August 13, 2013

Tofino ~ the cottage, the coffee, the lunch

Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island ~ or on the east coast of the Pacific Ocean, depending on your point of view. It is a beautiful place indeed and a million people visit every year.

There are less than 2000 permanent residents of Tofino, though on summer days the population can swell to over 20,000. Many are from the EU and judging by our recent visit, German could be Tofino's second language. French is also heard, and American and a generous helping of Australian too it would seem.

As history has been written, Tofino was established as a settlement in the early 1900s CE. That there were indigenous people here for several thousands of years before that time is, apparently, less historical. However.

The name of the town comes from the naming of the inlet, Tofino Inlet, by the Spanish commanders and explorers: Galiano and Valdez (names that will sound familiar to British Columbians). They named the inlet after their admiral: Vincente Tofino.

The First Nation in this area is the Nuu-chah-nulth, an affiliation of a number of different family groups. The name means all along the mountains and the sea, and they were among the first people along the west coast of North America to come into contact with Europeans. From the time of first contact until about the mid 1800s, about 90 per cent of the Nuu-chah-nulth were killed by small pox and malaria, and by the cultural conflict resulting from contact with the "intruders."

While in Tofino, we stayed at the Tofino Inlet Cottages, which offered an easy walk into town and some great views of the government crab dock and the inlet. The Cottages are actually quite nice and fully equipped; a great tub, fantastic barbecue and run by friendly folk indeed. A drawback is the fact that the "rooms" aren't quite soundproof, which can be a bit of a bother when someone is waking up at five in the morning to go on a whale watching tour.

There are several coffee shops in Tofino, and absolutely no Tim Hortons or Starbucks. In fact Tofino doesn't seem to have any national chains of any kind, which is certainly to the town's credit. One coffee shop that caught our attention was the Common Loaf Bake Shop, which has been around for ages. It's busy on summer days and there can be a queue to get in the place, and then a wait for service. The atmosphere is great, the coffee is only good. There are some wonderful aboriginal masks on the walls; reason enough to visit for some of us. It is a funky kind of place, and it is local.

For a better coffee, possibly the best in Tofino, and a place that makes a wonderful espresso (slightly sweet), there is the Tofino Coffee Company down the street and slightly out of the town centre, where the owner roasts his own beans almost daily and ... loves coffee and loves to visit (almost to distraction, but that is part of the charm, or not, depending on your perspective).

There are all kinds of food outlets in Tofino and one stands out for its wonderful lunch menu: SoBo (short for Sophisticated Bohemian). Opened ten years ago, SoBo has attracted attention from various foodies in Canada and beyond. The wife and husband team of Lisa and Artie Ahier (she from Texas and he from New Brunswick) offer locally sourced ingredients with flair and great taste.

Our lunch of salmon chowder was incredible (big chunks of wild salmon and fresh vegetables), though it might have been a tad hotter. The halibut cheviche was terrific too. Service is friendly and attentive though when they get busy (which is often), things do take longer. SoBo is casual, yet elegant and clearly inventive and should not be missed.

All photos copyrighted 2013 
by Jim Murray.

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