Once a year Clayquot Island, British Columbia opens its doors to the public to celebrate the May Long Weekend. Clayquot Island lies a few nautical miles from Tofino. Approximately 250 acres of rainforest, sand dunes, beaches and gardens, Clayquot Island is steeped in history. As you reach the island the timber at the dock is carpeted with moss and worn by the sea winds, giving you the feeling it is not accessed very frequently.
Captain Cook arrived in Clayquot Sound in 1776. Every year on or about the 24th May, Queen Victoria’s birthday a celebration was held for all the coastal villages on Clayquot Island. There were sporting event of all kinds held from logging competitions to a great tug-of-war. When I was told about the island preserve I had imagined and over grown, untouched wilderness, the worn timber at the dock was how I had imagined it would be. The biggest surprise I got was when we walked down a woodland path and came to a clearing of the most beautifully kept gardens that wouldn’t look out-of-place in any English stately home.
Many inhabitants have contributed to the rich history of Clayquot Island. In 1923 30 Japanese families immigrated to Canada, many settling on Clayquot Island. The Japanese families intermingled well with the rest of the inhabitants attending schools with the traders families. immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbour, orders came from Ottawa to remove all the Japanese from the coast. It was a very sad time as they rounded them up without notice, their fishing boats were confiscated and nothing remains of their presence on the island but local memories.
Eventually, the Island was sold to a series of private owners. A lady named Betty Farmer bought the Island in the 1930’s and ran a successful Lodge & pub for many years. Betty and her sister Jo Bridges are remembered fondly for their gardens and the Rhododendrons they planted together in the 1950’s. The flowers and gardens are kept in the most pristine condition to this day and were quite honestly breathtaking. During the 1950’s author John Steinbeck and his friend marine biologist Ed ‘Doc’ Rickets, both of Cannery Row fame frequented the Island collecting many new specimens off the Clayquot Wharf.
Susan Bloom of famous American Department store Bloomingdale’s has been the owner of the Island since 1990 and has turned it into a wildlife refuge. The Island boasts a vast assortment of bird life, river otters, mink, raccoons, osprey, eagles, ravens, deer, cougars, bears and wolves. We meandered through the pretty gardens and stopped for a rest on the tree swing taking in the captivating surroundings. In contrast to the gardens a boardwalk lead down to the untouched woodlands.
The Land Conservancy of British Columbia has registered a conservation covenant on the property covering 70% of the Island meaning the old growth forest will be protected forever. You can walk along the beach right around the island. It’s spectacular the amount of timber that is washed up along the seashore, there are some really unusual pieces of wood that are so inspiring, they make to want to create pieces of furniture and sculptures. Some of the trees here are so huge you could almost live inside of them, this one that looks like a house with a chimney and door at the front caught my eye, looks like something out of a children’s story, who would live in there I wonder?
Strolling along the beach with my feet in the shallow water was blissful. Our new friend Joe actually swam in the ocean, although I wasn’t quite that brave (it is very cold in there!) I did paddle, it’s so calm and peaceful watching the eagles fly above you. There are hundreds of shells and crabs washed up along the beach. I picked up the spiral shell that was a beautiful golden colour inside.
I imagined what it would be like to own Clayquot Island, seeing locals and tourists flock there to celebrate for one day each year. It must be so quiet 364 days of the year. There were plenty of children and adults enjoying the surroundings, the Island brought such happiness. You could see the exceptional love and care that has gone into maintaining the garden, plants and Island by Head Gardener, Sharon Whalen and Manager, Chris Taylor.
What a remarkable place.
The Fabulous Times