Historic Walking Tour

People of the Safe Harbour

A History of Ucluelet

Top Gallery Photo Sample

Ucluelet Archives 008 67 & On This Spot Enterprises

Ucluelet, a Nuu-Chah-Nuulth word meaning "people of the safe harbour," perfectly fits this pretty fishing village on the sheltered shore of Ucluelet Inlet. The town's harbour is a calm oasis framed by soft ocean mists surrounded by a ferocious and unpredictable sea. The Nuu-Chah-Nuulth have lived in the village on the east shore of the inlet for thousands of years, while the European settlement on the west shore, now known as Ucluelet, is less than 150 years old. However, a lot has happened in that century and a half, and the beauty and abundance of Ucluelet has attracted all sorts of people: gardeners and pioneers, artists and fishermen, hippies and loggers. This tour looks at the unique challenges and joys that came from living on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, though it sometimes felt like living at the edge of the world. We will examine Ucluelet's vibrant history, from its beginnings as a fishing village, looking at the perseverance of its early settlers, to its growth into a logging town, and finally into the tourist hub it is today. This tour begins at the intersection of Waterfront Drive and Bay Street with the first European pioneers. We will learn what drew them to the area and the difficulties they overcame in establishing Ucluelet. Then, we'll make our way to the Government Wharf where we will learn about this community's close ties to the sea. From there, we will leave the busy downtown centre for a brief stroll along Imperial Lane towards the long dock at the end of Otter Street, where we will learn about the history of the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth and Japanese in this community, as well as the remarkable story of George Fraser. Getting down to the dock requires going down a long flight of steps, but you will be rewarded with excellent views of the harbour. Finally, we return downtown and uncover the reason for the end of Ucluelet's decades of isolation and the changes triggered by the opening of the Pacific Rim Highway.

This project is a partnership with Discover Ucluelet. We also owe thanks to the generous support of the Ukee Historical Society.

1. The Early Years


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Ucluelet Archives 46a & On This Spot Enterprises

1930s

In this photo a man and woman supervise a house-carrying semi-truck as it navigates a tight corner. We don't know where this house was going, but the process of transporting it by truck raises the biggest challenge Ucluelet's early settlers faced: access. Today, getting to and from Ucluelet is as simple as hopping in a car and driving along the Pacific Rim Highway to Port Alberni. This wasn't always the case; from the first Europeans settlers in the 1860s until the highway was officially opened in 1959, Ucluelet could only be reached by sea or air.

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European settlement on Vancouver Island's rugged west coast began in the 1850s, when the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was seeking to establish trade relations with the local First Nation peoples. They set up seasonal trading posts and exchanged metal tools, guns, clothes, and blankets for coveted seal skins, beaver and otter furs, and dogfish oil. The HBC's William Banfield became the first European settler in Barkley Sound (at which Ucluelet is at the northern edge). At the time, the area was being carefully charted on maps and British names were being affixed to natural features that had gone by Indigenous names since about the time the Pyramids of Egypt were being built. Banfield found the practice distasteful. He wrote: "However much the old navigators' names are entitled to respect, good taste would leads us at the present day to adopt the Indian names [which] in most instances are much prettier, many of them having a natural beauty of sound... Great Britain's colonies have enough Royal names, noble names, and titles of our grandfathers and grandmothers and birthplace names."xx1 Apparently the cartographers didn't care, as after he died, the town of Bamfield on the opposite side of Barkley Sound was named after him anyway. As you can see, they spelled his name wrong and there are two major theories as to why: the leading being that the postal service made a typo and it stuck, with the second theory being that the local First Nations people had trouble pronouncing the “n” in his name. Thankfully, his advice was followed with Ucluelet, which kept its Nuu-Chah-Nulth name when Banfield's associate Captain Charles Stuart became the first European settler here in 1860. Stuart, who had been fired as the HBC's chief factor (almost a kind of governor) of Nanaimo for frequent drunkenness, ran a small trading post beside the village on the opposite side of the bay until his death in 1863. He was replaced by Captain Peter Francis, who operated a fleet of sealing schooners and also had a reputation for disappearing on drinking binges. Ucluelet harbour was ideally situated for a trading post, and as a secondary advantage the surrounding waters teemed with marine life. Hugh McKay, one of the first European traders in the region, reported to the Victoria newspaper The British Colonist in 1859 that the waters off of the west coast of Vancouver Island were "alive with fish," and soon after Capt. Francis consolidated the post, fishermen from all corners of the world began to flock to Ucluelet.xx2 As the fur trade entered rapid decline, products derived from fish, seals, and whales became Ucluelet's primary export.

2. Pioneers


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Ucluelet Archives & On This Spot Enterprises

1900s

This photo shows Ucluelet when it was a small scattering of buildings in the centre of a large deforested area on the shore of the inlet. The elegant Victorian home featured in the photograph belonged to the Lyche family, and the emptiness of the surrounding landscape highlights the hurdles pioneer families faced in settling this corner of Vancouver Island. Every Canadian town has key pioneers in its history, early figures who left a lasting fingerprint on the community's collective memory. Ucluelet is no exception to this. While several founding families left their mark on the young community, none stands quite as prominently in the place names of Ucluelet than the Lyches. Their impact is seen through two things being named after them: the small island just off Ucluelet's main wharf and a key road skirting the boat basin.

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Local historian Shirley Martin sheds some light on the life of family patriarch, August Herman Lyche, who would ultimately purchase a large parcel of land in what is now the centre of town. Like most settlers on the west coast, August Lyche had already proved his mettle by braving the gruelling six month sea journey from Europe to the Pacific Northwest which required sailing through the formidable waters of Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, before turning north and traversing the entire Pacific Coast of the Americas. The hardships of this journey helped prepare settlers for the trials of establishing lives in this remote part of the world. After making Ucluelet his permanent home in the 1890s, August married Alice Greenwood Lee, a local woman who became Ucluelet's first teacher at the small schoolhouse that was built where the municipal building stands today. They soon had children, and the growing family kept themselves very busy, as they were fishing, farming, and running the local hotel. It can be difficult for us today to imagine starting a community pretty much from scratch. The first task was to clear the trees. Before the invention of the chainsaw and the automobile, clearing the land for settlement was a significant undertaking, "Even if you succeeded in knocking one of these monsters [trees] over, how would you dispose of it, much less remove the sprawling stump so you could do something useful with the land such as plant crops or feed your animals?" These were questions that early settlers must have asked themselves as they studied the landscape that opposed their every move.xx2 One pioneer on nearby Vargas Island, Helen Malon, described her feelings on her first arrival there, feelings that must have been similar to many of Ucluelet's early pioneers: "It was quite a shock to our feelings to find no house, only a shack… We have gone to a primitive life and no mistake, but I think we shall like it all right."xx1 As you can see from the home in this photo, the Lyches, like Ucluelet's other pioneers, went to impressive lengths to adapt Victorian lifestyles to this remote community, where creature comforts were limited. They built beautifully finished houses with stained glass windows and vegetable gardens, and imported pianos and other fine furnishings. Everything had to be brought in by boat, except lumber, of which there was no shortage. In the early years, Ucluelet was cluttered with stumps and piles of debris scattered everywhere, refuse left behind after clearing the land. But despite looking more like a clear cut than a settled community, the insides of the Victorian homes were reportedly as fine as any found in Victoria or Nanaimo. Growth was slow in Ucluelet by 1899 Ucluelet only had a population of 15 European settlers, living across from 200 Nuu-Chal-Nuuth on the other side of the inlet.xx2 However, thanks to the prodigious efforts of pioneers like the Lyches, the foundations of the little town had been laid. There was a doctor, a school, and a church, while a Canadian Pacific Railway steamship visited the community three times a week. As early as 1911 rumors swirled that a road to Port Alberni would soon be built, and expectations of all the benefits that would bring helped draw yet more settlers to the community.xx3 If the settlers knew then that it would end up taking almost half a century for the road to get built, some might have been a little more hesitant before taking on the challenge of life in Ucluelet.

3. A Treacherous Lifeline


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Ucluelet Archives & On This Spot Enterprises

1950s

This photo shows Ucluelet as a firmly established community. Quaint little fishing boats crowd around a dock in the inlet and the chimneys of the large stately houses emit plumes of smoke that mingle with the ever-present coastal mist. As a community entirely dependent on ocean links to the outside world, the ebbs and flows of community life were tied as closely to the arrivals of steamships as the ocean tides are to the moon. "Boat Days" as locals called those arrivals, brought the entire community together in a festive atmosphere as everyone congregated on the docks to greet the arrival of shipments, mail, and visitors.

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When a ship approached Ucluelet's harbour its horn would sound and it could be heard across the town. This caused excited people to stop whatever they were doing to head down to the docks. For children, one of the most memorable annual events was the pre-Christmas arrival of the Uchuck, which came well stocked with candy. Mike Hamilton, a Tofino resident in the early 20th century, describes what would happen next: "It was during 'Boat day' that one could expect every one, queer, odd and otherwise to make their appearance… to get their groceries, mail and...mysterious crates, jars and packages… They would converge upon [the wharf] in canoes, skiffs and rowboats, from all directions."xx1 While the ocean was Ucluelet's lifeline, the journey to communities on the west coast was fraught with danger, and even the most experienced captain was tested by the tricky inlets, thick fog banks, and barely submerged reefs. These hazards were exacerbated by a sparsely populated coastline that had few lighthouses and meager rescue infrastructure. It is for these reasons that the coastline from the northern tip of Vancouver Island down south to Oregon has earned the ominous nickname the 'Graveyard of the Pacific'. The Vancouver Island section of the Graveyard has claimed at least 484 ships and thousands of lives.xx2 It is often said there is a major shipwreck for every mile of Vancouver Island's west coast. Even today, ships equipped with space-age navigational tools occasionally run aground on this treacherous coast. Even by the grim standards of the 'Graveyard of the Pacific', the waters around Ucluelet and adjacent Barkley Sound are especially deadly. The most tragic and notorious incident came in 1906, with the sinking of the SS Valencia. That ship was steaming to Seattle one night when she was caught in a fierce winter storm and blown north far off course. Blinded by the storm and lacking navigational aids, the crew had no time to react when a reef loomed out of the darkness and tore a giant hole in the hull. They were at Pachena Bay near Bamfield, and the jagged rock cliffs that lined the bay were as inhospitable as could be imagined. For hours the terrified passengers and crew helplessly clung to the ship as it was dashed to pieces on the rocks. Most of the lifeboats capsized in the towering waves, and only a tiny handful were able to make it to the shore. In the end it is thought anywhere from 117 to 181 people were killed. Only 37 survived. After the Valencia disaster, efforts were made to improve life saving infrastructure, and the Pachena lighthouse and West Coast Trail were built to give waystations for survivors of shipwrecks on the unpopulated coast. Today the trail is a popular challenge for hikers. While the SS Valencia is credited with being the final impetus for the decision to make these coastal improvements, another wreck occurred less than a month before the Valencia much closer to Ucluelet The steamer Pass of Melfort was wrecked less than a mile from the Amphitrite Lighthouse and suffered much the same fate as the Valencia. On December 26, 1905, she was caught unprepared in a sudden winter storm, pummelled by giant swells and dashed against a reef only a few metres from shore. Despite the proximity of land, the raging storm made escape from the sinking ship impossible and the vessel was torn to shreds on the unforgiving rocks. By the next morning, all that remained of the Pass of Melfort was some washed up debris floating in a sheltered cove nearby. None of the 27 passengers and crew survived. The site of the wreck is visible from the scenic Wild Pacific Trail, which circles Amphitrite Point.xx3

4. The Pacific War


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Ucluelet Archives 008 67 & On This Spot Enterprises

1920s

In this photo, an interesting seaplane docks near the fishing boats at the Government Wharf as a curious crowd looks on. The first seaplanes were developed in France around 1910, planes that could land on water were ideal for accessing remote communities along British Columbia's rocky coast and for Ucluelet they became an important new link to the outside world lifeline after the 1920s. The importance of seaplanes and flying boats was vividly illustrated during the Second World War, when the Royal Canadian Air Force set up a seaplane base in Ucluelet, which is the subject of another walking tour.

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Canada's first line of defense in the event of Japanese attack on the sparsely populated west coast was a string of radar stations and seaplane bases, of which Ucluelet was one. Several squadrons of flying boats and seaplanes were stationed in Ucluelet over the course of the war, tasked with flying long range reconnaissance missions up and down the coast to keep an eye out for any Japanese ships, planes, or submarines. For people in Ucluelet the threat of war was real enough. Measures like mandatory blackouts, rationing, and evacuation plans were enacted. Ken Gibson, a Tofino resident recalled: "You had to have buckets of sand upstairs in the attic in case of incendiary bombs… you really knew there was a war going on." Another local too, remembers the war measures, "The threat of attack was so real that the military authorities insisted a box of groceries be kept in every home in case it became necessary to evacuate all the women and children. I carried a gun in my car at all times as did many others."xx1 An airfield was built near Tofino and beach obstacles for landing craft were laid all along Long Beach, similar to the type you'd recognize from pictures of the German defenses of the D-Day beaches in France. Many Ucluelet men volunteered to join the Pacific Coast Rangers and were issued with 30-30 Winchester repeater rifles, though these would be of dubious worth in the event of an invasion. Fortunately, the Japanese were never in a position to actually invade Canada's west coast. The closest they came was seizing Attu and Kiska in Alaska's Aleutian Islands in June 1942. However, Japanese submarines did make some forays into BC's waters, torpedoing two ships in the Juan de Fuca Strait that same year. When a Japanese submarine surfaced off Estevan Point, about 50 km north of Tofino, and unsuccessfully shelled the lighthouse there, it caused a frenzy of media speculation about looming Japanese attacks. The residents of Estevan Point and Hesquiat village were quick to recover from the shock and took to the beach the next morning to search the sand for shell fragments. All of this occurred in 1942 at the peak of Japanese success in the Pacific War, and almost immediately the rising tide of Japanese empire began to ebb. Expansion into the Western Pacific was halted decisively by the Americans at the Battle of Midway, while in the south they were checked by the Americans at Guadalcanal, and British and Indian forces in Burma. By 1943, that threat to Canada's west coast had receded, and the people of Ucluelet could breathe a sigh of relief.

5. The Fishermen


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Ucluelet Archives 990-27 & On This Spot Enterprises

1910s

Right now, you are looking across the inlet, think of what this spot looked like in the past. You are probably picturing something similar to what you see now, maybe with a house or two less. However, the truth might be surprising - you are looking at what used to be a thriving center of industry. One Ucluelet resident recalled days when the inlet was so "thick with fishing boats that you could walk across the inlet without ever touching water."xx1 In this photo a giant plume of dark, greasy smoke pours out of the burning Port Albion cannery. The cannery, like many others across coastal BC, was built to harvest abundant Pacific Salmon. However, as lucrative as canneries could be, they were also highly flammable. The buildings, constructed from wood and balanced atop wooden pilings, were heated by wood stoves, used giant boilers, and--in the early days--were lit by oil lamps.

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Canneries sprang up all along the coast to clean, process, and can the millions of pounds of salmon that fishermen hauled in, which were then exported across the world. Off the shores of Vancouver Island the fishing was so good that canneries lacking good refrigeration sometimes had more fish than they could process before it went bad. This wasn't just due to the abundance of fish, but also the skill of the increasing numbers of master fishermen who made Ucluelet their home port. European settlers and the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth had fished the waters of Ucluelet with huge success, but some of the greatest contributors to Port Albion's cannery were the Japanese-Canadian fishermen who called Ucluelet home. Initially, Ucluelet's locals met the new group of highly skilled fishermen with some reservation. As their boats began to crowd the harbour, local fishermen protested at how many fishing licenses were being given to the newcomers. But, even so, the locals couldn't help but be impressed by their skills: "Boy, they were good, they made all their own spoons [fishing lures]. They'd get these big pieces of brass and cut them and polish them up and bend them they way they wanted them Then they'd try them in the water, pulling them along to see they worked right. I fished right along with them. They were really good."xx2 Despite some initial tension, the Japanese-Canadians soon became valued members of the community. By World War II, the Japanese community in Ucluelet numbered over 200, significantly contributing to the population of the small village.xx3 Japanese-Canadian children went to the same school as the European ones and they formed deep, life-long friendships. The children were baffled when events thousands of kilometres away suddenly caused the atmosphere to change. Following Imperial Japan's assault on British and American possessions across the Pacific, those on the Canadian west coast became mistrustful of their Japanese neighbors. "There was a feeling that, if Japan invaded the coast, a lot of local Japanese would help them," wrote a local man several years later, "Whether this was right or not, I don't know."xx4 Ucluelet's Japanese-Canadians, most of whom had never even seen Japan, listened to the radio with increasing unease as the news grew steadily worse. In 1942, the federal government declared all Japanese in Canada to be enemy aliens. After the order came down, things moved quickly; all those of Japanese descent, regardless of birth or citizenship, were to be forcibly evacuated from the coast and moved at least 160 km inland. Officials gave Japanese-Canadians in Ucluelet less than a day to get their affairs in order before they were rounded up and shipped to internment camps in BC's interior. Every possession that they couldn't take with them--including the fishing boats that provided their livelihoods--were sold off by the government at bargain basement prices, more or less explicitly as a means to ensure the Japanese-Canadians would never want to return to their former homes. Kenn Barr, a teenager in Tofino at the time, remembered the day of the evacuation, "I remember old Japanese ladies sitting there with the few belongings they could take with them… I remember crying, seeing them go."xx5 Racism motivated much of the government's treatment of the Japanese-Canadians during the war, and even after the war many BC politicians advocated forcibly deporting all the Japanese-Canadians to Japan--a nation that had been bombed into ruin. Several thousand were deported before the policy was finally halted in 1947. Unsurprisingly, the years of internment, humiliation, and loss of property meant most Japanese-Canadians were reluctant to return to their homes on the coast, and many resettled in eastern Canada, especially around Toronto. In Ucluelet, the close ties forged before the war between the Japanese and European communities ensured that this community was a welcome exception. Twelve families chose to return, although they found upon their arrival that their houses had been sold.xx6 The evacuation and internment remain a dark period of BC history, but today Ucluelet celebrates the contributions the Japanese-Canadians have made to the town's history and are grateful for those families that did choose to return.

6. Hitacu


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Ucluelet Archives 009 19 & On This Spot Enterprises

1910s

Standing on this dock offers a view of the best Ucluelet offers: picturesque seaside houses, the back-and-forth of fishing boats, and the lazy groan of sea lions, made eerie by a thin veil of damp coastal mist. Across the inlet, a small huddle of houses peers through the fog, both now and in this historic postcard from 1918. This is Hitacu, the community in Ucluelet East. Hitacu is the ancestral home of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ (pronounced yoo-thlew-ilth-uhht) Nations and the site of their treaty government. Hitacu is home to a little over 200 people and is now entirely self-governing thanks to a 2011 treaty signed between the provincial government and the five nations of the Maa-Nuulth First Nations.xx1

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The Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ are part of the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth tribal council and linguistic group and have called these lands home since time immemorial.xx2 Before the arrival of Europeans, the Pacific Northwest was one of the most densely populated regions in North America. The west coast of Vancouver Island alone is estimated to have supported a First Nations population of approximately 15,000. The Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ, much like other coastal First Nations peoples, thrived on the variety of both marine and land resources available on the coast. The environment provided all the food, building materials, clothing, boats, tools, and even art supplies the people needed to develop an advanced and complex society. Above all else was Cedar, known as the "tree of life", which was valued for its versatility and spiritual significance. The way of life of almost every indigenous nation in the Pacific Northwest revolved around the gigantic dugout cedar canoes. The Nuu-Chah-Nuulth were particularly renowned for the daring and skill they exhibited in the whale hunts that they had been conducting from these canoes for over 4,000 years. The process was long, arduous, and exceptionally dangerous. In the spring, after complex and highly choreographed traditional rituals, the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth hunting party would take to the Pacific in dugout cedar canoes up to eleven metres long. Upon spotting a whale, hunters struck it with harpoons, each with a sealskin float affixed to it with rope. The floats effectively impeded the whale's ability to dive and maneuver, and by the end of the struggle often as many as fifty floats were affixed to the exhausted whale. Eventually, the equally weary hunters could surround the severely weakened whale and deal the final blow. For the hunters though, one trial remained: bringing their trophy home. Hunting a whale could lead a crew deep out to sea, leaving the men with the herculean task of towing a sea mammal weighing the equivalent to that of six African elephants back home. In July, the whaling season became the salmon season, as millions of Sockeye returned to their spawning grounds. In early fall a final run of dog salmon provided another source of sustenance. For millennia, the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth had lived according to this rhythm of the seasons. This rhythm was disastrously and irrevocably altered with the arrival of Europeans. As the settlers became more established, they wasted little time intruding on every aspect of the life of the First Nations. They introduced new technologies that disrupted local economies and caused a steep rise in warfare and raiding, outlawed traditions and rituals that had been practiced for millennia, evicted them from their hunting grounds and village sites, and soon began kidnapping their children to be abused and brainwashed in residential schools. "Into their world came heavily armed strangers determined to impose their mores, institutions, and religion on the local people," write authors Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy. "All too often these strangers assumed that the land, with its complex traditional territories and its hierarchical, deeply rooted patterns of ownership and use, could be theirs for the taking."xx3 The worst blow to Vancouver Island's First Nations peoples was struck by the waves of disease the Europeans brought with them. Some experts estimate fully 90% of Vancouver Island's indigenous peoples were wiped out by European-introduced diseases, especially smallpox, by the end of the 19th Century.xx4 To put that in perspective, the Black Death killed at most 2/3rds of Europe's population, and even today--600 years after the fact--that event continues to leave an indelible cultural imprint on the western mind. Now imagine the traumatic impact it would have if 90% of Europe's population had been wiped out just over a century ago. Now, having regained their right to self-govern, the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ and the community of Hitacu are spearheading a series of programs to revitalize and preserve their language and culture, and stimulate a thriving local economy. These enthusiastic efforts towards cultural revitalization and celebration reflect others taken by First Nations peoples across the country, and represent one aspect of a long process \ of recovery from years of systematic, and often brutal oppression.

7. Ucluelet's Grandfather


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Ucluelet Archives 990-92 & On This Spot Enterprises

1920s

The aging gentleman in this picture has a most grandfatherly look. Wearing a fraying, much loved cardigan, heavy boots, and bushy eyebrows, he has the slightly stooped posture of someone who has spent much of their life hunched in a garden. George Fraser was one of Ucluelet's key early pioneers, but he is more famous for putting Ucluelet on the horticultural map with the dozens of rhododendron hybrids he lovingly developed here. Have a look around town and you'll be sure to notice many beautiful, monstrously huge, rhododendron bushes towering over the diminutive petunias and begonias. Many of these thriving flowers were taken from the bushes Fraser himself engineered.

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Born in Scotland in 1854, Fraser apprenticed as a gardener before emigrating to Canada, eventually making it to Victoria in the 1880s. His skills soon proved useful, and he was one of the key figures in the early development of the iconic Beacon Hill Park. In 1889 he left his signature there, planting a rhododendron that still blooms today. Evidently Fraser wanted something a bit more challenging, and when he saw that most of the Ucluelet peninsula was up for sale, he bought it--236 acres for $236. Arriving in 1892, he was one of the first European pioneers and his land holdings extended from the southern tip of this peninsula north to just short of Main Street, including the land you are standing on right now. Alongside all the challenges of early pioneer life in Ucluelet, Fraser soon began indulging in his true passion: rhododendrons. He set aside 4 acres of his land as a nursery and park which, unfortunately, does not survive today, although it was just a couple hundred metres from this spot. There, he began experimenting with different hybrids of rhododendrons, ingeniously breeding them with honeysuckle, gooseberries, and roses. Fraser's project was no easy task as the tough soil was better suited for growing Douglas firs and red cedars. To make it more suitable for growing more delicate plants and flowers, Fraser manually carted to his garden cow manure and seaweed as fertilizer. Once he had finally made the soil suitable and the seedlings began to erupt, Fraser was horrified to discover that the local deer also enjoyed the fruits of his labour.xx1 Over the decades, Fraser's flowers brought Ucluelet international fame, and horticulturalists from around the world would make the voyage to Ucluelet to see his famous nursery. The proliferation of his rhododendrons around Ucluelet might have had something to do with his practice of gifting every newly married couple in Ucluelet and Tofino with one of his beloved rhododendron hybrids. Like Fraser, many of Ucluelet's settlers faced challenges in adjusting to their new landscape. Many keenly felt the isolation brought on by living in such a remote community and the relatively limited access to amenities. Over time, Ucluelet developed necessary amenities such as schools and churches, but settlers also attempted to bring beauty and art to their new community as well. Some of the region's wealthier families had pianos shipped in, some planted flower gardens, or in the case of painter Emily Carr, painted their local surroundings. George Fraser wasn't the only one who saw opportunities for beauty in Ucluelet's rugged surroundings. Emily Carr, one of Canada's most treasured painters, was fascinated by the west coast, and particularly by First Nations people and their art. She made the first of several sketching trips to Ucluelet in 1898, where she stayed with theYuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nations, who soon gave her the name Klee Wyck, meaning, "the Laughing One." She was inspired by Ucluelet's rugged wilderness and ancient traditions of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ and the Nuu-Chah-Nuulth, and these experiences heavily influenced her later sketching trips across the Pacific Northwest.xx2 As for Fraser, in 1944 at the age of 90 he left Ucluelet for the last time. His final words might encapsulate the draw this place has had on people for millennia: , "I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but it doesn’t matter – I’ve had my heaven here on earth."xx3

8. A Highway at Last!


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Ucluelet Archives 008 21 & On This Spot Enterprises

1960s

In this photo, taken in the heart of downtown Ucluelet, classic 50s cars line the road. Until the highway to Port Alberni opened in 1959, the locals had few places to take them. They could go to Tofino, though the real road there was only completed during World War II. Before then, there was an alternate way to get to Tofino: in the Ucluelet Archives, there are dozens of photos depicting a scene that seems bizarre to us today - vehicles driving on Long Beach. Rather than risk the iffy corduroy road made of logs through dense forest, locals figured that the 16 kilometer stretch of beautiful sand made for much easier and more scenic driving, and Long Beach was the easiest leg of the otherwise awful drive to Tofino.

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Residents of Ucluelet had been fighting for a highway to Port Alberni for decades, and had their hopes dashed over and over again. In 1912, locals felt that the "Canadian Highway," was all but guaranteed, and the news launched a mini population boom. But, the boom lasted only about two years, and the "Canadian Highway," was effectively sidelined by the outbreak of World War I. Many of the town's newcomers, disappointed by the loss of the promised road access, cut their losses and returned to less isolated locales. The 1950s brought renewed hope for a highway. Lumber companies had taken notice of the region's valuable old growth forests and began pushing the issue. In the post-war economic boom, there was more money available for infrastructure projects like this, and finally contracts were signed and construction began. August 22, 1959 was a momentous day for the little community. After almost seven decades without road access, the Pacific Rim Highway had finally opened. Every functional automobile in Tofino and Ucluelet was assembled to take part in an inaugural drive on the new road. Curiously, the road builders went to the efforts of getting every driver to sign a damage and injury waiver before taking part. The Pacific Rim Highway was not a road to be taken lightly and bore more likeness to a temporary logging road than a public highway. Initially, it was gravel surfaced, filled with winding switchbacks, steep climbs and drops, mudholes, and several creek crossings. The uninitiated often arrived in Ucluelet shaken, vehemently refusing to drive home again. The highway wasn't well maintained either, and the frequent storms washed away large sections. In 1961, a fed up resident took matters into his own hands and commandeered a Department of Highways grader and graded a particularly harrowing 5 kilometer stretch himself. He was subsequently slapped with a hefty fine for the trouble.xx1 The highway marked a new phase in Ucluelet's history, as easier access opened up the region's rugged beauty and pristine beaches to the wider world. As word of the place spread, tourists began to flock to Long Beach in droves. A favourite pastime was to race cars on Long Beach, an activity made more exciting the various anti-invasion obstacles that remained on the beach from the Second World War. Many of these races ended predictably with cars abandoned in soft sand or rescued by exasperated tow-truck drivers.xx2 Surfing, of course, quickly became popular in this time period too. In 1966 the Jordan River surf club sponsored Canada's first international surfing competition on Long Beach. The rising prominence of this new activity would completely transform Ucluelet.

9. The Hippies Are Coming


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Ucluelet Archives 008 52 & On This Spot Enterprises

1940s

This thrift store, perched on the steep corner between Peninsula and Main Street, is one of Ucluelet's oldest buildings. Although the paint is different, the doors and windows have moved around, and the block is a little more crowded than it once was, the former Ruth's Gift Shop is still one of the centerpieces of this thriving community. With tourism now dominating the local economy, gift shops are now some of the most common retail spaces in Ucluelet. xx1 The opening of the highway coincided with dramatic changes in the wider youth culture and the birth of the hippie movement. The hippies soon began flocking to Ucluelet, to the dismay of some of the locals, though eventually they ended up shifting their focus to Tofino, leaving a substantial impact on the culture of Ucluelet's neighbour.

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Tourism here began early. Some of the first pioneers, the Lyches, opened a hotel, and as early as the 1890s, Captain Gillam would delay the departure of the steam ship the Princess Maquinna to allow visitors time to explore George Fraser's garden. After the opening of the Pacific Rim Highway, Long Beach swiftly gained a reputation across the province as a party spot. Thousands of tourists flocked to Long Beach on holiday weekends, speeding recklessly down the beach in their cars, indiscriminately taking clams and starfish from the water, and leaving piles of garbage behind. "Windsurfers on wheels whistled down the beach, and cars dodged families and children and hippies," Brian Brett writes in an essay. "There was dog shit everywhere. Garbage and plastic bags, and tarps littered the driftwood line, and toilet paper hung in the trees. Endless parties. Stoned-out hippies. It was a carnival on the sand."xx2 After visiting Long Beach and deciding they liked it, many hippies decided to make the area a more permanent home. Some of the first were Americans escaping the Vietnam war draft. Canada was a popular destination for conscientious objectors to the war, but the remote west coast in particular drew those looking to lie low as the war ran its course. Once here, they found like-minded individuals in the counterculture movement of the late 60s, a generation of young people eager to escape a society they felt was corrupt. In Wreck Bay at the head of Ucluelet they founded a community, erecting semi-permanent structures on the beach and leading a relaxed lifestyle. Adrienne Mason, author of Long Beach Wild recalls life at Wreck Bay: "They played drums and flutes, carved sculptures from driftwood, cast candles of the Wreck Bay cliffs. A joint, a jug of cheap wine, or a tab of acid was rarely out of reach."xx3 Wreck Bay had long been a popular beach with Ucluelet families, and now some had difficulty visiting because whenever as soon as the hippies spotted them they'd immediately undress and go naked in an attempt to offend their sensibilities. In the early 1970s, Long Beach's own Summer of Love came to a close. After Long Beach was incorporated into Pacific Rim National Park, parks officials cracked down on those camping and driving on the beach, and evicted the hippies from Wreck Bay, destroying their encampment. Though Ucluelet was closer, the hippies apparently heard that Tofino was preferable and relocated there instead, much to the relief of many Ucluelet residents. The decision dramatically changed Tofino's culture and continues to this day.

10. The War in the Woods


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Ucluelet Archives & On This Spot Enterprises

1910s

Much like Ruth's Gift Shop, the Crow's Nest general store is a survivor from Ucluelet's early years and holds the title of Ucluelet's oldest storefront. Originally built by pioneer Richard Madden, the Crow's Nest supplied early settlers with the basic necessities. It operated in this capacity for an impressive 80 years before changing with the times to become a gift shop. It still retains its eclectic general store vibe with original fir floors, and by selling everything from crafts and souvenirs to office supplies and printing services.xx1 While Ucluelet's shift from small industry town to tourist haven was gradual, it was far from seamless. The Pacific Rim highway opened access to tourists, but was really intended to improve access for loggers. Logging had long been a vital industry in the region, and the road opened hundreds of hectares of previously inaccessible forests for harvest. The boom supplied high-paying logging jobs to daring locals. Yet this increased emphasis on logging would soon clash with the changing cultural attitudes towards the forests that surround the community.

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The work of the lumberjacks was--and remains--deadly. In the words of author John Vaillant, "Like veteran bush pilots, career loggers can rattle off the names of dead and crippled comrades in numbers whose only comparison can be found among professional soldiers."xx2 Loggers could be mangled by the powerful machines they operated, crushed by falling trees, and impaled on sharpened sapling stumps, to name a few. Despite the risks, these jobs boosted many Ucluelet residents into the middle class, who were key in supporting businesses like the Crows Nest general store. These high risk, high reward days were coming to a close. Many of the tourists who were drawn to the region by its natural beauty were horrified by the scars in the mountain landscape left by the loggers. As people were increasingly championing environmental causes, the loss of BC's magnificent and ancient old growth forests was quickly becoming distasteful to many. The dispute over the use and protection of BC's forests locked industry against environmentalism, loggers against activists in a grim conflict that would culminate in the events of the so-called "War in the Woods." In 1993, Clayoquot Sound became the stage for the largest act of civil disobedience in Canada's history, as 12,000 people converged on the area to protest logging operations. Approximately 1,000 people of all ages, and walks of life were arrested, but they were ultimately successful in their cause, and the logging industry in Clayoquot Sound swiftly declined. The communities of Tofino and Ucluelet were deeply divided on the issue and felt the effects of the conflict most keenly. The loss of the lumber industry resulted in the loss of many high-paying jobs, and while tourism trickled in to fill the void, Ucluelet received less visitors than Tofino, and jobs in tourism simply didn't pay as well. It remains a sensitive issue today, not only in Ucluelet, but province-wide, as lumber remains one of the province's foremost industries, even as only a fraction of the old growth forests remain. Some claim that the massive influx of tourists has soured the unique character of this faraway part of the world and turned nearby Tofino into a 'resort town'. Ucluelet, on the other hand, still has the feel of a fishing village.xx3 As Tofino's smaller, quainter neighbor, Ucluelet still feels like a small town that is happy to receive visitors, without losing sight of its blue collar roots.


Endnotes


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