How the Ucluelet Nation is reinventing Tofino tourism on its own terms

Wya Point Resort | BCBusiness
View from the flourishing Wya Point Resort.

The Wya Point Resort Luxury lodge offers a closer connection to the great outdoors than most

It may be the Friday of the August long weekend—Vancouver Island’s busiest travel season—but you’d never know it standing out on the cedar deck of a months-old Wya Point Resort luxury lodge, trying to make out Ucluth Beach through the surreal blue-sky fog 200 metres below. Incredibly, even as traffic on the Port Alberni-Tofino highway is reaching its usual congestion, there’s still no one on this particular band of sand located between the Highway 4 junction and the town of Ucluelet. And to accentuate the point, a bear cub suddenly scampers by, and then another in hot pursuit. This in addition to the wheeling bald eagles who’ve been here since check-in.

“There are bear dens all over this area,” notes Tyson Touchie, the newly minted CEO of Ucluth Development Corp., the organization responsible for creating economic development opportunities and sustainable development for the Ucluelet Nation, a few hours later during a tour of the 600-hectare property. “Wolf dens, too. The moment people disappear from the beach, the wildlife really takes it back.”

This exclusivity shared with a fortunate few outsiders is the long-culminating light at the end of the tunnel that the Ucluelet first envisioned 50 years ago, master-planned in 2008 and finally instigated in 2010, with self-governance that came with signing the Maa-nulth Treaty that ended their jurisdiction under the Indian Act.

The land—the traditional summer settlements of the whaling Yuu-tluth-aht people of which Touchie is a descendant—stretches from Ucluelet in the south up 15 kilometres of the coastline to Wya Beach, on the southern border of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

It was here, at Wya Beach, that the build-out started, says Touchie, with a $2.5-million, 32-spot campsite with rates starting at under $30. “We didn’t want the resort to only be for rich people.” Fifteen yurts were built a year later, serving up forever views of the Pacific from an area surrounded by 1,200-year-old forests.

Around the same time as the campsite and yurts opened, Touchie added some of his own secret sauce to the build-out, by way of the Wya Point Surf Shop, currently run by his eldest daughter. “I’m a late-blooming surfer. I didn’t start until my 30s,” says the 44-year-old father of four, looking like he’s still in his 20s. “But we thought that to matter in Tofino, we needed a presence in the scene.”

His most ambitious plan to date, though, may be the opening of nine luxury lodges, over the past year, that are as impressive as any accommodation in Tofino.

The lodges are built on a 10,000-year-old whaling village, as evidenced by millennia of discarded shells called middens. “It was vital for the luxury lodges to be gently placed within a sacred, ancient coastline,” says Touchie. “The elders didn’t want any excavation of any kind. Not even trees removed. So we drilled in columns that were not invasive. We probed down and placed columns where we didn’t find anything.”

But what really makes Tyson proud is the ownership by his people. “Our maintenance and housekeeping people, they broke their backs working in the local fish plants for years,” he says. “Now, with no formal customer service training, they are raved about on TripAdvisor reviews.”

And soon, says Touchie, the lodges will be joined by a spa, 650-seat convention centre and luxury resort that will rival the iconic Wickaninnish Inn. “We’re seeking investment partners for the final push,” says Touchie, “but there’s plenty to keep us busy until the right opportunity to partner comes along.”

Luxury meets tradition

The organization turned inward for ideas when designing the luxury lodges. “The elders wanted to ensure classic longhouse integrity—the long, interlocking cedar beams and high ceilings. But our youth wanted something more modern, more clean and sophisticated,” says Touchie. The brief was presented to Vancouver architect Scott Kemp, who designed all the buildings to LEED Platinum standards, incorporating local materials and resources, including locally harvested wood. Each lodge has its own house post (think interior totem pole) designed by local carver Clifford George.