Photo Credit: Wickaninnish Inn

Beaches Are for the People

But some businesses in Tofino are restricting access

Wickaninnish Inn’s private crab cookout on Chesterman Beach is being questioned

Tofino local Jack Gillie has had enough of private businesses claiming public oceanfront as their own. A Tofino resort’s long-running crab cookout has brought local frustration over illegal restrictions to public beaches to a boil.

In a letter to the District of Tofino council, Gillie said that he was walking on Chesterman Beach toward the Wickaninnish Inn and “discovered that a part of the beach had been cordoned off and public access had been restricted.”

“I was surprised as I had always thought the area below the limit of terrestrial vegetation was Crown Foreshore for the use and enjoyment of the public, and here it was being appropriated for private commercial purposes,” he wrote. “I ask the District to investigate and rectify this situation.”

In Canada, ocean beaches are public. Private homeowners or businesses cannot legally restrict access to them. However, they often try to. According to a story in the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News, Charles McDiarmid, owner of the Wickaninnish Inn, told the Tofino council that the resort had hosted the crab cookout for about 15 years. He said there’s no intention to block beachgoers from the space.

“This year has been a little challenging staffing-wise and making sure people are properly trained. We’re making sure that all staff are fully aware that the beach and the entire area is open to the public,” McDiarmid told the council. “We have, to my knowledge, never turned anyone away from the space intentionally.”

Mayor Dan Law asked if the cookout is a paid event, and McDiarmid said there is a fee to attend. Law also asked if the resort had received a permit from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development to host the cookout. McDiarmid responded that it had not.

Jack Gillie believes that’s not good enough. He says the five-star resort’s crab cookout gives the impression that the beach is private.

“This cannot be a precedent that is allowed to stand. What will be the argument against every beachfront property owner who wants to do the same? And then where would we be?” Gillie said in his letter to the district council.