tonquin - the ghostship of clayoquot sound visit the tonquin foundation website

Tonquin - The Ghostship of Clayoquot Sound

by David W. Griffiths, Tofino

The following is an excerpt from the recently published booklet "tonquin - the ghost ship of clayoquot sound", written by David W. Griffiths and published by the Tonquin Foundation.


In the late 18th and early 19th centuries coastal British Columbia became an important international centre in the lucrative maritime fur trade.

Ships from many nations crossed the oceans of the world in order to trade with the region's First Nations for highly prized sea otter pelts.

Clayoquot Sound's Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, under their powerful chieftain Wickaninnish, were amongst the most savvy and influential traders on the coast and amassed great wealth and dominance during that period.

Initial interactions between the fur traders and the Tla-o-qui-aht were, for the most part, cordial and even friendly, but inevitably the clash of cultures resulted in a number of unfortunate incidents and tensions on both sides.

On a number of occasions Chief Wickaninnish attempted to purchase armed vessels from visiting traders and even went so far as to order a vessel to be built at Boston to his specifications and paying a substantial down payment in furs. These attempts to obtain a ship of his own by fair means were thwarted by misfortune and treachery.

Wickaninnish and the Tla-o-qui-aht also unsuccessfully attempted to take a number of vessels by force.

In retaliation for one of these attempts the Tla-o-qui-aht's principal village of Opitsat was put to the torch by American traders in the spring of 1792.

Adding insult to injury, early in 1810, the captain of the Boston-based ship Mercury negotiated a contract with Wickaninnish by which he would take on board a dozen or so Tla-o-qui-aht hunters who were ostensibly to join him on an extended seal and sea otter hunt to the coast of California, after which they would be returned to Clayoquot Sound.

Instead of doing this the Mercury's captain marooned the Tla-o-qui-aht on California's Farallon Islands.

tonquin at the entrance to the columbia river

So began an epic overland and sea journey, during the course of which most of their number would succumb to starvation or murder at the hands of other First Nations they encountered along the way.

Finally, in the spring of 1811, the few destitute survivors returned to Clayoquot Sound to tell their tale of misery and death.

In mid-June of the same year, with the Stars and Stripes flying proudly from her stern, another American vessel came to anchor in what is now known as Templar Channel, off the Tla-o-qui-aht village of Echachist

The ship was the American fur trading vessel Tonquin and what was about to unfold would prove to be a defining, pivotal event in the intertwined histories of Euro-Americans and North America's original inhabitants...

cover of 'tonquin - the ghost ship of clayoquot sound'

'Tonquin--The Ghostship of Clayoquot Sound' is available from most area bookstores and gift shops or directly from the Tonquin Foundation; To order call (250) 725 4488 or email

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Tofino history - Tonquin - the Ghostship of Clayquot Sound. An excerpt from David W. Griffiths book, published by the Tonquin Foundation in Tofino.

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