HOTEL REVIEW – The Epitome of Canadian Luxury
From Pacific storm watching to sampling freshly-caught salmon, there’s plenty to tempt you over the threshold at Vancouver’s Wickaninnish Inn, says Robyn Tucker-Peck.
I’ve been living in Vancouver for 10 years now and during this time all my friends would consistently talk about the Wickaninnish Inn and how beautiful the Tofino area was. They would go there in Summer and Winter, so it was intriguing for me to eventually discover this mysterious place that’s attracted so many.
When the pandemic hit, we were all forced to stay closer to home and it was then that I started to explore my own backyard in earnest. And what a beautiful backyard it is. Situated near Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and nestled in between the end of 2.7 km Chesterman Beach and Tofino is secluded waterfront property the Wickaninnish Inn. The topography and geography of the site is unique, with the original hotel building having been built on rocks surrounded on three sides by the ocean. The large entrance doors to the hotel are constructed of yellow cedar inlaid with abalone shell. When I arrived at the Beach Building, the sun was beaming down and the doorman took my luggage while pointing out a bald eagle surveying his domain from a tall tree at the hotel entrance.
Once the big entrance doors open, you are met with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Chesterman Beach. I took a huge breath as the view was stunning – like a live postcard. I walked over to have closer look and stared at the ocean and the beautiful fir trees framing it in the foreground.
I checked into my room in the Beach Building, which opened in 2003, an addition to the original Pointe Building, adding 35 larger rooms and suites. There’s a fireplace in the corner with large windows looking onto Chesterman Beach and the ocean. A comfortable king bed and ample pillows made for a cosy and warm feeling. I walked out to the balcony and sat down to take in the crisp sea air. Binoculars in the room enabled me to look for wildlife and out to the Pacific Ocean – southerly would take you to New Zealand, while west leads to Japan.
Brunch was still being served in the main dining room at the Pointe restaurant, so I headed over. The Pointe is built in an octagonal shape that reminded me of Balinese architecture, with roof beams designed to radiate beauty in harmony with the environment. The Wickaninnish is a Canadian version of traditional local artistry. The restaurant’s windows maximise the view but are strong enough to withstand the winter winds that can gust at up to 120km per hour, bringing salt spray along with rain.
I finished a delicious brunch and headed into Tofino, a 10-minute drive away, to wander around the shops and bakeries while getting a sense of the area. With a year-round population of just 2,500, Tofino sits on the northwestern shore of Vancouver Island, itself 50km off the mainland. It originally developed alongside the fishing and lumbering industries, though there is also now limited air service at the Tofino airport and via seaplane. Logging trucks are still seen in the area, while fishing and seafood, especially Dungeness crab and ling cod, remain local specialities.
After exploring Tofino, I took a bike ride through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: the hotel provides special bikes which can be ridden on roads, trails and even the beach. The trail was the most beautiful I’ve ever ridden on, following the contours of the land, winding in and through the fir, hemlock and pine trees and reminding me of a movie. The freshly paved trail crosses over small bridges and winds alongside the beaches.
The On the Rocks Bar is cosy and inviting as you walk into the Pointe Restaurant and a wonderful place for a pre-dinner drink. Black marble from the local Carmanah valley is used on the surface and has built-in heating to keep you toasty in the winter months, whether sipping cocktails or enjoying a glass of wine.
I sat down for dinner and ordered a glass of BC rose, one of the world’s faster growing wine categories. The main menu includes wild boar and bison, along with smoked mussels and grilled sablefish. The separate, extensive vegetarian menu was full of local produce. I enjoyed seeing both menus and ended up choosing a dish off each. Chef Ingham and his team enthusiastically show off the ingredients that represent coastal BC. “I’m very passionate about this beautiful corner of the world and have always thought of the Inn as the property that best represents it. I couldn’t ask for a more inspiring place to cook,” he says.
The story of the Wickaninnish is a family story: to this day, the Inn is run by Charles McDiarmid, son of founder, Dr. Howard McDiarmid. In January 1955, Dr. McDiarmid moved to Tofino to assume care of the region’s residents and stewardship of the recently opened Tofino General Hospital. Arriving on the remote and rugged west coast as a newly minted med school graduate, he was four years ahead of the first road to the outside. Charles McDiarmid, Howard’s son, was instrumental in creating the hotel and has been managing director since its opening.
In 1995, Charles began building what was to be Tofino’s first luxury resort and still the only hotel on Chesterman Beach. With laser-like focus, he created the original 45-room Pointe Building and coined the phrase, “rustic elegance on nature’s edge,” which became the focus of the design. His plan was also based on sustainability, and he worked that eco-friendly philosophy into every aspect of the Inn.
The now-popular phenomenon of Winter storm watching was founded on a McDiarmid family tradition of gathering window-side to watch up to 30-foot waves roll by the McDiarmid cabin west of the Inn. Situated on a rocky promontory, surrounded by panoramic Pacific Ocean views on three sides and with an old growth forest as a backdrop, the Inn, its acclaimed Pointe Restaurant and Ancient Cedars Spa are a magical combination.
As the Inn celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2021, I sat down with Charles and asked him about some of his most memorable events over the years. “One was sharing a glass of Blue Mountain sparkling wine with my father at On the Rocks on opening day in 1996, as we realised our families’ hopes and dreams had finally turned into reality,” he recalls. “Another was buying out our investment partners in 2001 to make the Inn 100% family-owned.” That the Wickannish has survived and even thrived during and during the pandemic is another considerable achievement, he notes.
The Wickaninnish Inn is a Canadian experience to be treasured, fully embodying its vision of rustic elegance on nature’s edge. Small wonder that it’s flourishing during these strange times.