During my Tofino summer, I became quite fond of the Wickaninnish Inn. I spent much time at the north end of Chesterman Beach chatting with “Feather” George at the Carving Shed or enjoying breakfast, hot bevvies, baked treats, and even dinner and live music at the Driftwood Café.
The Pointe Restaurant and the crab cookout were delightful. Imagine indulging in sweet and salty crab dipped in melted butter while in the presence of crashing waves. Let me tell you, it inspires a deep and satisfying breath! The food in the restaurant is essentially delectable artwork and the 240-degree ocean view incredible whether veiled by mist or bathed in an ochre sunset.
The hot stone massage with Jo at the Ancient Cedars Spa was warm and wonderful as was the steam cave. And, the bedroom suite I stayed in was exceptionally comfortable and elegantly “west coast”.
In my experience, the Wickaninnish Inn has not only been an incredible place to stay, dine and relax, but it’s become a familiar and comfy place that I look forward to visiting during walks along Chesterman Beach. I’ve even become accustomed to calling this world-renown inn by its endearing nickname, the Wick.
As you can imagine, when I had an opportunity to stay during storm season, I was thrilled! I yearned to see Poseidon hurl large waves at rocks and to be drenched in a torrential downpour. Then my plan was to return to the inn for a hot bubble bath and a delicious meal.
The weather man wasn’t on my side this time round, but I really can’t complain. Experiencing mild sunny days in late October is absolutely blissful!
You really can’t lose here in Tofino no matter what the weather. It can be beautiful and sunny and it can rain a lot! Either way, the comforts and experiences to be had here are plenty. When the storms come, and they will, the Wickaninnish Inn prepares its staying guests with heavy-duty rain gear! Plus, it’s always nice to know that there is a hot bath, fresh white robe, and a fireplace with view to come back to.
My Arrival and Welcome
Right from the moment the porter welcomed me inside as I rolled my suitcase up the front walk to my guest services experience, I felt pretty special. Rapson, a pleasant guest services attendant originally from Hong Kong, checked me in, escorted me to my room, and spent time familiarizing me with all of the special details.
A West Coast Elegant Suite
The suite was breathtakingly peaceful. The sliding doors to the balcony framed the sun as it set into the ocean. Waves lapped on the rocks below the balcony. Fresh ocean air wafted in through the screen door.
The suite had a west coast elegance. It was adorned with warm earth tones, solid wood furniture, ambient lighting, and a gas fireplace. It all fit the west coast setting so perfectly.
Rapson pointed out all of the suite’s details and made sure I knew about conveniences like room, turn-down, and laundry services. He showed me the blankets, rain gear, and a safe inside the closet as well as a mini bar hidden inside a cabinet, a basket of snacks, and food and drink menus.
He picked up a remote control and summoned a flat screen TV out of the dresser. I love that the Wick has hidden electronics and appliances in this way! Out of sight out of mind which is perfect for an inn that aspires to immerse its guests in our beautiful west coast environment.
Rapson didn’t miss a thing and made sure I knew how to get in touch with guest services should I need anything else.
A Comfy Bed
I had lovely sleeps both nights of my stay. I’m a fan of pillow tops however if you’re not and prefer a firm mattress, you can request to have the pillow top removed. The down duvet was light and warm and the down pillows were plump and cradled my head perfectly.
I kept the sliding doors open for a while at night so I could hear the waves lapping on the rocks below the balcony. The sound initially lulled me into a peaceful sleep, but later on I shut the sliding doors to enjoy complete silence. The windows are sound proof!
I appreciate that the Wick is big on sustainable tourism. It’s nice to know that they do their part to reduce water and detergent usage while at the same time cater to their guests individual needs.
House Keeping normally replaces bed sheets every three days, however they will on a daily basis upon request. Guests can simply place the card (shown below) on the bedside table to request fresh linens and can toss used towels into the basket under the bathroom counter.
The floor in the bathroom is pleasantly heated. Other luxuries include complimentary bath salts and creams from the Ancient Cedars Spa, as well as fresh white bath robes and slippers.
A remote control brings down a curtain to cover the window should you want privacy, however if you’d like to enjoy the view leave it up! There is also a candle with matches beside the window for candlelight bathing!
The mirror on the counter is motion-activated and lights up when you lean towards it. I loved this. No need to remember to turn it off!
The shower had a good strong shower head with steady stream and there is a ledge to place your toiletries on.
After I got acquainted with the room, it was time to settle into my experience. A gas fireplace, a glass of complimentary port, and room service was a wonderful way to start off a great couple of nights!
After my five-hour journey from Victoria, I was looking forward to enjoying the room and my amazing view from the balcony. I ordered a delicious chicken burger with Swiss cheese and fries. A pleasant dapper-looking waiter brought it into my room and set it up for me.
The Pointe Restaurant
My second night, I ventured to the Pointe Restaurant. The setting sun lit up the dining room and beach in warm tones. I can imagine that this would also be a stunning vantage point from which to watch storms. These windows are hurricane and sound proof, however during storms the crashing surf is delivered to guests through speakers!
You can dine in the Pointe Restaurant and enjoy the view between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm. The dress code is smart casual. See my feature on the amazing brunch I had at The Pointe Restaurant!
On The Rocks Bar
You can enjoy drinks and even meals here at the On The Rocks Bar until 10:00 pm. Maude (below) makes a lovely Pisco Sour, Blackberry Gimlet, and Expresso Yourself drink which contains coffee-infused bourbon, dark chocolate vodka, and Baileys! Yum!
I spent some time watching Maude busily prepare drinks. I spoke with her and Sorin, the Maitre d’, when time allowed.
Maude is from a little town in France called La Roche sur Yon and studied at BTS Hoteliere Restauration Option Gestion Hoteliere & Mercatique. Upon graduation she was eager to travel and get as far away from Europe as possible. She accepted a position at the Wickaninnish Inn and has been working here for six months now.
I smiled to learn that Maude also knows Mickeen and Michelle who I’d met previously at the Driftwood Café and the crab cookout. She commented, “Everyone has fun here.” I had also learned of a recent staff pumpkin carving contest. There seems to be a lot of staff camaraderie here at the Wick!
Sorin, the Maitre d’, is from Romania. He and his fiance spent time traveling the world until they decided it was time to settle down somewhere. He’s happy to be here in Tofino and says there is lots to do. Sorin was introduced to the hospitality industry early as his parents owned a grocery store. He got his initial start at McDonalds and landed his first position in the hotel industry, at Ramada by Windham in Oradea, Romania, when he was nineteen. He has worked at the Wickaninnish Inn since June.
My jaw literally dropped upon entering my room. I had a lovely evening at the bar with Maude and Sorin already, but coming back to this was the cherry on the cake!
Sarah McLachlan played softly from the bedside CD player, the fireplace flickered, a plate of truffles beckoned “eat me” and my bed welcomed me to climb in and fall into a relaxing slumber. This was truly an amazing turn-down service (truffles not included). It was a fantastic way to settle down for the night, but not before a candle-lit bath and a venture out onto the balcony!
One of the things I love about the Wickaninnish Inn is the way it blends in with the environment. It doesn’t have a perfect manicured lawn or gardens. Instead you will be immersed in the natural beauty of the West Coast. And, really, isn’t that why people come to Tofino?
Sharing the wild wonder of the West Coast is exactly what Howard (aka Howie) McDiarmid had in mind when he first envisioned building the Wickaninnish Inn. Even the cedar siding of both the main and beach buildings were painted grey in order to blend into the natural surroundings rather than stand out.
Salal and sitka spruce trees are occasionally trimmed and limbed to open up the view, but that’s it. Mother Nature takes care of her wild garden better than anyone.
A Seamless Transition
The beauty of the Wickaninnish Inn is in the seamless transition from sky, ocean, beach and wooded areas, through large windows, to the natural elements of the interior design like this rugged driftwood bar and the bedrock below The Pointe Restaurant.
In keeping with Howie’s vision, it was also important to him to keep as much of the natural environment as possible during construction. For example, all but two trees over six inches in diameter were kept. The two taken down were incorporated into the walls in the Lookout Lobby (below) and in the Driftwood Café.
The entire Wickaninnish Inn is also adorned with exquisite west-coast-themed artwork which is for sale if you have a lot of extra cash to spare!
It’s wonderful to see the efforts that the Wickaninnish Inn has taken towards sustainable tourism. They really walk the walk. They have a “Green Team” and monthly meetings to share ideas and brainstorm ways that The Wickaninnish Inn can tread lighter. One of the initiatives was to install water stations in the lobbies with reusable water flasks.
Not only does the Wickaninnish Inn compost and recycle, but they even pay their employees up to eight hours of their regular salary per year to take part in beach clean-up efforts. With 190 employees, that’s a good-sized investment towards our environment!
The Men Behind the Vision
Howie began working in the hotel industry as a bellhop at the Banff Springs Hotel during medical school breaks. He moved to Tofino as a doctor and oversaw the Tofino General Hospital. Soon afterwards, Lynn, a n
urse who would soon become his wife, flew to Tofino and joined him.
Howie first invested in properties between South Chesterman Beach and Crystal Cove in the 1950’s. At the time, Tofino residents thought he was crazy as there was no road connecting Chesterman Beach with Tofino. He sold most of the property in the 1970’s.
In 1977, Howie acquired the property on the north side of Shell Beach (north of Chesterman Beach) to build the family cabin. He built it on a rocky promontory after ensuring that it was safe from winter storm surges. At the same time, he also bought the property where the Wickaninnish Inn is currently situated.
The spot where The Pointe Restaurant is located is where Howie’s kids used to run to watch storms roll in!
Charles McDiarmid, Howie’s son, is the Managing Director of the Wickaninnish Inn. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel Management and worked with the Four Seasons luxury hotel chain for thirteen years before returning to Tofino.
He drew up a business plan for the Wickaninnish Inn and began construction in 1995. The Wickaninnish Inn (named after the original Wickaninnish Inn) opened on August 9, 1996.
Charles McDiarmid was the first to market storm season here in Tofino!
The Pacific Rim National Park Connection
Howie McDiarmid was instrumental in preserving the natural areas around here by lobbying for the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
His interest in politics began in the 1940’s when he became an active member of the Chamber of Commerce and the town council. In 1966, he became an MLA and formed a local branch of the Socred Party eventually winning the nomination in Port Alberni.
One of his goals was to establish the Pacific Rim National Park centred on Long Beach. He campaigned for the park beginning in 1966. Finally, in April 1970, the West Coast National Park Act was created. Long Beach was dedicated in 1971 and the West Coast Trail in 1973.
Howie was also instrumental in improving the road between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni and also Highway 4 between Ucluelet and Tofino.
The "Old" Wickaninnish Inn
Perhaps you may remember the old Wickaninnish Inn located at the south end of Wickaninnish Beach. It is now home to the Kwisitis Visitor’s Center. I remember it from eons ago when I came to this beach as a child.
Howie felt a connection to the old Wickaninnish Inn. When he had lobbied for the national park, he made a strong case for Parks Canada to keep the inn. It was granted a five-year lease but Parks Canada did not renew it. Subsequently, the inn went out of business. Howie felt some guilt about that and decided that when the business name came up for renewal he would secure it.
Henry Nolla — An Important Friendship
Henry Nolla was a hippie who lived on Chesterman Beach when Howie purchased the property for his family cabin and the future Wickaninnish Inn. He hired Henry to help build the cabin. They formed a strong friendship which would last twenty-five years.
Howie invited Henry to be the custodian and protector of the cabin. He agreed and subsequently built his own A-frame cabin on Chesterman Beach.
Henry became a mentor in the community and taught others to carve. Much of his work can be seen throughout Tofino, including the face of the Roy Vickers Art Gallery. His work also exists in many places within the Wickaninnish Inn, including interior and exterior pillars and beams, two sets of welcome doors, and the totem in the stairwell leading to the wine cellar.
"Feather" George — The Carving Shed
Henry Nolla’s original A-framed cabin no longer exists, however a new one does. Henry lived in it for the last two years of his life.
“Feather” George Yearsley, who carved alongside Henry, currently mans the carving shed along with Christen Dokk Smith from Norway. The shed is open seven days per week to curious visitors. Drop by to check out their collection of carvings or even just to say hello and chat about life.
Feather George is known for his beautifully hand-carved eagle feathers and boxes. They are light weight. If you hold a feather up to the sky you can see just how delicate it is.