A timely sugar craving played an integral role in shaping Tofino’s future roughly 40 years ago.
Maureen Fraser is being heralded by the provincial government for her role as a community champion as she was recently named one of 25 BC Achievement Community Award recipients.
Fraser’s nomination touted her as a “dedicated community leader” and noted her local efforts as an entrepreneur, two-term municipal councillor, member of both the Tofino chamber of commerce and Tofino Arts Council boards as well as her work on the Clayoquot Sound Central Region board.
Fraser told the Westerly News she was “delighted, stunned, humbled, all of those at once and incredulous too,” when she heard she had earned the significant distinction.
“So many people went out of their way to put this nomination in for me. The past and present village got together and put this nomination in and I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “I just can’t believe how lucky I am to have landed in this small town and to have had the opportunities which being in this small town has given me to work in all sorts of different ways and have different challenges.”
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The work she’s put into her town and the challenges she helped her community creatively overcome might never have happened had she found the cinnamon bun she woke up craving during a visit to Tofino in 1974.
Fraser had left Toronto that year and was on her way to South America, but wanted to check out the newly opened Pacific Rim National Park Reserve before leaving Canada, so she drove the van that was her home from Toronto to the West Coast where she fell in love with the landscape and found a succulent void that she would spend the next year abroad dreaming of filling before returning to Tofino in 1975 and opening her own bakery.
“I’ve been in the community that many years and have been watching it grow and change and yet remain the same in its basic elements. It’s still a wild place filled with amazing people who come to the end of the road and find that this is where they want to stay,” she said.
“That’s what happened to me. I came and took one look at the area and thought, ‘How can I stay here?’ As it turned out, I’d come into town looking for a cinnamon bun. I looked around and there was no bakery, no place to buy a cinnamon bun, so I thought, ‘OK, I can build a bakery and that’ll let me stay here.”
Fraser opened her now venerable Common Loaf Bakeshop and a moment of solace looking out to Meares Island from the back porch of the building her then-tiny shop was in, lured her into becoming a storied and legendary player in the town’s future as, she recalled, she had heard Meares Island was set to be logged.
“At that point, we were all so familiar with what logging meant. It meant that we were going to look at an enormous clearcut taking the entire front of Meares Island away from us,” she said adding she immediately made the decision to focus her efforts on preserving the view she so much enjoyed.
“I knew nothing about trees, I knew nothing about the environment. That was all totally out there, not part of my reality at all. But, once I started down that path of being concerned, then the knowledge starts to grow. You start to learn and you meet other committed people. Tofino, at that point, was full of, and continues to be full of, people who value the place that they live in and Tofino has always been a place of clean air, clean water, fabulous views and big trees. The more I learned about how important all of that was to our human health and to the planet’s health, the more committed I got.”
That commitment led to Fraser becoming a leading voice during Clayoquot Sound’s ‘War in the Woods’, which began around 1980 and was wrapped up by the famed 1993 ‘Clayoquot Summer’—considered to be the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history—and resulted in Meares Island being declared a Tribal Park.
After the 1993 protest, Fraser was appointed to the Clayoquot Sound Central Region Board.
“That was a whole enhancing experience in that my knowledge of, and involvement with, the First Nations cultures who were here and are here then deepened completely and that took me in that whole new direction,” she said. “We’re not just keeping this landscape because it looks nice and we want people to come and visit it, but it’s been a home to peoples for millennia and has supported them for millennia and will continue to support us if we take care of it.”
Going hand-in-hand with her environmental efforts, Fraser worked alongside other entrepreneurs to revitalize the local chamber of commerce and push for year-round business opportunities while preserving the tourist-beckoning environment.
“We started to push Tofino as a tourism destination and that fed completely into the preservation issue because that’s what we were selling; we were selling this landscape and these waters,” she said.
Fraser also served two terms on Tofino’s town council eager to preserve the town’s natural landscape and foster a sustainable tourism sector.
She is still working for her town as part of the Tofino Arts Council and said she’s impressed by Tofino’s current generation of young community champions.
“They are fabulous,” she said. “They are as dynamic and committed a group of young people as I was ever involved with. The issues are different, but they are working on these issues now with that same commitment and it’s a joy. I feel perfectly content that things are going to continue on a good path here.”