If you keep driving west across Canada eventually you’ll reach the end of the highway. Here lies Tofino – a pretty village that sits defiantly on a peninsula, taking the full force of the Pacific storms that rip through here in the winter months.
Every detail had been beautifully painted, from the iridescent blue sheen of the mussel shells to the shrivelled and stunted mustard-coloured fairytale trees of the shoreline bog. Khaki green ropes of bull kelp lay tangled on the sand like mermaid tresses and rust-hued strips of cedar peeled off from the driftwood strewn across Cox Bay, one of the prime places to watch the storms roll in.
We also became a splash of colour on the beach. As soon as we reached Pacific Sands Beach Resort we donned our waiting yellow oilskins and raced from our beach house, hidden among the alders of Cox Bay, onto the sand. Salty sea spray stung my eyes and invisible hands pushed me along the wet sand, which appeared to be undulating as the storm started to whirl. A boardwalk took us out to the point where the sea whipped itself into a frenzied chute of spume that spewed out of the rocks. Back in our beach house we turned on the fire and wound down the blinds as the sea began to thrash wave after wave onto the stoic shoreline outside and the trees bent inland, as if in prayer.
Next morning came the calm after the storm – trees had fallen in the 60mph winds, one of the biggest storms of the winter. We picked our way through the debris, the air heavy with a silent stillness as the waves continued to race into the bay.
Still hungry for the splash of salt spray and the adrenalin rush of being pushed by the wind, we headed out with Jamie’s Whaling Station to meet the creatures that survive in these seas. Grey whales and orcas can be found in this part of the Pacific but we stayed in the calmer inlets, passing content sea otters, a family of sea lions, and the nesting bald eagles that have made Deadman’s Island their home for many years. The island was once the place where the local Tla-O-Qui-Aht people would ‘bury’ the deceased in the trees. Our driver Eugene was of First Nation descent and he took us past the village of Opitsat on Meares Island where his people still live — ‘the place where the sun always shines’.
We’d not come to this wild coast looking for sunshine but we’d found it. It brought that unique feeling of the storm having passed, of having survived something natural and raw; it brought a fresh start.