The heritage of Tofino is as eclectic and interesting as the residents who have come to the end of the road and called this place home. It is a place that, at once, is very young – especially when compared to the settlement history of eastern Canada —and very old. The explorers and traders who began visiting the west coast just over two centuries ago, met First Nations people whose families had thrived on the west coast for millennia.
Tofino: A Town in Clayoquot Sound
Tofino is located in Clayoquot Sound, a region that takes its name from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations people who have resided here for thousands of years. Tofino is part of their traditional territory. For at least 5,000 years, the Tla-o-qui-aht have lived here, in several villages in the Sound. Historically, the Tla-o-qui-aht people moved throughout their territory, harvesting resources of the land and sea – fish, berries, shellfish, birds, whales, and myriad plant species. The incredible natural bounty of this region sustained the people, providing for their health and material, spiritual, and cultural wellbeing.
The natural wealth of the region sustained large populations. In the late 1700s, a Spanish expedition recorded five large settlements in southern Clayoquot Sound, each with about 1,500 residents. British trader, John Meares, wrote of visiting the longhouse of Chief Wickaninnish at Echachist in Clayoquot Sound in 1788, and seeing 800 people gathered in one building.
Who was Tofino?
Many of the names on the maps and charts of our region honour people who travelled through the region, often on exploration, surveying, or trading expeditions. Some locations were named for colleagues or family members who had never set foot here. The name of our town is a case in point. Tofino was named after Captain Vincente Tofino de San Miguel, a Spanish hydrographer and rear admiral of the Spanish Navy. In 1792, commanders Dionisio Alcalá-Galiano and Cayetano Valdés of the Spanish Navy were surveying the area and named a nearby inlet in honour of Tofino.
In the late 1890s, people began to settle along the Esowista Peninsula and on islands and inlets nearby. The cluster of homes, and eventually a store, post office, and dock, made the kernel of the townsite that was eventually called Tofino. The town’s first post office opened February 1, 1909 and the government recognition sealed the town’s name to this location.
Tofino was incorporated as a district municipality in 1932.
Looking for more of Tofino's History?
A self-guided heritage tour brochure can be found at:
Visit the Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum 331 Main Street - below the Tofino Legion.
September - April Hours
Saturday and Sunday 12:30 - 4pm
May - August Hours