Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why is Tofino Called Tough City?

The signs are everywhere . . .

So why does Tofino call itself, Tough (or Tuff) City?

I have heard two versions:

The first, is that for people in the outlying communities in Clayoquot Sound (so, Opitsah, Ahousat, etc.) it was a shortened form of Tofino — and a bit of a play on words. (e.g., "We're going to Tof.") This only works, of course, when you say Tofino as the locals do, as "Tuh-fino." We don't say "Toe-fino." (Well, not many of us at least.)

The second, is that at one time Tofino was much more of a tough town, especially when the fishing and logging industries were the main employers and the money flowed, especially after a good herring season. The Maquinna was notorious (as in bad) and brawls happened with regularity.

I'd like to hear from others. What do you think?

[UPDATE: Make sure you check out the comments for more thoughts on this. greg b. also contributed this on Facebook:

"The Tough City" moniker is all about urban street image, i always thought. We're so polar-opposite from urban culture that it's an ironic pun. It's also shorter than Milquetoast Small Town.

I call it Toff City, from the Brit slang "toff" -- "a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background, particularly someone who exudes an air of superiority." (Wikipedia)]

And here's another update on the first use of Tough City in a business.

In the late 1980s, early 1990s, Anne Gauld designed clothing and had a local shop. She and her partner Crystal Heald first ran the shop out of a boat - The Boatique. Then, when they moved to land, it was Tough City Clothing. After that, of course, came Tough City Sushi, Inn, etc.


  1. Hi Adrienne, thanks for this post!

    I've often wondered this myself ... about a dozen years ago when I lived in Tough City, I used to think that it could have been a reference to some of the other difficulties of living in such a beautiful place, ie. trying to find summer accommodation as a short term worker or any affordable housing for that matter!

    I still think about the term Tough City on occasion when I am on my daily commute now in the Big Smoke of Toronto, fighting my way onto the train to get to and from work each day, and recall the desolate pristine beaches and rainforest of my west coast roots and wonder to myself if the real tough city "would please stand up"!

  2. I heard the first white settlers called it that, and then I heard this was a myth. Crazy Ron was thought by some to have coined it himself as well. For me, it's about housing and weeks of grey sky. Oh, and highly priced groceries.

  3. Thanks for this, Keep the thoughts coming! I'd love to hear from more people. I have asked the question of a few older residents and they've given me a few more ideas I'm pursuing.

    And, Chris. I've done a lot of reading/research about early history and have never seen any such reference, so I think you're right - it is a myth in this regard.

  4. Hi Adrienne,

    I weigh in on the Optisaht/Ahousaht nickname.First nations people have a real flare for nicknames. Ahousaht itself is nicknamed Mexico, so if you hear someone being called a Mexican, they might originate from somewhere closer than you think! I bet you only about 50 percent of people in Ahousaht go by their real names. These communities are so close that a childhood nickname is known by all and can last a lifetime.

    Re: Tuff City. I remember it being called that specifically by First nations people when they were on the VHF, or arriving at First St dock, back when I was guiding trips on the Clayoquot whaler (early 1990s). If asked what they were doing, "Going to Tuf," was a common response.

    Funny how a silly name can add a smile to a plain old sentence.

    Good Luck finding out!

  5. tuff city A. because its hard to live in tofino its hard to find a job and B. a shorter slang version of tofino and C. the skatepark is called TUFF city skatepark