Life on the Edge

In Tofino, where the Pacific meets Vancouver Island, there's drama to spare

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At the RainCoast Café, Lisa Henderson, who runs this local institution with husband Larry Nicolay, combines unbelievably fresh seafood with the region's exotic local produce ― nettles, salal, tatsoi (a type of bok choy) ― for fusion dishes such as Thai coconut-chili clams and mussels. The ability to find the appropriate ingredients to fuel her Asian-influenced style are part of what keeps Henderson rooted here. "It's an exciting wild garden we have in Clayoquot Sound," she says.

The Tofino Botanical Gardens are equally exciting in their own way. Though not exactly wild, they're full of unexpected surprises: On a wooded path, a mobile of seashells painted with peace signs hangs from a tree branch; among a grove of subtropical windmill palms and banana plants, Red Man Walking, a wood sculpture crafted by an artist from a nearby island, stands tall.

"It's a venue for telling a more complete story about this place," says George Patterson, who founded the gardens seven years ago. It's where native plantings, wildlife, local art, and pieces of history ― such as the 1946 wood salmon trawler Evian on view at the water's edge ― converge.

Locals come together on these grounds too at the onsite restaurant Cafe Pamplona, where the bistro-style fare is made with fresh organic herbs, salad greens, and vegetables raised in the adjacent kitchen garden.

"Conservation is part of the community ethic in Tofino," Patterson says. He points out that the high level of environmental awareness is especially welcome this time of year, when thousands of sandpipers and sanderlings feed in the 5,000-acre bird habitat that borders the botanical garden (a bird blind provides the perfect spot to take in the views). "All the neighbors and residents near the water tie up their dogs," he says.

Along a scenic wood boardwalk in the garden's shaded groves, a sign posted on a tree reads, "Listen to the wind, the birds, and the water." In a place like Tofino, that seems like enough.

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