A Gem in Clayoquot: Tofino Botanical Gardens
Tofino, located on the west coast in Clayoquot Sound on Vancouver Island, is an emerald in the crown of British Columbia; considered by many an apex of ‘wild’ beauty. It is a kaleidoscope of lush mountains, pacific ocean, far reaching beaches and luxurious temperate rainforest. It is the sultriest of spaces, and I believe because of this, passion is provoked within the diversity of souls who live and visit there. To compliment this, Indigenous Nations that include Ahousaht, Hesquiaht and Tla-o-qui-aht have been co creators of the Clayoquot Sound landscape and biodiversity since time immemorial. Through perseverance against great odds, which continues through systemic oppression of Indigenous people in Canada, many nations are working to educate and revive the languages and cultures seen in Tofino with dug-out canoe carving and tours. In addition to this, the people who have settled here from near and far have also helped to shape this space the last century – from funky buildings, to installation art and majestic gardens. After writing down those three examples, I realized the majestic gardens here encompass the funkiest buildings and some of the best installation art (as well as artist Joe Martin’s dugout canoes)! And this realization is exactly why Im here now, to discuss the transformative locale that is Clayoquot Sound through the Tofino Botanical Gardens – a place that invigorates visitors wonder and awe.
A view from TBG. Photo Credit: Tourism Tofino
Learning through experience is one of the neatest facets of being alive, and The Botanical Gardens is one of my favourite places to do that. TBG has twelve acres of the temperate rainforest, that exists between the Pacific Rim Highway and the ocean inlet which is famous for its mudflats and all the curious creatures the mudflats attracts. It is a nonprofit registered charity, whose mission is to “inspire conservation of the world’s Temperate Coastal Rainforests”, and it does this in an array of fantastical ways. TBG is the host space for the Nature Kids Program, which an educational program for children, which connects kids to their ecological surroundings – allowing them to foster deeper connections with their rich environment. From this connection the play, grow, learn to be their authentic self, and with all of this learn the ethic of respect and reciprocity with the earth. The Botanical Gardens is also the home of the Raincoast Education Society, which began in 2000 with the motivation to help co-create an environmentally sustainable future, and inspire people near and far to become stewards of a healthier environment. They do incredible research, and hold courses on the many features that make up the coast: from migratory birds, mushrooms, to seaweed. One of my favourite educational lectures held by RES was on the ongoing radiation monitoring on the coast. This talk revealed the truth about the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan which has led to an outpour of radiation into the Pacific Ocean, travelling with the currents to far off unsuspecting places. It turns out, ongoing scientific studies are proving this radiation is not a significant threat to the health to our coasts. What the science revealed was more of a wake-up call to the threats we do need to be concerned with, like tanker traffic from an increasingly fossil fuel dependent economy. This study also brought light to the unknown; so many people were, and continue to, fear the worst from this disaster based on their own assumptions. Learn more about the ongoing monitoring being done by RES here: http://raincoasteducation.org/radiation-monitoring. All of this education embodies the power of courage in speaking our truths at this time; spreading knowledge to each other – which includes the growing children who we are nurturing to become the stewards of the now as well as the future.
Many events that are social, political and environmental also take place at the gardens, this summer included hosting the Green Party town meeting where I was lucky to meet the amazing Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party. We discussed how to achieve a new government as well as the philosophies of the green party which connects environmental health, sustainable economic growth and social justice. An Aeriosa Dance Society performance happened a few weeks later, a group that does aerial dancing in non-traditional environments; pushing the boundaries of how we experience the art of dance. This year in Tofino, the performers danced between the tops of Sitka Spruce trees – probably one of the most aesthetically stunning performances I’ve witnessed. What ignites most excitement in people who live here and visit is the annual Lantern Festival, one of the most magical days of the entire year in Tofino. The gardens become a continuous installation piece as they are filled with thousands of paper lanterns. These lanterns are not your ordinary kind, they fit in more with the realm of Tim Burton films with their imagination and originality. Himalayan Lilies, pirate ships, robots, owls, villages, jellyfish are among the lantern creatures that populate the space of the gardens – making a surreal world for all of those that encounter it on a midsummer night. Add a laser show in the forest, a dance party, poi and fire dancers, live music, and little kids dressed up like its halloween and there you have the main components of the Lantern Fest. There is something in the air of that evening that you can never really explain, a certain absorbed by the subjective experience. You will have to see for yourself while even staying at the Botanical Garden’s EcoLodge, which strives to improve ” energy efficiency, protecting the natural environment, conservation of natural resources, and support of our local community.” Take a wander.
I believe all of this speaks to this quote, “a mind that is stretched by new experience cannot go back to its old dimensions” – Oliver Wendell Holmes. When we learn, play, and enjoy human creativity that compliments our outer environments – we come to realize how vital it is to our well being that we protect the source of all this pleasure, which is the earth itself. When we thrive, we are capable of an infinite amount of creation which breathes cultural life onto this planet. I used to think the earth would be better off if all humans vanished (or got kidnapped by an intergalactic intelligence). Im happy that I’ve realized that humans can be co-creators of a vastly complex earth, adding our own flare to the matrix. Many Indigenous Nations like the ones of Clayoquot Sound have been doing this for a long long while. With Indigenous cultural revitalization, many other people are listening to ways of knowledge that exemplify how humans can be participants in ecological systems – participants that give back instead of constantly taking more than we need, which we have found out is ironically leading to our own demise.
At this time, we have so much work to do. I feel its important to feel the pain for the world, and even grieve for our losses, but life is too wonderful a gift to spend all of it mourning. If we have zeal for the planet, love for all of the activities and things we can create and experience, then we are more likely to become part of the largest movement the earth has ever seen. The Botanical Gardens, a space that has been cultivated to inspire all of this, is one of many on the planet that works to restore our sense of passion and fun, and help us get back to the truth that we live on a planet worth loving and protecting.