The small towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are located in a geographical region called the Clayoquot Sound, comprising about 400,000 hectares of land on marine inlets. The Sound is the home of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations and also the host of the annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival.
Between February and July, grey and humpback whales migrate from their southern breeding grounds off Baja California in Mexico, to their northern feeding grounds off Alaska’s Beaufort Sea and they travel through the Clayoquot Sound on their journey.
In honour of the whales and the role they play in First Nation Culture, the festival offers wonderful entertainment like the Parade of Whales and Wonders which kicks off the celebrations in Tofino, or the Blessing of the Boats which is a traditional ceremony for those working on the sea, and also a reminder of how deeply the coastal communities are rooted in maritime activities, both in the past and nowadays.
Each year there are also educational talks by guest speakers from Strawberry Isle Research, the Raincoast Education Society and the Ocean Network Canada, and many more experts and whale researchers, covering topics like ‘How and why whales communicate’ and also highlighting environmental issues such as ‘Microplastic pollution in marine ecosystems’, which leave a deep impression on the listener.
The Surfrider Foundation is also actively encouraging both locals and tourists to raise their awareness regarding single-use plastic and have been working very hard on banning plastic bags from supermarkets. One of their highlights is the Stitch N Beach Challenge, where volunteers will sew reusable cloth bags from donated fabrics; the challenge is to make 1000 items as part of the ‘Bring Your Own Bag Campaign’ which aims to reduce the use of plastic bags.
On top of that, visitors can also enjoy storytelling with Roy Henry Vickers — a renowned First Nation artist who shares stories of coastal life and inspirations in his longhouse gallery. Running parallel is the annual art show ‘Artsplash- Artist in Action’, which takes places in Ucluelet, where locals can be admired while creating their pieces and paintings.
The two weeks of celebration will end with the ‘Chowder Chow Down’ which is a fundraiser for the Food Bank on the Edge which serves all the communities on the West Coast, where visitors can sample some of the best chowder on the West Coast prepared by local chefs from Tofino and Ucluelet.
Besides the wonderfully fun program which focuses a lot on environmental protection and education, as well as socio-cultural aspects, many trails and beaches can be explored on well-maintained hikes. Brave visitors can also surf stormy winter waves in Canada`s most popular surfing destination.
My personal highlight was a whale watching tour. We saw three grey whales and one humpback — an astonishing sight.
- Get there: Take a ferry from the mainland. The Vancouver to Nainamo ferry operates multiple times daily and then take the Tofino bus which departs directly from the ferry terminal. Check the schedules as they vary seasonally: http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/mainland/hbna-current http://www.tofinobus.com/schedule#westcoast
- Costs for the ferry as a walk-on passenger are 16 CAD and the Tofino bus is 48CAD, but you can get discounts if you have Hostelling International membership.
- Where to stay: there are some campgrounds and one hostel called the Whalers on the Point