Tofino joined the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation at Anchor Park in September to celebrate the raising of a totem pole carved by master carver Joe David. David carved the totem pole to honour the Tla-o-qui-aht’s hereditary chiefs, Ha’wiih, and gifted it to Tofino to be erected in the community as a celebration of the West Coast’s First Nations presence. (Westerly News Photo)

Tofino and Ucluelet’s top news stories of 2018

The past year brought celebration, triumphs and tragedies to the West Coast.


With the New year officially underway, we look back at the stories that made the biggest impacts in 2018.

Tsunami scare shakes Coast

During the wee hours of morning on Tuesday, Jan. 23, West Coast locals were evacuated from their homes following a 7.9 earthquake in Alaska that prompted a Tsunami Warning in Tofino and Ucluelet.

Thankfully, residents breathed a collective sigh of relief around 4:30 a.m. as the Tsunami Warning was cancelled.

In the days leading up to the Tsunami scare, locals witnessed what some refer to as a “black swell” that closed public access to beaches and had surf forecast sites projecting over 30-feet waves.

Two fatal accidents at Long Beach

Nijin John, a 24-year-old research student at the University of Victoria, was killed in a surfing accident on Feb.10 off Lovekin Rock on Long Beach. A GoFundMe page created for John raised over $23,000. “He was a beloved son, brother, and a friend,” the page states. “Hope God gives his family the strength and fortitude to bear this tragic loss.”

During the May Long weekend, an ocean accident off Long Beach claimed the life of 52-year old Ann Wittenberg, who was in town for her daughter’s wedding. Okanagan resident Victoria Emon told the Westerly News that Wittenberg was her mother. “She came to Ottawa to be here… She was so excited. Her and my sister were just floating, talking about how much fun they were having, and then they got sucked in,” Emon said.

The fatal ocean accidents prompted MP Gord Johns to call for the return of the surf guard program at Long Beach, and better signage within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Since the deaths, Parks Canada has installed roughly $1 million in signage and launched an educational campaign in collaboration with Tofino and Ucluelet dubbed ‘CoastSmart’.

The disappearance and deaths of Dan Archbald and Ryan Daley

Archbald, 37, and Daley, 43, were last seen leaving Ucluelet’s inner boat basin on-foot on May 16.

They arrived in Ucluelet on May 13 after a roughly eight-week sailing trip from Panama.

Ucluelet’s harbour manager Kevin Cortes was the last known person to see them. Cortes told the Westerly that Daley had paid for a month’s worth of moorage before they departed.

Local RCMP and Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue put in about “850 volunteer hours” scouring the corridor from Port Alberni to Ucluelet before their disappearance was deemed suspicious and the investigation was turned over to the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit.

Sometime between June 11-15, a Ucluelet local and Westcoast Inland Search and Rescue member found two bodies near Ucluelet while on a walk with her trained search dog.

Police confirmed that the human remains were that of Archbald and Daley. B.C. RCMP launched a homicide investigation and a month later the American Drug Enforcement Administration announced their involvement.

Highway 4 construction begins

Multi-million dollar upgrades to the only road in and out of Tofino and Ucluelet got underway in mid-May. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure project focuses on widening and straightening a roughly 1.5 kilometre stretch that was known to locals currently a terrifying 30/km zone rife with sharp turns and blind corners.

Regular traffic delays and nightly closures have become the norm until the work is completed.

The work got off to a rocky start as a rogue boulder was sent crashing into a hydro pole, causing an eight-hour power outage in June and a tree was sent crashing onto highway traffic that same month.

Coast mourns missing Tla-o-qui-aht fisherman

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations fishermen Marcel Martin, Carl Michael and Terrance Brown Jr. went missing on June 15 after their boat capsized off Tofino. Five people were in the vessel when it sank near Duffin Point around 3 a.m. Two made it safely to shore. RCMP located the vessel on June 19. Initial search efforts included local First Nations, Tofino RCMP, Canadian Coast Guard, and the Canadian Armed Forces.

A GoFundMe page was launched by Carla Moss to support the families of the missing men.

“Their children are not only missing the love and guidance of their Dads, but their main providers as well. Marcel Martin is a father to three children with his wife Ivy Martin, Carl Michael has one child being cared for by his mother, and Terrence Brown Jr. has one child with spouse Selina Howard,” the page states.

A candle-lit vigil was held at Tofino’s First Street dock on June 21 to honour the three missing Tla-o-qui-aht.

Martin’s remains were discovered by a kayaker near Echachist Island on July 18. A celebration of Martin’s life was held at the Tin Wis Best Western Resort. “The impacts of losing somebody like Martin is heartbreaking for the immediate family and for the community as a whole. He shared a lot of his resources with community members. Whenever anyone had a party, he would always be the first one to step up with halibut, salmon, clams, crabs, and to provide for potlatches,” said Tla-o-qui-aht member Elmer Frank.

Trudeau family vacation met with protests

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Tofino for his third consecutive summer holiday, West Coast residents rallied outside his Cox Bay Beach vacation rental on July 31 to voice their opposition to the federal government’s Kinder Morgan pipeline purchase. Upon the PM’s arrival on July 19, Parks Canada employees joined a Phoenix pay system protest at the Tofino-Ucluelet Junction holding signs that read: ‘TRUDEAU: While you are surfing, we are suffering.’

Search for missing Ahousaht men

On July 22, Ahousaht fisherman Richard Amos, 24, went out fishing in his canoe and had not been seen since. More than 150 volunteers participated in search efforts. Amos’ uncle, Curtis Dick, said volunteers searched throughout Clayoquot Sound, covering areas around Vargas Island, Cypress Bay, Bedwell Sound, Millar Channel, Siwash Cove, Blunden Island and Bartlett Island.

In August, Ahousaht member Travis Thomas went missing while participating in a spiritual journey on Bartlett Island.

“There’s a saying here in Ahousaht, ‘Never give up, there’s always hope.’ And, we live by that, especially in our traditional cultural beliefs. We all believe in our Creator and we know that we have to hope that he may be out there, said Alec Dick, who initially led the search from Ahousaht’s Emergency Operations Centre.

West Coast votes

On Oct. 20, Tofitians voted mayor Josie Osborne in for another four years at the helm of their community. Osborne received 792 votes, earning a decisive 85 per cent of the total votes cast and besting challengers Jarmo Venalainen, 69 votes, and Omar Soliman, 52 votes.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to serve my community for another four years,” Osborne told the Westerly News after the results came in.

Mayco Noël won Ucluelet’s mayoral election, securing about 45 per cent of the vote with 356 votes, defeating Randy Oliwa, 210 votes, Bill Irving, 142 votes, and Kevin Cortes, 84 votes.

“I’m delighted. I’m overwhelmed, emotional and I’m just ecstatic that the community has spoken to give me the confidence to be the mayor of the community,” Noël said.

Possible fishing closures loom for 2019

An announcement made by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the end of Oct. suggested the government is moving towards declaring Swiftsure and La Perouse Banks critical habitats for resident killer whales, which will likely lead to fishery closures around Tofino and Ucluelet to protect prey species.

The closures would likely impact many people that operate fishing charters and whale watching tours.

“It will affect many of our businesses, not just our sportsfishing business but all the way down. It’s a domino effect. It’s over $7 million a year that it brings to our community alone,” said Lara Kemps of the Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce.

DFO made the decision official on Dec. 19 announcing both Swiftsure and La Perouse Banks had been designated as critical habitats, though the specific measures that will be taken in the area were not immediately announced.

MP Gord Johns’ Bill M-151 passes unanimously

A motion to combat marine plastics pollution was passed unanimously by a vote in the House of Commons on Dec. 5.

The private members motion, moved by Coutenay-Alberni MP, calls for a national framework for the reduction and eventual elimination of plastic pollution in aquatic environments.

“The passage of this motion with a unanimous vote is a tremendous victory for our oceans and coastal communities,” Johns said in a press release.

“It is firm acknowledgment that direct and immediate action is required to fill the legislative and regulatory void related to marine plastic pollution in Canada.”

Ucluelet RCMP announce drug bust

Ucluelet police announced they had seized firearms, approximately 1.5 ounces of cocaine and $40,000 cash from an Orca Crescent residence as part of a recent drug trafficking investigation in November.

Ucluelet RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Steve Mancini told the Westerly News that Ucluelet worked with Island District RCMP to execute a search warrant at the residence on Nov. 2 under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act after several months of investigation. Two Ucluelet residents were arrested prior to the search warrant being executed.

“People who are profiting from people’s addictions have no place here as far as we’re concerned,” Mancini said.

Organizers cancel 2019 Whale Festival

Citing a lack of volunteers and support, Pacific Rim Whale Festival organizers cancelled the event for 2019.

“There is not enough local support and fewer volunteers and fewer board members,” said Lara Kemps, the Ucluelet council liaison for the PRWF.

A survey was circulated to determine whether the event could return in 2020.

The festival celebrated its 32nd annual showing in 2018.

“It’s such a great community event. Not only fun, but also educational,” Kemps said.

“It’s a great start to our season and it also brings both our communities together, which is so important. I just hope people realize the importance of this festival and I hope we can get it going back in 2020.”

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