Tofino inlet in a chart by John Meares from 1790

First Chart of Tofino from 1790

by Gary Little, Sechelt, BC


John Meares, a former Royal Navy lieutenant, was an entrepreneurial fur trader -- and part time explorer -- on the northwest coast of America in the late 18th century. He was seeking his fortune after reading the official account of Capt. James Cook's third voyage (published in 1784), noting the high prices fetched in China for the sea otter pelts acquired inexpensively during Cook's one month stay at Nootka in 1778.

Meares' activities brought him to the west coast of Vancouver Island in 1788 and 1789. In 1790, after his return to England, he wrote a popular book about his adventures titled Voyages made in the years 1788 and 1789, from China to the north west coast of America.

His book included the chart shown here, Esquisse du Port Cox dans le District de Wicananish or, in English, A Sketch of Port Cox in the District of Wicananish.

It is the first known chart to show the Tofino area in detail.

Meares had visited Port Cox for a week in June 1788 in his ship, Felice Adventurer, and here he met the great Chief Wickaninnish of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations. The main settlement in the area is now called Tofino, the name given in 1792 by the Spanish explorers Dionisio Alcala Galiano & Cayetano Valdes in honour of Captain Vicente Tofino de San Miguel, a rear-admiral in the Spanish navy.

Port Cox was named after one of the major investors in Meares' expedition, John Henry Cox, a businessman in Canton, China. The area on the chart marked Village as well as the mountainous area to the east are on an island which was named Meares Island in 1861 by hydrographic surveyor Capt. George Richards aboard the HMS Hecate. The bay near the southern end of this chart is now called Cox Bay.

Gary Little is a Realtor in Sechelt, BC. He is well known for his interactive real estate map of the Sunshine Coast and his passion for antique maps. Contact him at

Tofino Time Magazine December 2008

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The first known chart to show the Tofino area in detail was published by John Meares in 1790 after his return to England. His voyages brought him to the West Coast of Vancouver Island in 1788 and 1789.

tofino time december 2008

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