To most Canadians, the Victoria Day long weekend is a special time of year. To most, it marks the unofficial start to summer. Many dig out their camping gear, get their BBQ’s out, open their cottages or something similar. To them and their families, the May long weekend ignites a sense of happiness that the cold, damp spring is behind them and the hot, sunny days of summer have arrived. In Tofino, locals and tourists celebrate the May long weekend in similar fashions but with a special twist.
Each and every May long weekend, Stubbs Island aka Clayoquot Island, is open to the public for two days. The rest of the year it’s off grounds for everyone aside from two caretakers that live on the island year-round. Before the town of Tofino was settled in the late 1800’s, most of the early European settlers settled on Stubbs Island in the mid-1800’s.
Back in the day, Stubbs was home to many families and the island featured a school, hotel, bar, jail and post office. Once the town of Tofino was settled in the late 1800’s, many moved from Stubbs Island to the mainland. Throughout the early to mid-1900’s, the island slowly lost its residents. Finally, in 1960, the post office closed on Stubbs Island. Today, the island is a shell of what it used to be. Albeit, a very beautiful shell and one that Tofitians and tourists alike have been enjoying since the 1890’s.
Beginning in the 1890’s, locals on Clayoquot (as Stubbs was called at the time), along with many from around Clayoquot Sound and even as far as Ucluelet would come to Stubbs Island for Clayoquot Days every May long weekend. Back then, as many as 1500 people would gather on the long sandy beaches and participate in a wide variety of sporting events, have picnics & simply enjoy the beauty of the area. Clayoquot Days was a must-attend event for locals back then and it still remains that way to this day.
Getting to Stubbs Island
As you can imagine, a picturesque, serene island that is only open to the public two days of the year draws quite a crowd. To get to Stubbs Island you have two options – take the free water taxi or kayak. If we had a kayak, we definitely would have made our way to the island that way, but we had to opt for the water taxi.
When we drove down Main Street we saw a long line of others waiting to board the water taxi’s making the trips to the island. One terrible habit of mine is that I despise lineups. My patience isn’t great. Nonetheless, Kate and I remained patient in line while eating treats from Picnic Charcuterie that were meant to be enjoyed once on the island.
A long hour and a half later, we boarded a water taxi with Dennis who took us past Deadman’s Islet, towards the First Nations village of Opitsat on Meares Island before dog-legging towards Stubbs Island. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the large dock protruding from Stubbs Island. Happily, we disembarked, ready to explore.
Exploring Stubbs Island
Stepping off of the dock and onto the island it was almost like entering an enchanting fairy tale-like land. After we walked through the lush forest, we entered to an open area surrounded by fully flowered rhododendrons. As the island mostly remains untouched these days, the rhododendrons on Stubbs grow exceptionally tall and beautiful. There are many who travel to the island simply to see the rhodos and after getting a look at some, we could see why.
Passing through the some of the gardens, including a nice little pond where a turtle was on a rock sunbathing, we made our way to a trail head. For 10-minutes we wandered down an old boardwalk surrounded by forest which is still home to wolves and bears that swim back and forth from the various islands of Clayquot Sound. At the end of the boardwalk, we were greeted with a long, sandy beach. With the sun shining, we made our way down to a quiet end of the beach and plunked ourselves down where we let the sun bake us in the quiet surrounding for almost an hour.
Later, we returned through the forest, stumbling on some rhododendrons that were easily 100-feet tall. Our one trail led to another which took us out to something we hadn’t seen in Tofino yet – sand dunes. The sand dunes combined with the forest covered mountains of the area gave us a perfect surrounding.
Walking the beach for 15-minuts led us back to the dock as the clock approached 6pm – the time the last water taxi was departing the island. On the way back to the mainland, we had the pleasure of zipping around Clayoquot Sound on a zodiac which had us back to land in what was a thrilling 3-minutes.
There’s definitely something special about visiting a place that is off-limits for 363 days of the year. It’s now been a week since we stepped foot onto Stubbs Island for the first time. Now, every time we go into Tofino, we look out to the long sandy strip of Stubbs Island and we think about how lucky we were to experience the beautiful, quiet island. If you ever plan a visit to Tofino, visiting during the May long weekend would allow you to visit this magical place.