TOFINO, British Columbia--Actually, the road from Nanaimo, via Port Alberni, to this resort on the Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island has been paved since 1971. Before that, you had to fly or take a boat. People came nonetheless because of the awe-inspiring setting.
Charles McDiarmid, innkeeper and project manager, shows off new gadgets in the upgraded rooms (remodeled to AAA Five-Diamond standards): a disappearing flat-screen TV, a raised soaking tub, handmade furniture uising reclaimed lumber, lighted closets,
McDiarmid grew up here; his father was Toino's only physician for nearly 20 years. The family's Wickaninnish Inn, opened in 1990, occupies a spectacular promontory overlooking the crashing surf. It's the only property in British Columbia accepted into the prestigious Relais & Chateaux association. Definitely high end: 75 rooms, 150 employees. Meals are served in The Pointe restaurant under a canopy of hand-adzed beams, oatmeal, fruit parfait, Dungeness crab eggs benedict.
"Rustic Elegance at Nature's Edge" is how McDiarmid describes the Inn's appeal, which is marketed as a top-of-the-market destination. Business is off in recent years ("People can't 'trade down' to the Wickaninnish," McDiarmid acknowledges), but if there are fewer free-spending travelers from the US, there are still plenty of Canadians who make the journey. Winter storm-watching, unheard of a generation ago, is now an off-season mainstay. Even as he argues for a more diversified economy, for selective logging, sustainable fishing, ostreiculture, McDiarmid acknowledges that "Pristine environments like this are becoming scarcer."
UPDATE: The Wick is NOT the only BC property accepted into the Relais & Chateaux association. The Wickaninnish, Sonora Resort, and Wedgewood Hotel are three BC properties along with Lumiere Restaurant. List is here
The stated purpose of our trip, organized by Vancouver Island Tourism (thanks!), was to visit microbreweries. (Parenthetically, beweries are closing right and left in Germany.) There aren't many outside of Victoria, and only one in Tofino, set to open this month. That didn't slow down the Island's hospitality one whit. Despite its isolation, Tofino is a bustling resort village, its economy having weathered the shift from logging and fishing to tourism, its inhabitants a mix of First Nations villagers, leftover American hippies and conscientious objectors, and adventurers from around the world who've come here for the natural beauty and unequalled surfing. Doesn't hurt that MacMillan Bloedel lost its fight to log Meares Island, that Canada created a Pacific Rim National Park between the coastal towns of Tofino and Ucluelet, and that all of Clayoquot Sound has been named a UNESCO biosphere.