Take me to the Island

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Victoria Day is marked in Canada on or around 24 May, Queen Victoria’s birthday. Vancouver Island takes special pride in the day, as Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. Tofino was beset by large amounts of tourists from Friday afternoon onwards and every bed, bunk and camping space was filled.

The nicest tradition for celebrating the weekend is the annual opening up of the privately-owned Clayoquot Island (also known as Stubbs Island, but I just can’t with the unpoeticness of that word). From where I eat my breakfast each morning, I can see the sunny sand spit stretching out across the harbour, so I jumped at the chance to visit the island and its 250 acres of rainforest, beaches and gardens. Not only am I lucky enough to be here at the right time, but access to the island, including the boat to and from the Tofino docks, is free. The owners pay for the boat companies to run over and back all afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. It is a beautiful gesture.

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The island’s history is mixed, as it passed from First Nation inhabitants, to white settlers, and even became a home for Japanese immigrants, who integrated into the community. Sadly the whole village, along with the rest of the Japanese in Canada, was detained and their homes razed to the ground after the attack on Pearl Harbour. You can still pass through the area where their village was, in the middle of a pine forest. It is a peaceful reminder of a turbulent time.

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The care taken by the owners of the island down through the years is evident throughout the gardens, laid out with expert care. I kept picturing Mom, Finola and Granny wandering around, or even better, running the whole place themselves. The rhododendrons are particularly striking, tall and proud, but the other plants rise to the occasion.

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Most visitors, especially those with children, relaxed in the garden or on the first more sheltered beach, but going back on Sunday meant I could explore further, following a boardwalk through a rhododendron forest to the wilder beach that faced out to the ocean. It really was something special.

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Nowadays, Clayoquat Island is known as a wildlife refuge, but I assume any sensible creature took the opportunity to escape the island this weekend. Only the ravens remained, ready to guzzle up the picnic leftovers. In early spring, the island welcomes hundreds of Brandt geese, who use it as their only stopover on the way to the North Pole (I got a lot of this info from the very useful pamphlet available on arrival).

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There were two last things I appreciated about this unique opportunity. The glaringly obvious lack of rubbish was one, and I hope the workers don’t have too much to clear up at the end of the day. It depresses me to know that the only thing standing between this world and natural perfection is human impact. But the second fact is that the current owner is called Susan Bloom and that cheers me up immensely.

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