Clayoquot Island Preserve
Ferns emerging on Clayoquot Island Preserve. (Photo by NCC)
Clayoquot Island sits like a pearl in the mouth of Vancouver Island’s most famous wilderness area: Clayoquot Sound. The island, which is labelled Stubbs Island on nautical charts, is a short boat ride from the popular tourist town of Tofino. Situated within the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Clayoquot Island is an ecologically rich mosaic of forest, beach and ocean habitats.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) added the Clayoquot Island Preserve to its conservation portfolio in 2015 when the island’s owner, Susan Bloom, donated the wild portion of the island to see it kept as a nature preserve for the long term.
The Clayoquot Island Preserve spans 93 acres (38 hectares) of mixed old-growth and mature second growth coastal western hemlock forest, along with a substantial stretch of ocean front. A boardwalk leads visitors from the centre of the island through the diverse forest to the western shore, where California wax-myrtle forms dense thickets reaching more than four metres. This provincially threatened species is found only in the coastal regions between Ucluelet and Tofino.
The island’s beaches and intertidal areas support two critical habitats for conservation: coastal sand dunes and eel-grass beds. Great blue heron, black oystercatcher and Pacific geoduck are some of the wildlife that can be found in the area. Clayoquot Island is an important migratory stopover for the hundreds of Brant geese that feed and rest on the sandspit in the early spring.
A landowner’s vision
Clayoquot Sound (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)
Susan Bloom purchased Clayoquot Island in 1990 when the previous owner failed to execute plans to subdivide and develop the island with hundreds of vacation homes. With the island in foreclosure and the potential for development high, Susan jumped at the chance to protect Clayoquot as a place of nature and prevent further development of the island’s hemlock forests and white sand beaches. She established the Clayoquot Island Preserve and allowed the forested parts of the island to flourish as natural habitat.
“From the very first time I visited and then became the owner of Clayoquot Island, my goal has been to protect the island from any more development, to preserve it in its natural wild state and to remove years and years of accumulated human garbage and refuse,” said Susan Bloom. “My recent lifetime goal is to see that this beautiful land, steeped in Canadian history, be placed into safe conservation hands and cared for in perpetuity. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has a sterling reputation in the field of land protection and I am delighted that they have accepted this responsibility and are now the owners of the largest wild portion of the island.”
Ms. Bloom also converted the settled part of the island into a beautiful heritage garden and maintains several small, low-impact maintenance buildings.
A rich and storied history
Clayoquot Island aerial (Photo by gototofino.com)
Clayoquot (Stubbs) Island has been used for millennia by the Nuu-chah-nulth people, and is within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.
In the mid-1800s, Clayoquot Island was the site of the earliest fur-trading post on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The town, known as Clayoquot, grew to include a hotel, beer parlour, post office, school and dozens of homes in the early 20th century, but was eventually de-populated as nearby Tofino surpassed Clayoquot as the main town centre in the area.
A community celebration
Clayoquot Island Preserve, BC (Photo by NCC)
Every year on the Victoria Day long weekend in May, the public is invited to explore Clayoquot Island. This community celebration, known as Clayoquot Days, dates back to the early 20th century. The tradition dwindled in the 1970s, until Ms. Bloom resurrected the public event some two decades later. Boat transportation is provided free of charge to shuttle guests to and from the island on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Aside from the open invitation to explore the island during Clayoquot Days, public use of Clayoquot Island is by invitation only. The island remains private property, with caretakers living in the residence and tending to the island’s gardens, general upkeep and security.