in D'Sonoqua: An Anthology of Women Poets of British Columbia, Volume 1.)


Lights running waves
cross the current
to fallen stars
edgedblue between blue
and the fleet clusters.
A lighthouse anchors the bay.

I pour coffee into silk spray,
watch the grounds fly,
slip stern under as the bow dips
then carves mountain.

Clouds stumble down to water
like buffalo snorting fog
and the bow line disappears.
A pack of rocks, shadows
slink by,
and we throttle the open sea.

Run dawn to daylight,
cut speed.
Pick up stabilizers,
drop the lines: "hoochies"
dance the green clear down.

Already and breakfast frying,
wires tug the bells to sound.

I pour coffee into mugs,
watch weeds fly the wires
slip the leaders as,
gurdies humming,
the first cath comes
and then a second cup
and a third cup

- Carolyn Borsman

(If you are wondering, this is a type of hoochie.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Start Your Engines

Actually, turn them off instead. Tofino is now officially an idle-free zone. (Well, sort of.) It seems like a no-brainer to me, but at least now those who insist on idling their engines while they get their mail, or (and this one really blows me away) while they wait to pick up their kids from school — can now be slapped with a $50 fine. Although it's a start, I think the caveat that they only get the fine if they idle their car for more than 3 minutes, is goofy. Don't be idle, turn it off. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Just Say Yes

Yesterday, I dragged A & P — and a friend who, unluckily for her if she was hoping for a lie-in — out of bed far too early for teenagers on a weekend. We were off to volunteer for the Edge-to-Edge Marathon. (I think I mentioned that 12 or so years ago, some brilliant person in Ucluelet twigged to the fact that the distance between our two coastal towns is almost exactly a marathon.) We "womanned" the first relay exchange station, making sure runners found the next person in their relay, handing out medals & water, pointing the way to the washrooms, etc.

I have participated in the relay three or four times now, always as a runner. ("Runner" is a loose term; plodder is probably more apt.) This was my first year as a volunteer. And you know, it was really fun and it only took a couple of hours out of my day. I wasn't going to volunteer at all, but the increasingly frantic and pleading tone of the race organizer, who was desperate for volunteers, finally caused me to make the call. I say yes a lot. Sometimes I really don't want to, but I do and I'm almost always glad I did. The blush of the fun of volunteering was tainted a bit in the afternoon though, when I had to listen to complaint after complaint from a mother who was upset at something I've been working hard to organize for local youth. I listened patiently, commiserated, apologized, but I really just wanted to ask her if she'd like to organize it instead.

I am not writing this for all to see to blow my own horn, or to point fingers, but perhaps it is a bit of a vent. We are all busy. Some of us are VERY, very busy. I work full time (more than full time actually), but I also work out of my house, so I realize that does give me more flexibility. Still, I see the same people over and over and over again volunteering in our towns. The marathon this past weekend, benefitted a lot of people — restaurants, B&Bs, hotels, motels, shops, ... and more. Still, the organizer had to waste huge amounts of valuable time pleading for volunteers to give a few hours.

In the end, this post is a big shout out to all of those people in Tofino (and Ucluelet, too) who volunteer for those programs that pulse at the heart of our communities — hospice, youth surf club, the food bank, the many festivals (oyster, shorebird, food & wine, whale, ...), synchro, slow-pitch, floor hockey, Canada Day, Halloween, the craft fairs, and more, more, more.

Here's your shout out. (Art by daughter, A.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Just picked ...

... from our garden this morning. Can you see why they call them salmonberries? (And I can see why people think they are raspberries — they're both Rubus and closely related.) They are soft and juicy and don't last long before they turn to mush; best eaten right off the bush although I'll sometimes put them on salads. This the first berry of the year on the west coast. What a treat they must have been for the native people — the year's first fruit and nip of subtle sweetness. These are some of the largest I've ever picked. The biggest would easily be a loose "cap" on my thumb.

The bowl is empty now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tough Questions from Tough City's Future

This past Thursday I was part of a panel of "community leaders" (subject to quibbling, but that's what we were called) that gathered to meet with grade 6 children from Tofino and Ahousaht. The children had spent two days together at a "Sustainability Camp" put together by the Raincoast Education Society and held at the Tofino Botanical Gardens/Clayoquot Field Station. My daughter was part of this camp (and I participated in a too-late night as a chaperone) so she gave me as much of a scoop as a 12-year-old will divulge. They did activities on the mudflats and at the beach, talked about things such as water, food security, and personal responsibility and hung out and met a few new kids (okay, and some did their hair and make-up with a suitcase-sized make-up kit).

The kids asked us some great questions including: Why don't we have a sewage treatment plant? (good question; we will by 2013 thanks to new legislation); Can we have a community garden in Tofino? (apparently we might and the school does have one); and, my favourite, "Why don't we put special panels in the sidewalk so we can generate electricity from all of the people walking along them?"

Thanks to the RES for initiating this project. (And for the teachers who hung with those kids for three tiring days.) If nothing else, they were inspired to think about new things, learned where their fabulous drinking water comes from, got to play in the mud during school, and hung out with some fabulous young role models, as well as these groovy dancers in the gardens:

Update as of June 23, 2009: Here's a clip about the camp from our local paper, The Westerly.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy (Belated) Ocean's Day

It's been a busy week in my purple office, but FH was off work for a few days so I skipped out on Tuesday afternoon. Can I say I was celebrating Ocean's Day? It's my blog so I can say what I want. At any rate, I celebrate Ocean's Day any chance I get, so I headed to the:

We had a lovely hike down at Wreck Bay (aka Flo Bay or Florencia Bay). It wasn't too crowded, the sun was out, our shorts were on (I shall spare you the pictures of my sun-starved legs) and we had amazing wildlife viewing (whales and...wolves, which I shall save for another post once I've come down to Earth on that one). This is where we went:

Last week, when I was on my road trip, I stopped in at Sooke Harbour House. I've always loved this spot. When I first visited, oh 25 years ago or so, it was a smaller inn, almost like a big house. I love visiting whenever I'm out that way — the gardens and setting alone are beautiful and it's a treat to wander through the gardens seeing what can be grown right at the edge of the sea. This is also a special place because, almost 20 years ago now, FH and I were married while standing on this:

The other thing I love about this place (besides the memories and the food, which is fabulous) is all of the marine-themed art scattered here and there throughout the gardens. One new, very large, addition is this stunning pole:

I'm kicking myself now that I didn't get some close-ups of the detailing on the pole, but when I got close this caught my eye instead:

There was more in the upper gardens, like these seals snoozing in the sun...

...or this wonderfully, quirky jellyfish made of found materials (a great new use for those old frosted glass lampshades, no?)...

And I don't think I'll ever be able to look at a drift log with roots without looking for something like:

Several years ago, the inn put out a book of art and food: The Art of Sooke Harbour House, which speaks to the owners' passion for both. I have the book and the recipes (especially the mussel and carmelized onion tart) are as good as the eye candy. Here's what co-owner, Frederique Philip has to say on the matter.

[I wish I could give proper credit to all of the artists, but, based on what I see in The Art of Sooke Harbour House, the seals are carved by Craig Benson and the jellyfish is by Nancy Powell of Black Cat Forge. (If you know the other artists, please let me know and I'll give credit.)

Art infuses this place and the entire inn is full of it. They also have an art gallery now, which is well work a look on-line if nothing else. But try to get there in person; you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Second-Hand Scores

I'm a bit late with this, but last week, over at Pia Jane Bijkerk's blog, there was an invite to be part of the one degree op shop challenge over at Katie Crackernuts. I was away from town, thus away from my fav second-hand shop, so I'm posting this week.

In the heart of Tofino there is a tiny little gem of a second-hand shop, called Castaways. Don't bring too many friends with you when you come, because there's not much room to move inside and you want to take lots of time to browse for those potential scores. Okay, bring a friend, but send them outside to swing in the hammock, recline in that retro comfy chair or have a gelato while YOU take the first look.

It's hard to say what my best score has been at Castaways, but this is certainly my most recent favourite.

It is a skirt (or was a skirt; I've ripped out one seam) for a teeny-tiny waisted person (of which I am not) so I am trying to decide whether it will become curtains or pillows. Just look at the beautiful details.

If you come to Tofino and want to find Castaways, look for the blue Westfalia parked on the main drag...

...then venture through the magic archway to see what treasures await.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bicycle Marc

In a post awhile back, I wrote how I was grateful that someone, somewhere in our town's history, had the wisdom to put aside several lots in the middle of town to create a "village green." I am also grateful for the councillors, planners, residents...whomever...who had the foresight to create our beloved "MUP" — our multi-use path that runs from town to Cox Bay. There is only one road into town — it is only two lanes and is narrow and, at times, windy. The MUP gives people a (fairly) safe alternative. (I say "fairly" because it does get a bit busy and bonkers at times.) But, it is MUCH safer than being on the road and certainly encourages walking, running, and biking. Ah, biking. We love our bikes here, The beach cruiser has become very popular here, and it was for a cruiser that we headed to Sharp Road to visit Bicycle Marc.

Marc started his bike shop in his townhouse in 2002. He first worked out of a small closet in the carport and would have to take out and put away his tools everyday. He was, and is, a busy guy. Thankfully, Marc scored a house with a large garage and outdoor storage area and it's there he's set up shop. Cool in the right colour were the operative criteria for my daughter when it comes to bikes and she scored a beauty — a cruiser with three gears and an inner rim that is a coppery red (matches her latest hair colour) and some lovely rose decals. I might just have to take it for a spin, too. Love that big wide seat, with SPRINGS.

I hadn't been to Marc's new shop, so was surprised to see this bit of whimsy:

Marc and some his staff spent about a day making this creation out of used and no longer recyclable parts. (Marc is fabulous at reusing parts and helping everyone and anyone, regardless of how flush they are, find a bike.) It's obvious they got into their art project that day; just look at the detailing:

As well as being Tofino's go-to repair man, Marc rents and sells bicycles. You can find him at TOF Cycles (TOF = Tons of Fun) at 660 Sharp Road, or call 250-725-BIKE!