Tofino: All lines end here
by Malcolm Johnson, Tofino
In the last few years I've found myself spending much of my time away from Tofino. 42 flights in 18 months: a lot of hours in airports, and a lot of time flipping through the pages of in-flight magazines. Unsurprisingly, I've become somewhat fascinated by the arcing lines of airline maps: partly because of the potential of being able to move so seamlessly to place like Toronto or London, and partly because of what the lines show about the structure of our society. It was on one of those many flights, staring at one of the Star Alliance maps, that I began to think about making a map that would show Tofino in relation to the places of origin of its population. In the same way that the lines spread out across airline maps, my own map would show a sprawl of spidering lines spreading out from our town, across the oceans and hemispheres, to thousands of points across the wider world. The thing is that, for a town of its size, Tofino is a profoundly connected place. The cliches about small towns being cultural sinkholes aren't correct, and the more you travel the more you realize that there's nowhere else quite like here. And so, since I don't have the artistic talent needed to present my Tofino map, I present instead a list of eight things that I've come to appreciate about Tofino's diverse and connected character.
1. The Origins
Tofino's history isn't well served by its tourism infrastructure, but the origins of our town have done a great deal to shape its current character. Sited on the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth, Tofino has since been settled by British, Scots, Scandinavians, Germans, Japanese and a dozen or so other ethnicities. In its diverse history Tofino has been through the whaling, sealing, fishing, mining, logging, military and tourism booms, and each phase has left a definable legacy here. Tofino is no one-trick town.
2. The Ocean
Tofino is often described as the End of the Road: it's true, of course, but it's also a rather car-centric statement. The Nuu-chah-nulth always saw the ocean as a connector, not a barrier, and the European explorers shared that view. In their line of thinking, Tofino wasn't a dead end but a stop at the side of a great and open highway: when you stand on the beaches and stare out to sea, San Francisco, Siberia, Sydney and Antarctica are somewhere out there over the horizon. So close you can almost see 'em.
3. The People
It may seem obvious, but one of the things that makes Tofino so livable is the diversity of its population. Unlike many towns of similar size, there's a great range of people here, all with an equally great range of backgrounds, interests and expertise. It allows for an almost unlimited amount of individual and community growth: once you step outside your circle, there are a ton of people to learn from. Whether it's fishing, falling trees, growing gardens or properly managing a stock portfolio, there's someone here to teach you. Tofino's a place where people from all over have ended up: and unlike most places, where everyone's thinking somewhere else, people here tend to be profoundly content with where they are.
4. The Tourists
I used to work wage labour as a sea kayak guide in the Sound. One of things I enjoyed the most was simply talking to tourists: I'd tell them about here, and they'd tell me about wherever they were from. In a small town on the edge of Canada, it gave me a sense of connection with the United States, England, Germany and the other places that provide of Tofino's tourist traffic. People are just people, wherever they're from, and the majority of the tourists that end up here are enriching people to talk to. And no, the traffic and grocery lines of summer aren't much fun, but Tofino's status as a tourist destination gives it a complexity that many towns don't have.
5. The Surfers
The stereotype about surfers as simple-minded stoners doesn't hold here. Tofino's surfers are a fantastic group of people: worldly, well traveled and generating a great fount of good stories. There are surfers who work as builders, business owners, guides, schoolteachers, artists and activists; and, of course, a few who give themselves to their sport with a singular sense of drive and determina- tion. Sit around with surfers, and you'll hear talk about Africa, Europe, Southeast Asia and a long list of other places. The surfers here are good stuff, and they connect us to some of the most beautiful places on Earth.
6. The Food
For a small town, there's a remarkable amount of good food: we even get our own section in Eat Magazine. There aren't many places with a permanent population of 2000 where you can grind so well - or, incidentally, spend so much money on eating out. From bread baked in brick ovens to greasy fish-and-chips--and from fresh-caught salmon to tequila-drenched shrimp--the culinary scene here is as varied as the town itself. Now we just need a good Pad Thai place and we're set.
7. The Music
For most small towns in Canada, the highlight of year is when the Trooper tour rolls through in the summer. Not so here, where we're lucky enough to enjoy a steady supply of great live music at the Legion and the Community Theatre: some of my own favourites in the last few years have been K'naan's hip-hop, Charlie Musselwhite's delta blues and the old surf tones of The Reverberators. It's not just the touring acts, though: Tofino is home to a number of talented of local musicians, and there are always the drum circles with the hippies or the soaked spectacles of karaoke night at the Maquinna.
8. The Artists
Tofino's surroundings are endlessly inspiring, and the art scene here is a damn fine thing to be involved in. Potters, photographers, painters, poets, carvers, sculptors, surfboard shapers: there's a great community of enlightened, artistically-minded people in this town, and the support of stores, art galleries and hotels has allowed many of our accomplished artists to get their work to the people. The art scene here should be supported as an essential service: it's one of the things that sets Tofino apart, even as we become ever more connected with the world at large. Our artists speak the songs of this place, and they do a great deal to defend it--they remind us who and where we are.
Malcolm Johnson's work appears in a number of magazines in Canada and the United States. He is also editor of SBC Surf Magazine, and splits his time between Tofino and Victoria.