Tofino isn’t the only place to be named after a European who never set foot in North America. That was often the way of wannabe colonists. The Spanish had better luck charting the coast of BC than they did at colonizing it.
In 1792, Spanish explorers Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano Valdés sailed into Clayoquot Sound. They dropped anchor in a protected inlet. They weren’t far from the Tla-o-qui-aht village of Opitsaht on Meares Island. The Tla-o-qui-aht are Nuu-chah-nulth people. Before Europeans showed up, there were an estimated 100,000 Nuu-chah-nulth folks on the West Coast of the Island.
The Spaniards named their anchorage Tofino Inlet after Vincente Tofiño.
Tofiño was kind of a big deal in Spain back then. He was a navy admiral who charted the coast of North Africa and the coastline and ports of Spain. He was also a clever character. He was an astronomer and mathematician, and eventually became the King’s official hydrographer. This guy really knew the ocean.
Though Tofiño never even visited North America, his last name would take on a new life here. But really, how could he have known that his namesake town would become the surfing capital of Canada? Oh, and ground zero for the War in the Woods in the early 1990s, and one of the most recognizable tourist destinations in Canada.
But that came much later. Almost 70 years after Galiano and Valdés sailed into the sunset, the first non-native settlers arrived in the Nuu-chah-nulth territory of Clayoquot Sound. They hacked plots of land out of the rainforest on Clayoquot Island (or Stubbs Island) and made a go of it.
By the late 1890s, Norwegians, Scots, and English homesteaders arrived on the Esowista Peninsula, across the water from Clayoquot Island. The first doctor came in 1905, followed by the first post office in 1909. Four years later, the Church of England built the first church in what was known by then as Tofino.
It wasn’t until 1959 that loggers built a road linking Tofino to the rest of the Island. But it was a rough journey. The highway is still pretty wild in parts! In 1971, Pacific Rim National Park was created. The feds kicked out the squatters who were living on Long Beach, and the road to Port Alberni was finally paved.