6" x 9"
40 b&w photographs
Long Beach Wild
A Celebration of People and Place on Canada's Rugged Western Shore
from working the land to working the view
At some time in the night, the power has gone out. The clock radio is blinking, and the surge protector on my computer backup battery is pinging away. We wake to a morning of pelting rain and howling winds, the latter no doubt responsible for taking down a power line somewhere in the area. No power means school will be cancelled and, with my computer on enforced recess, work might as well be cancelled, too. In the stormy days of winter, we have come to accept this occasional inconvenience and are prepared for it. Today, we have even planned to venture out into the elements for a hike. It’s storm-watching season after all, and we know that many people come to Long Beach expressly to experience Nature’s wrath exactly like today’s wet and wild fury.
The stroke of marketing brilliance that turned what might otherwise have been considered a detriment—a winter season that is rainy, windy, and generally grey—into one of the area’s major tourism selling points began in the early 1990s when park staff teamed with Beautiful British Columbia magazine to produce an article on the edgy allure of winter storms. The reprised Wickaninnish Inn, which opened in 1996 in Tofino, ran with the idea. The inn took a creative page from the Rumpelstiltskin tale, spinning wind and water into gold, when it began to promote storm watching to its guests. Now people come to the area from all over the world specifically because of the storms, purchasing specially designed storm-watching packages at the Wickaninnish Inn and other west coast resorts. Guests may be offered raingear and rubber boots when they arrive and even guided hikes out into the fray, though many will opt to view storms from indoors. After all, the main draw is the reckless romance of it, the mesmerizing power of waves meeting shoreline. Massages, soaker tubs, and champagne service with a view help, too.
Typical winter weather on the west coast is a steady march of low pressure systems across the Pacific. Since winds blow from regions of high pressure to those of low pressure, these systems bombard the coast with steady winds. Being able to roll unimpeded across a wide open Pacific also means that these winds often arrive packing stunning strength, sometimes up to hurricane force (greater than 118 kilometres, or 73 miles, per hour, the equivalent of 64 knots) and with the gargantuan waves to match. The lower the pressure the stronger the winds and the bigger the storm.
On this day, when we find ourselves resignedly powerless, the forecast is calling for Beaufort 7, meaning a “moderate” gale with winds up to sixty-one kilometres, or thirty-eight miles, per hour (thirty-three knots). We head to Long Beach, where the broad vista of galloping rollers is thrilling to watch. It’s much safer here, too, than at smaller beaches. The sandy width at low tide gives us room to get off the beach before the surging seas reach the beach logs. Even modest waves can turn logs into deadly bludgeons. It’s important to be wary of such dangers out here, every day really, but especially on days like this. It’s rare, but people have been killed in the Long Beach area, usually swept from rocky headlands where, made bold by the weather’s own devil-may-care antics, they submit to the prospect of an exhilarating sea-spray drenching and instead end up in the path of a mountainous wave. Our children know the mantra, “Never turn your back on the ocean.” And on days like today, the ocean deserves our attention and respect.
It’s exciting, but only to a point. Walking into the wind, we must keep our upper bodies bent low. Even so, the wily, gale-driven rain blasts at our cheeks as if it were sharp needles of ice. After an hour or so of hard trudging, we turn back toward the parking lot. The wind, now at our backs, shoulders us brutishly and sails us down the beach.
We bundle back into the car invigorated, our cheeks tingly and our noses runny. At moments like this, I wonder what some of the early tourists to Long Beach, those who came only in the summer, might have thought of this twenty-first-century attraction to storms. Would they see it as utter madness? Or would they completely understand?
A Destination Is Born
Long Beach’s vacation potential didn’t catch fire quickly, even as a summertime destination, partly because of the remote location and, tied to that, partly because of the relative rawness of its guest-support infrastructure: transportation, lodgings, supplies, and services catering to visitors were in their infancy. Despite the best efforts of the early tourism boosters, Long Beach was still not well known as a holiday spot. Nor was it easy to reach even from the nearby communities of Tofino, Clayoquot, and Ucluelet, let alone other areas of Vancouver Island. These realities dampened early flames, but there was no question that word about this mythical west coast paradise was filtering out.
Hand in hand, through the 1920s and 1930s, dogged promotion and gradual road improvements slowly but surely drove a shift in attitude about Long Beach both from within the community and from without. Gradually, “working the land” made room for “working the view.”
The Jacksons' House on the Hill
One of the best records of the early days of tourism at Long Beach can be found in George Jackson’s two journals. Jackson moved to the coast in 1924 to work as a lineman. He rented a house that sat on land that was first pre-empted by Walter Dawley and later became part of Charles Harvey’s ranch. Jackson’s wife, Lucy, and adult daughter, Gertrude, split their time between Victoria and Long Beach. Both Charles Harvey and Jacob Arnet had moved on by this time, but feral cattle still roamed the Burnt Lands, beach, and forest. Three horses and the Jacksons’ own cattle grazed in the field in front of the house, where the Long Beach parking lots now sit. The Jacksons kept hens and had a large vegetable and flower garden. Jackson also hunted and foraged. His journals detail, with a gourmand’s care, meals of venison, duck, wild mushrooms and cranberries, clams, fish, and occasionally even wild cattle.
Jackson maintained the telegraph line from Long Beach to South Bay, toward Tofino, and a spur line up to Cannery Bay, location of the Clayoquot Sound Canning Company. Because his home was a switchpoint on the line, it became a frequent stop of Long Beach settlers or passersby wanting to send a telegram, pick up their mail, or drop in for a chat, a cup of tea, a meal, or even a night’s rest. For that last purpose, the Jacksons had erected two guest tents set on wooden platforms at the back of the house.
Between January 1, 1927, and May 22, 1929, Jackson made a journal entry almost every day. Most were terse—for example, “Rained all day” or “Johnnie Johnson dead in Victoria”—but all the bits collectively provide a detailed picture of life in the Long Beach area at the time. Jackson was a keen observer of his surroundings, noting not only the daily weather, growth of his cabbages, and laying prowess of his hens, but also the activities of his neighbours, including the native people who regularly came to their land at “Hesawista” (now Esowista) to gather clams and berries or hunt sea lions or deer. At times, he also reported snippets of news from town, received through passersby and through the calls or wires that came to his home. If any unfamiliar boats or people were in the area, Jackson noted that in his journal, too, acting as de facto border guard on the remote stretch of coastline. On April 19, 1927, for instance, he wrote, “Three American boats still anchored in behind Box Island, have been there five days now. Probably bootleggers waiting for Mother ship so they can load up.” It’s very likely they were bootleggers. Prohibition was in effect in the United States, and it was common knowledge that rum-runners were working off the west coast.
Within a couple of years of settling in at their Long Beach home, the Jacksons’ guest book began filling up with entries made by friends and tourists visiting from both ends of the peninsula. The most frequent callers were their friends the four Hillier brothers from Ucluelet, who came to the beach to hunt deer and waterfowl. Bill Hillier was the lineman from Long Beach to Ucluelet; Bert and Pete worked a trapline in the area (catching mostly raccoon and mink); and George Hillier ran a fishing boat, the Manhattan, which he sometimes anchored down near Box Island and then popped up to the Jacksons for a visit.
The Hilliers were one of the first families to have a vehicle on the coast despite the dearth of passable roads. When they first received their car, they were happy enough to drive back and forth along a stretch of road in Ucluelet barely half a kilometer long. A car was a novelty in those days, so even a spin as limited as that was a source of amusement and interest. And the Hilliers, like most west coast residents then, held out hope that they would one day have local roads that they really could drive without fear of bogging down in muck or landing in a waist-deep mud hole. At least by 1923, they could drive the rough road that finally connected Ucluelet to Long Beach.
The Good Roads League and other area associations did not let up in their calls for an improved road, especially one that would link Ucluelet and Tofino. The group had a minor, if ironic, victory in 1926, when federal surveyors erected a sign near Tofino’s village dock: the Pacific Terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway. In fact, Tofino’s road petered out in the bush a few kilometres from town. And, as local resident Walter Guppy observed, “much of the road wasn’t suitable for wheelbarrows or decently shod people.”
The announcement foretold some break in the stonewalling, however, for in the summer of 1927, several road crews were indeed busy at work surveying, laying gravel, digging ditches, and measuring bridge sites. In the Depression era, road building provided relief work for unemployed men, mostly from the city. Several camps at Long Beach offered opportunities for men to work in exchange for relief wages (at times as low as 20 cents a day) or in lieu of paying taxes. Most of the men worked only with picks and shovels, which made for slow progress. Large machinery that was brought in helped, but even it was tested by the area’s hardscrabble terrain. An entry in Jackson’s journal in July 1927 reports the arrival of a five-ton tractor and grader, which in short order got stuck.
By August, the first vehicle to attempt the sixteen-kilometre (ten-mile) drive from Tofino to Long Beach set off. It was a government road truck, and it got just over the halfway point before being mired in the mud.
© 2012 D&M Publishers Inc.
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