tofino author walter guppy

Tofino Author Walter Guppy

by Jacqueline Windh, Tofino


One of Tofino’s longest-term residents is leaving town. Walter Guppy— prospector, war veteran, historian and author—is moving across the Island to live with his daughter near Courtenay.

Walter arrived to Tofino with his family in 1921, at the tender age of three. His family travelled directly from England to Tofino, with only one brief stop in Victoria, and his parents had not thought to organize any accommodation for their family in advance. Finding no available housing in the hamlet of Tofino (my, how some things haven’t changed!), the Garrard family made room in their home for the new arrivals. Later, the Garrard’s helped them to move into the old Chesterman homestead, which by then had long been abandoned. The young family travelled to their new home on foot along a gravel track that continued as far as the present-day Tin Wis, then followed a forested path the rest of the way to the homestead.

Walter started prospecting during the early 1930s, when there was a small gold boom. “I hadn’t taken to anything actually” he explains. “I was a school drop-out, and couldn’t make it commercial fishing. When the gold boom started, it was something to turn to”.

After a short stint working a claim on Kennedy River, during the Depression Walter worked on a government make-work program building the road to Ucluelet. In 1938, with a small gold rush taking place up the Bedwell, fellow road-worker Tony Knes convinced Walter that he had a pretty good hunch about where more gold could be found. Walter says “I had already decided there wasn’t much future in road-building. Tony talked me into it”.

Heavy rains in the fall of ’38 prevented Walter and Tony from even being able to ford the Bedwell River. They didn’t even reach Tony’s spot. On their second trip, however, they made it across the river, and found “quite a good looking quartz vein”. The two prospectors staked their claim. Walter kept this claim all his life, finally selling it last year to a couple of miners from Campbell River.

This small start led to more than a century of traipsing through the wilds of Clayoquot’s and Strathcona’s back-country. Anyone who has explored this wilderness has seen evidence of Walter’s passage; numerous rotting claim posts inscribed with his name are to be discovered in some of the most remote and seemingly inaccessible spots.

Walter never made his lucky strike, though. He made a bit of money in the ‘80s, when metal prices were high, by optioning some of his claims to mining companies. But he confesses that the best money he ever made was when the government expropriated his claims for Strathcona Provincial Park around 1990. “That set me up for life. I couldn’t go on a big spree or anything, but for my standard of living, it was a big break for me. I wasn’t happy about it, my big objective was to find a mine, but that was the way it turned out...”

Walter turned to writing, and published his first book “Wet Coast Adventures” at the age of 72. Soon after, his son Gavin gave him a computer, and since then five more books have followed, including his history of Tofino “Clayoquot Soundings”. Hot off the press is his most recent book “Bush Bombs and Buzz Bombs”, a recollection of the World War II years, when Walter served overseas in Scotland, Wales and Belgium.

Now 86, Walter has kept himself busy. He still has claims near Kennedy River, and even though he hasn’t been out to them for four or five years, he has someone looking after them and re-staking when necessary.

Walter Guppy has spent over eighty years in Tofino. When he arrived here, not only Tofino but the whole world was a different place. Tofino was little more than a row of houses along the waterfront connected by a muddy road with a plank walkway alongside—our Main Street today. “Clayoquot Days” was the big event of the year, a weekend of sport and competition out at Stubbs Island. “I remember that’s the first time I saw an ice cream cone… it really amazed me that you could eat the container” he says. He was here over the decades that the Princess Maquinna steamship was the only connection to the outside world, and he witnessed the war-time construction of the airport. He helped to build the first road between Tofino and Ucluelet, and he was here a few decades later when that road finally was connected to the outside world.

Asked what is the most amazing thing he has witnessed in Tofino over those eighty years, Walter gazes out his window at the view that extends clear across Tofino harbour to the mountains that flank his old Bedwell stomping grounds. He replies: “The building development of the last few years. Every day, I’m quite amazed by what’s going on.”

Walter Guppy, you are not only a faithful recorder of our history, you are a part of our history. Best wishes and best of luck!

Jacqueline Windh moved to Tofino in 1995. She makes her living as a writer/photographer and has just published her first book: The Wild Edge: Clayoquot, Long Beach and Barkley Sound.

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Walter Guppy, author of a number of books on his time in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound is interviewed by Jacqueline Windh.

tofino time january 2005

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