‘Saneways’ of Tofino

7-minute read

Dear Mayor and Council — Thank you for your recent decision to pause the large development that promised housing for locals. From past letters you know how I feel about this place turning into a city.

This letter illustrates segments of rural Tofino we have lost, and those we hope not to lose. This letter is not a shaming, a rant, or an elegy. It is meant as a record, a means of communicating information, and an attempt to keep up dialog on this place. The basic elements:

What is gone

1I don’t have a picture of the Millennium Tree, unfortunately. It was bigger and older than the Eik Street Tree, and sort of kiddy-corner to it. It was suddenly removed. This caused much sorrow to many schoolchildren who used to be taken there for educational purposes.

2I also cannot show you what the land looked like where the old library, a.k.a. the Gust o’ Wind, once stood, and where artist Mark Hobson used to live. Currently it is the gravel pay-parking lot. It was once a loved back yard, treed and full of hummingbirds.

3From the large to the very small: the picture above is the cascading nasturtium that used to exist every summer behind what is now the Tofino Pharmacy. (Actual site now a parking lot.) May I submit that laneways are a very pleasant alternative for locals, during the busy tourist season? A means of getting their town errands done (on foot or bicycle) while avoiding, at least partly, main arteries downtown. In fact I have been calling them “saneways” since last summer. But they will only continue sane and pleasant if we keep them as green as possible — otherwise they are just other pavedways. Perhaps we could set a goal to make them “greenways.”


4This photo shows how things used to look in the same lane right across from the nasturtium cascade. Part of this hedge still remains. But half of it was eliminated to make way for the church property’s house and double driveway. Why, you may ask, is a hedge important? It is vital to native backyard songbirds and hummingbirds, made up of salmonberry and thimbleberry. Fewer birds frequent what is left, of course. In the spring this spot used to ring out with the calls of red-winged blackbirds. Do you remember? Birding expert Adrian Dorst used to stop by often on his rounds, binoculars in hand. To watch as many birds as he used to be able to observe in downtown Tofino, Adrian now drives often to Ucluelet, where there is some retention of rurality, and more birds. We want to increase opportunities for town and yard birds here, don’t we? By the way, in Britain there are whole college courses teaching the importance and care of natural hedges for wildlife and natural corridors.


5This was the bank-side habitat and nesting site of birds we all love: swallows. Northern rough-winged swallows, to be exact. It is now the location of the townhouses along Arnet street. Perhaps this does not look pretty to you; not all wildlife habitat is attractive to human eyes. Nevertheless, it provides home and sustenance to creatures that improve our quality of life, and when such habitat is gone, the birds are too. Swallows of course help keep mosquito populations down!

6Some of you will remember a time when the harbour did not have industrial barges harboured in it! I don’t know how it came about that industrial barges are permitted to anchor in the harbour, or whether this is temporary or permanent — but it has been years since I’ve seen a barge-free harbour. Do you remember how nice it was? Who are the barge owners paying to be there? They don’t quite go with the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve look.

What we still have

6-alder woods

7-alder trail entrance
Alder trail entrance

1This picture was taken in springtime in the little alder woods that lie between the school and the community hall. As brief as this piece of land may be, it is a beautiful, peaceful and beloved trail that connects the school to the hall, Tonquin trails, water tower, Industrial Way/ recycling depot, Middle Beach, etc. For Tofino, it is indeed rare being a mainly deciduous woodland. Moreover, it’s a sweet spot for salmonberries, easily accessible to children.

It’s even beautiful in winter.

Does this wood have a name? Who owns it? Can it be officially protected?

2Rare for Tofino: an oak tree, this one standing between the hospital and the daycare.

10-oak tree
3And a maple tree, on the hospital grounds.


So … WHAT DO WE WANT? Chesterman Beach, or …

12-CITY BEACHHere’s how it happens, with the point being that we need to be awake for every gradual step down that urban road:

The trees remaining on the peninsula could be called the Rural Forest or Urban Forest. That way, whenever a development project requires the falling of said trees, language may help to protect them as we ponder “further removal from Tofino’s Urban Forest,” or “additional damage to Naachuks’ Rural Forest.”

An Urban Forest encompasses all the trees within the boundaries of a town or city, and the Rural Forest comprises all the trees on the interurban lands and rural surroundings of an urban area, out to the boundary with publicly owned provincially or federally owned lands.

As Tofino’s human population increases, the expansion of housing, roads, industry and commercial areas will likely continue to diminish natural pocket-ecosystems and their habitat elements — unless we stay awake. All settled areas have a history of habitat removal, alteration and fragmentation, and in many areas, the management of natural habitats continues to be a low priority for rural, municipal and urban planners. In Clayoquot Sound we might tend to say, “Oh, there is so much beauty in the Sound that we don’t need to worry. Carry on.” But many people (not to mention wildlife) live on the peninsula with no access to boats, and so they stay ashore, never exploring the rest of the Sound. Why not leave some natural beauty for everyone? I was recently assured that the addition to the Community Hall would not require yet more tree deaths. Bravo!

 A quiet, peaceful village is becoming … what? Every small piece of greenery adds up to make a feeling, an impression, an atmosphere of caring or not.

“Choose your battles.” Where we live is changing fast. At times the traffic and lineups are frightening. A quiet, peaceful village is becoming … what? Every small piece of greenery adds up to make a feeling, an impression, an atmosphere of caring, or not. Everything removed, paved over, is part of that. The Tla-o-qui-ahts were never given a say. You as councillors are in a position of unmistakable power. Been to Cox Bay on a weekend this summer? So crowded, so packed with surfing schools it’s like Queen of the Peak every weekend. Limitless promotion of tourism comes with consequences. Unhindered growth is greed. The decision made to turn down giant developments on this peninsula is sane.

–Christine Lowther, resident since 1992

Without a complex knowledge of one’s place, and without the faithfulness to one’s place on which such knowledge depends, it is inevitable that the place will be used carelessly, and eventually destroyed.
—Wendell Berry, The Regional Motive


CHRISTINE LOWTHER is one of thousands who stood up (or lay down … on a bridge) to protect forests from clearcutting. She is an author, a recipient of the Rainy Coast Arts Award for Significant Accomplishment, one of the founders of the Tofino Natural Heritage group, and has lived here since 1992.