Clayoquot Sound. Photo: Jeremy Koreski

The temperate rainforest and marine ecosystems of the Clayoquot Sound comprise some one of the most magnificent and unique environments on the planet. Only 0.1% of the earth’s landscape is temperate rainforest, and 25% of this is found here in British Columbia. Temperate rainforests are generally found in mountainous coastal environments like our own where temperatures are moderate and rainfall is very high (around 2000-3000 millimetres per year).

All this rain in combination with the climate means that western hemlock, red and yellow cedars, and Sitka spruce grow all year long to reach enormous sizes. The long wet season also provides a nursery for salmon berry, salal, ferns, mosses, lichens, and so much more.

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations

Clayoquot Sound has been home to the Nuu-chah-nulth people for thousands of years. Nuu-chah-nulth means "all along the mountains and sea" and its people regard the land and sea of Clayoquot Sound as intrinsic to their way of life, and the steadfast connection is a source of cultural identity and pride. The Clayoquot Sound First Nations are comprised of three distinct communities: the Ahousaht, the Hesquiaht, and the Tla-o-quiaht. The Ahousaht comprise the largest community, which is situated at the south end of Flores Island in Matilda Inlet. A little further up the coast is Hot Springs Cove, the largest settlement of the Hesquiaht First Nation. The Tla-o-quiaht First Nation have homes in Opitsaht, on the south end of Meares Island, as well as in Esowista on Long Beach and Ty-Hystanis just north of that. It is worth noting that the word Clayoquot is an anglicised pronunciation of Tla-o-quiaht. Significantly, carbon dating of a clam midden at Opitsaht shows that the community has been continuously inhabited for 5,000 years or more.

European Arrival

In the late 18th Century, European explorations of Vancouver Island brought Spanish Captains Galiano and Valdez to Clayoquot Sound. In 1792, the region’s southernmost inlet was named Tofino, a name chosen in honour of the Spanish hydrographer Don Vincente Tofino who had tutored Captain Galiano in cartography during the expedition. In the late 1850s, a fur trading post called Clayoquot was established on Stubb's Island and became the chief settlement in the area until the turn of the century. By the late 1890s the Esowista peninsula was scattered with homesteads, and in 1909 and the current village site of Tofino was officially born. Following on the heels of marine-based trading came fishermen, miners, and small-scale logging operations.

Recent History

During the 1950s, logging policy changed and most of the Clayoquot Sound was allocated into Tree Farm Licenses (TFLs) for two companies: MacMillan Bloedel and BC Forest Products. TFLs are renewable leases on public land that allow companies to log old growth forests and replace them with tree farms. In 1959, a logging road was built through the mountains connecting Port Alberni to the coast, making the region accessible for truck logging. Other advances in logging equipment, such as the chainsaw, brought industrial scale forestry into Clayoquot and by the early 1960's immense expanses of old growth forest were being clear-cut.

Source: Clayoquot Biosphere Trust

In the late 1980s, logging in Clayoquot reached its peak with nearly one million cubic meters of old growth forest being cut annually. During this time, BC government plans to allow the logging of 90% of the old growth forest on Meares Island brought about the first logging blockades in Canadian history and a legal injunction granted to the Nuu-chah-nulth, in whose territory Meares is located, put a halt to its deforestation. In 1993, protesters again formed blockades in response to the "Clayoquot Land Use Decisions", a BC government plan permitting 2/3 of the old growth forest within the Sound to be logged. Over 12,000 individuals stood in direct protests which lead to over 850 arrests in what was, at the time, the largest mass trial in Canadian history.

These events helped bring international attention to the ecological richness and ancient forests of Clayoquot Sound, and in 2003 it was designated an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Biosphere reserves have three important spatial designations: legally protected core areas that offer long-term protection, buffer zones where resource extraction can take place as long as the integrity of core areas remains intact, and transition zones where people work together to use resources in sustainable ways.