Clayoquot Campus

How Clayoquot Sound’s War in the Woods transformed a region

May 13, 2022

By Stephanie Wood, The Narwhal – Published August 21, 2021

Almost 30 years after the ‘war in the woods’ stopped most industrial logging in Clayoquot Sound, the area has experienced a massive tourist boom. We visited the region to learn about solutions that emerged from the conflict and what challenges remain

As a young boy Tutakwisnapšiƛ, or Joe Martin, would peek out his bedroom window across the ocean water to see Tofino. He remembers the town had just three visible lights: the fuel dock, the post office and the grocery store.

Martin shared the room with his brother at their home in Opitsaht, a Tla-o-qui-aht village in Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s a short boat ride to Tofino. 

Today, Martin, who is from the House of Ewos of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, is a master carver. Cedar shavings crunch under our feet as we speak on a hot and sunny afternoon at the Tofino Botanical Gardens, where he is carving a totem pole. Martin gestures with his hands, picking up and putting down tools. He often reaches out to the totem pole, brushing cedar flecks out of crevices.

Opitsaht is one of the oldest villages on Vancouver Island, Martin explains, and his people have lived there for about 10,000 years.

“Now all this is here,” he says.

Master carver and Tla-o-qui-aht Elder Tutakwisnapšiƛ (Joe Martin) has witnessed a drastic transformation of Tofino over the last few decades. Photo: Melissa Renwick / The Narwhal

All this means Tofino — the popular tourist destination that attracts around 600,000 annual visitors to the town of 2,000 residents. People from around the world come to surf, hike, fish, kayak and lounge on nearby white sand beaches. In August alone, the small town feeds, shelters, guides and surf-instructs about 66,000 visitors, according to Tourism Tofino’s 2019 economic impact report. All those people bring a lot of business; the tourism industry in Tofino generates $400 million annually in economic output. 

Today, the only road in and out of Tofino is busy with RVs and dirt-speckled cars with surfboards ratchet-strapped to their roofs. But it’s likely many of the tourists flocking to take in the beauty of the area’s islands and rainforests don’t know that the road to what appears to be a simple paradise once facilitated a logging boom that was devastating for local First Nations.

Governments ‘running roughshod over nations that did not have treaties’

Forestry companies constructed the first road into the Tofino area in the 1950s, allowing logs to be hauled out by truck instead of only by water.

Over the next 40 years, much of Clayoquot Sound’s temperate rainforest was decimated, impacting the livelihoods of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and other Nuu-chah-nulth nations, as well as their access to food, spiritual practices and relationships with cedar, salmon and other relations. 

Martin worked for years as a logger. He remembers logging in the Cypre River valley, 15 kilometres north of Tofino in Ahousaht territory.

“It had Sitka Spruce that were over 300 feet high. The red cedars that grew along them were perfect. They grew tall and straight and solid,” he said.

He watched the area reduced to stumps.

“It breaks my heart to think about that,” he says…

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Once forestry companies gained access to Tofino in the 1950s, much of Clayoquot Sound’s temperate rainforest was decimated, impacting the livelihoods of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and other Nuu-chah-nulth nations. Photo: Melissa Renwick / The Narwhal

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