ERIN LINN MCMULLAN
Special to the Westerly
In June, at low tide, Mackenzie Beach stretches to rocky outcroppings and tidal pools.
After a full day of play-cation, a Roy-Henry-Vickers-sunset competes with rising Strawberry Moon. Bonfires flicker while the breeze carries hints of BBQ, laughter and music pulsing with Pacific’s backbeat. In twilight, the last paddleboarder strokes lazily towards shore savouring freedom. Our oasis is especially precious during the pandemic.
Its Tla-o-qui-aht name is Tin Wis meaning “calm waters” and at the heart of this protected cove, once used for whaling, is Indigenous-owned Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort. A galaxy mirrored in glass across resort-wide ocean views. Inside awaits a fireplace—note that not all rooms have fireplaces—a bubble-bath-worthy tub and a bed that feels like sleeping on a cloud – all part of their recent seven-million-dollar renovation.
From the resort to the co-managed Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Tla-o-qui-aht are welcoming visitors back to Tofino and TFN Tribal Parks, with some restrictions to ensure their communities remain safe as BC anticipates Phase 3 reopening.
At Long Beach, visitors are greeted by both a Tribal Parks Guardian and Parks employee and instructed not to go beyond Incinerator Rock towards sequestered Esowista and Ty-Histanis.
This is not wilderness but home and a deeply storied place for the Tla-o-qui-aht people, points out Julian Hockin-Grant, Allied Certifications. Tin Wis is the region’s first resort to join the Tribal Parks Alliance which supports environmental stewardship.
Front Office Manager Todd Weitzel hopes others will follow their lead to help preserve the land.
As Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council lobbies federal and provincial governments for safety measures, such as closed borders, TFN follows guidelines from the province and Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Tin Wis also adheres to WorkSafeBC, General Manager Jared Beaton points out.
For the tightknit Tin Wis “family” exceeding expectations is the goal from COVID-19 safety protocols, to Grab and Go breakfasts. A 48-hour-rule applies before housekeeping can enter a vacated room or wetsuits return to rotation at onsite SUP rental. To maintain social distancing, empty rooms buffer occupied ones and all staff wear PPE.
Human touches bridge that distance from the pink silk flower, Rachel Nickerson, Sales, tucks behind her ear above her mask to her dog Story’s guest-appearance on social media encouraging locals’ and soon, BC residents’ pet-friendly staycations.
“We wanted a little experience with opening, [that’s] why we did our locals deals,” says Destiny Rose John, Manager on Duty, adding they’ve hosted mainly islanders. “When people do call and book, they’re very considerate and ask how our mayor is feeling about visitors.”
“If I had to really say it from my heart, I feel the reason I keep coming back to Tin Wis is because it is First Nations-owned,” says Destiny, who is from Ahousaht. A happy person naturally drawn to customer service she uplifts guests who arrive carrying the weight of the world.
“I feel like we are such a small town, we should all seriously connect with each other and be figuring things out together.”
“This year, maybe because of the pandemic, District of Tofino, Tourism and Parks are a lot more in line with the Nation than they have been in the past, at least that’s how it feels to me,” says Maria Clark, Executive Housekeeping, who prioritizes her team’s safety.
“I keep it close to my heart working here – ultimately, that we represent our Nation on a world tourism aspect. I think it’s important that we make a lasting impression.
“I have a home here. It was really important to bring my children back home to Tofino to have the lifestyle I grew up with and be employed by my Nation.”
Maria’s bright spot is quality time with grandchildren; Destiny hikes and lights sage twice-daily; Todd surfs and bikes the beach with partner Sasha and 11-year-old dog Lucci; Rachel practices yoga and seeks Vitamin-Sea.
“As it becomes part of our lifestyle, I am optimistic this will be a relatively safe place to be with all the outdoor activities Tofino has to offer,” says Jared, who keeps touch with local resorts on the task force dedicated to safe reopening.
To keep Tofino Paddle Surf active through this season, Catherine Bruhwiler says government subsidies have helped with hiring. The SUP champion, who literally grew up on this beach summarizes, “We want people to experience what we experience here every day.”