Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is endowed with a wealth of natural and cultural heritage.
A combination of land and sea creates its diverse range of heritage features. A unique geological story and maritime climate have orchestrated the creation of a landscape thickly overgrown with
vegetation, providing refuge for a wide variety of life, both terrestrial and marine. Within this special story, a human history has also unfolded.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve stretches along a wide strip of west Vancouver Island. The park has three components: Long Beach; Broken Group Islands; and the West Coast Trail.
Long Beach in Pacific Rim
The best known and most accessible of the three park units, Long Beach is located on a broad coastal plain at the coastal southern edge of Clayoquot Sound. The village of Ucluelet (on Barkley Sound) and Tofino (on Clayoquot Sound) flank the boundaries of Long Beach.
The most famous feature of the region is the long, sandy beaches. Long Beach and Schooner Cove, lying in the broad curve of Wickaninnish Bay, stretch for 16 kilometers (10 miles). Adding to this grandeur, the beach at Florencia Bay, to the south, is an additional 6.4 kilometers (four miles) long.
The Long Beach area of the park comprises approximately 13,715 hectares of which 7,690 hectares are land.
Broken Islands Group in Pacific Rim
The second component of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the Broken Group Islands consists of about 100 islands and rocks located in the center of Barkley Sound. With their adjacent waters, they encompass an area of 10,607 hectares, of which only 1,350 hectares are land.
The smallest islands are no more than rocky islets bearing a few wind-stunted trees. The larger islands (Effingham, Turtle, Turret, Nettle, and Jaques) are more than 100 hectares each and are covered by tall spruce, hemlock and cedar forests. The outer most islands are fully exposed to the force of the Pacific Ocean, but behind these islands a maze of protected waterways provides exciting and beautiful boating opportunities.
West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim
The third unit in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, the West Coast Trail includes the section of coast southeast of Barkley Sound between the villages of Bamfield and Port Renfrew. This 25,640 hectare strip contains the 75-kilometer (46 mile) historic West Coast Trail, originally constructed for the rescue of shipwrecked mariners.
This world-renowned trail largely retraces an old telegraph route first established in 1890 and follows a rugged shoreline where approximately 66 ships have met their demise. This region of Vancouver Island is aptly named the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ The topography ranges from sandy beaches to rocky headlands and wide sandstone ledges. Caves, arches, tidal pools and waterfalls add variety to the shoreline.
The land of the West Coast Trail unit is temperate coastal rainforest dominated by old-growth spruce, hemlock and cedar. Some of the tallest and largest trees in Canada are known to be on or in the vicinity of the West Coast Trail.
Due to the number of people wanting to hike the trail, reservations are necessary. A trail use permit is required.
History of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
British Columbia’s recorded history began with European explorers searching for the legendary Northwest Passage to the Orient. It was on the west coast of Vancouver Island, just 96 kilometers (60 miles) north of Long Beach, that Captain James Cook of the British Navy first set foot, in 1778, on the land now called British Columbia. Captain James Barkley followed in 1787, arriving in Barkley Sound in search of sea otter pelts. But Cook and Barkley were not the first men to perceive the land’s wealth. Archaeological evidence indicates the presence of man along this outer coast of Vancouver Island for at least 4,300 years. The oral histories and knowledge of the legends of the Nuu-chah-nulth claim they have been here since the time the world was created.
The cultural resources of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve are based on evidence of man’s presence derived from three sources: archaeological site surveys; oral histories (family stories and observations, passed from generation to generation by knowledgeable native elders); and written and pictorial documentation compiled since first European contact.
Within the park, approximately 290 native archaeological sites have been identified. These sites represent the physical evidence of man’s involvement in resource extraction (shellfish processing stations, bark-stripped trees, fish traps, felled trees for canoe-building) or indication of previous village sites and camps, often in the form of midden development (earth knolls built from a layering of soil and accumulated village refuse) and fallen structures.
Before European contact, these native groups were rich people compared to many contemporary native groups of North America. Their focus was the sea and the forest, which provided sustenance in the form of food, shelter and clothing, and spiritual associations. Initially, white settlers trickled into the west coast area with the trading posts associated with the fur trade and whaling industry. Eventually, coast forest and fishing resources were also exploited, creating more industry and employment and sparking the interest of potential homesteaders.
In the days of the sailing ship, the west coast of Vancouver Island developed a history of shipwrecks. Since 1803, over 240 ships have foundered along this coast, gaining it the reputation as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”. Following the tragic wreck of the passenger steamer Valencia in 1906 with 126 lives lost, the original telegraph line connecting the west coast with the outside world was further developed to become the ‘Lifesaving Trail’.
After the 1940s, with the development of more sophisticated navigation equipment, trail maintenance was discontinued. Today the trail is known as the West Coast Trail and, having undergone a major redevelopment by the Canadian Parks Service in the 1970s, is one of the best known and most challenging hikes in North America.
During World War II a large airfield was built on land now surrounded by the Long Beach component of the park. As a result of this installation, a road was built connecting the two communities of Tofino and Ucluelet. In 1959 the Long Beach area was linked to the outside world with the opening of Highway 4, though not with a hard-surface road until 1972.