recorded history began with European explorers searching for the legendary
Northwest Passage to the Orient. It was on the west coast of Vancouver
Island, just 96 kilometres north of the Long Beach unit of Pacific
Rim National Park, that Captain James Cook of the British Navy first
set foot, in 1778, on the land now called British Columbia. Captain
James Barkley followed in 1787, arriving in Barkley Sound in search
of sea otter pelts. But Cook and Barkley were not the first men to
perceive this land's wealth. Archaeological evidence indicates the
presence of man along this outer coast of Vancouver Island for at
least 4,300 years. The oral histories and knowledge of the legends
of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation claim they have been here since
the time the world was created.
The cultural resources of this park are based on evidence of man's
presence derived from 3 sources: archaeological site surveys, oral
histories (family stories and observations, passed from generation
to generation by knowledgeable native elders) and written and pictorial
documentation compiled since first European contact.
Within Pacific Rim, approximately 290 native archaeological sites
have been identified so far. These sites represent the physical
evidence of man's involvement in resource extraction (shellfish
processing stations, bark-stripped trees, fish traps, felled trees
for building canoes) or an indication of previous village sites
and camps. These sites are often in the form of midden development
(earth knolls built from a layering of soil and accumulated village
refuse) and fallen structures. Investigations of these sites provide
a valuable insight into the lives and culture of the people who
Most of what is known about past population estimates, composition
and territories of local native groups is based upon the knowledge
of elders and observations of others recorded over the last two
hundred years. Within and surrounding the area now known as Pacific
Rim National Park, populations are estimated to have been over 9,000
people at the time of first European contact. Twenty three independent
native groups held traditional territories with 21 main village
sites scattered throughout the 3 park units. Today, these 23 independent
groups are survived by just 6: the Tsheshaht, Ucluelet, Tla-o-qui-aht
(Clayoquot), Huu-Ay-Aht (Ohiaht), Ditidaht and Pacheenaht. This
dramatic decline is attributed to a number of factors.
Before European contact, these native groups were rich people
compared to many contemporary native groups of North America. Their
focus was the sea and the forest, which provided sustenance in the
form of food, shelter, clothing and spiritual associations. Their
livelihood was based on the immediate environment. The forest provided
foodstuffs, both plant and animal. Western Red Cedar met a diverse
range of their needs: bark for the weaving of clothing, blankets,
containers, planks, posts and beams for long house building and
material for dugout canoe construction. The sea was a transportation
network as well as an abundant source of provisions. Salmon, cod
and halibut were caught for immediate use, or dried for winter provisions.
Marine mammals, including sea lions, seals and whales, were sought
for food. Everything was utilized, including their hides, oil and
bones. Marine mammals, along with other animals, played important
spiritual roles within the native culture in addition to providing
direct sustenance. This bountiful environment enabled the native
people to develop a rich and complex society.
Dramatic and profound changes to all aspects of native life occurred
after contact with European explorers and traders. Changes in population
and group composition and the patterns of subsistence and settlement
were the most significant. With the foreign traders came epidemics
of infectious diseases, smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, and dysentery,
against which the native people had no defence. Having no knowledge
of quarantine, individuals tried to escape by fleeing their villages,
only to carry the disease into other populations.
The mortality caused by internal warfare and epidemics was devastating.
In the relatively short period of eighty years, the native populations
of the west coast dropped by an estimated 75 to 90 per cent. The
result was a disruption, realignment, or total disappearance of
previously distinct political groups.
Traditionally, tribal groups lived year-round at a village site,
taking advantage of the diversity of resources available within
their defined territories. These original territories became enlarged
with the amalgamation of disease-reduced populations or annexation
through conquest. New seasonal patterns of settlement and subsistence
developed to take advantage of these acquired resources, such as
better salmon streams, defensive sites, or improved beach access
within their enlarged land base.
In the late 1800s, native groups began to pursue new economic
opportunities provided by increasing numbers of settlers. The production
of dogfish oil, dried halibut and salmon, and offshore sealing further
altered traditional life patterns. These new wage earning opportunities
occurred most often in the spring and summer, leaving only the fall
for traditional pursuits. Tribal village sites became established
closer to the trading centres of white settlers. Flour, sugar, tea,
molasses and potatoes purchased from these settlements supplemented
salmon as the major food resource, displacing traditional dependence
on native use of berries, root plants and other local food sources.
Initially, settlers trickled into the west coast area, to the
trading posts associated with the fur trade and the whaling industry.
Eventually, coast forest and fishing resources were also exploited,
creating more industry and employment and sparking the interest
of potential homesteaders. A prosperous export lumber trade developed.
In the late 1800s minerals were discovered in the surrounding hillsides
and in the gold-bearing sands of Florencia Bay. At the turn of the
century the vast stocks of salmon, halibut, cod and herring triggered
the formation of a fishing industry. Salmon fishery became the most
valuable fishery on the west coast. Canneries, fish buyers and processing
plants for a variety of species were established throughout coastal
areas. These industries continue to be major employers for the communities
adjacent to park lands.
In the days of the sailing ship, the west coast of Vancouver Island
developed a history of shipwrecks. Since 1803 over 240 ships have
foundered along this coast, hence its reputation as the "Graveyard
of the Pacific". The government of the day made several efforts
to reduce this carnage. A manned lighthouse was built at Cape Beale
in 1874 to warn ships away from the dangers of this coast. Then
the West Coast Telegraph was constructed between Victoria and Cape
Beale and was completed in 1890, along with a second lighthouse
at Carmanah Point.
Following the tragic 1906 wreck of the passenger steamer, Valencia,
in which 126 lives were lost, the original telegraph line connecting
the west coast with the outside world was further developed to become
the "Lifesaving Trail". Construction of the third lighthouse at
Pachena Point, near the wreck site, began the following year. Ultimately,
the Lifesaving Trail was only pushed through from Bamfield to Carmanah
Point, with downgrading along the way, as costs proved prohibitive.
Beyond Carmanah, the trail remained the original primitive telegraph
line. These developments helped to save many lives as shipwrecks
continued to occur regularly.
After the 1940s, with the development of more sophisticated navigation
equipment eclipsing the technology of the past, trail maintenance
was discontinued. Today the trail is known as the West Coast Trail
and, having undergone a major redevelopment by the Canadian Parks
Service in the 1970s, is one of the best known and most challenging
hikes in North America.
During World War II a large airfield was built on land now surrounded
by the Long Beach unit of the park. As a result of this military
installation, a road was built connecting the two communities of
Tofino and Ucluelet. In 1959 the Long Beach area was linked to the
outside world with the opening of Highway 4, though not with a hard-surface
road until 1972.
The lands within the park, and each of the communities that surround
it, tell intriguing individual stories of human settlement and development.
Their histories weave together to form the fabric of today's society,
and the eventual establishment of these lands as part of the Canadian
National Park System was brought about, in part, by the recognition
of their unique heritage value. The histories of the Nuu-chah-nulth
people, and the saga of foreign settlers, have left their mark on
the landscape. The imprints of this history represent a valued park
resource, integral to understanding and appreciating the varied
heritage resources of the land now called Pacific Rim National Park.
Pacific Rim is a national park reserve, due to the existence of
a comprehensive claim submitted by the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council
in October 1980. The federal government accepted the claim, which
covers all of the area of the park, for negotiation in June 1983.