Tofino History: Captain Tofino and how we got his name
by Adrienne Mason, Tofino
Like so many of the place names that are found on charts and maps,
the namesake of the village of Tofino, Captain Vincente Tofiño
de San Miguel, never saw the place where his name was immortalized.
In the summer of 1792, commanders Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and
Cayetano Valdés of the Spanish navy sailed along the west coast
in their vessels Sutil and Mexicana. During their voyage through what
is now called Clayoquot Sound they bestowed Tofiño’s name
to an inlet they perceived to be unnamed.
Of course the inlet and specific places along it, would have had
several Tla-o-qui-aht names. As well, just the year before the inlet
named “Gervete” by Galiano and Valdés’s Spanish
compatriot Juan Pantoja, first pilot on the San Carlos. Incidentally,
the names of these three Spanish navy men live on today in British
Columbia—Galiano Island and Valdés Island in the Strait
of Georgia, and Pantoja Island in the “Spanish Pilot Group” of
islands southwest of Bligh Island in Nootka Sound.
Vincente Tofiño was a rear-admiral in the Spanish navy. He was
a renowned astronomer and mathematician and near the close of his career
was the King’s hydrographer. Between 1783-1788, Tofiño
charted the ports and coasts of Spain as well as the shore of North
Africa. He eventually was elected as correspondent of the Spanish Academy
of History and of the French and Portuguese Academies of Sciences.
So how did the name of a nearby inlet become the name of our town?
Initially, there was no village or settlement named Tofino. The first
non-native settlement in the area was at Clayoquot on Clayoquot (or
Stubbs) Island. In 1855, a trading post was established at Clayoquot
by Banfield and Frances Ltd. Other stores owners followed and the settlement
continued to grow, with houses, a school, a hotel, and even a jailhouse.
There was also a settlement on Vargas Island and several settlers including
John Grice and John Chesterman had preempted large tracts of land on
the Esowista Peninsula. So in the early days of settlement, homesteaders
were spread throughout the area and used Clayoquot as their centre
for getting supplies and mail. In 1901, though, the store at Clayoquot
had some competition when Sing Lee, a miner, opened a store on what
is now called Grice Road, near the present-day First St. dock. Eventually
the store was purchased by the partnership of Sloman & McKenna.
Although there were now two stores in the region, Walter Dawley, the
storekeeper at Clayoquot still maintained the post office, the pivotal
draw for the residents of the region.
Life was difficult for the settlers who were trying to farm and maintain
homesteads throughout the Sound, and there was a move towards establishing
a more centralized town. A townsite was surveyed on the end of the
Esowista Peninsula and some of the first properties were sold to men
whose names are still familiar in town today: Arnet, Eik, and Hansen.
According to Ken Gibson, the town was originally referred to as Clayoquot
townsite. But this was not enough to distinguish it from the village
on Clayoquot island and confusion reigned. Dawley’s grip on the
mail and goods monopoly had loosened over the years so items destined
for the townsite often were delivered to the island or vice versa.
Eventually, a new name was needed for Clayoquot townsite, and Tofino
began to be used. A post office was opened in Tofino in February 1,
1909. For awhile Tofino was identified in the BC Gazetteer as a “Post
Office and Steamer Landing,” but on February 5, 1932 it was incorporated
as a village municipality.
Adrienne Mason is a Tofino writer. If you have anything to add (or
quibble about), please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks
to Ken Gibson for providing some of the information used in the article
and the use of the above image of Captain Tofino.
Tofino inlet was named after Captain Vincente Tofino de San Miguel by commanders Dionisio Galiano and Cayetano Valdes of the Spanish navy in 1792.