The island sits at the mouth of Clayoquot Sound, one edge of it a mile off the busy Tofino waterfront, the other fronting the yawning Pacific Ocean.
Tall, moss-bearded evergreens, damp, tangled underbrush and endless waves pounding the sand bars and rocky outcroppings that mark its shores make it the epitome of rugged Vancouver Island beauty.
Some would have arrived here in 1990, discovered the zoning encouraged development, and swooned over the dollar signs in their eyes.
Susan Bloom saw a different kind of opportunity.
A generation after purchasing Clayoquot Island and nurturing it into a protected slice of West Coast heaven, Bloom has now ensured it will remain that way for generations to come.
On Monday, the steward of this ecological and historical jewel announced she was ceding ownership of the Island’s wilderness portion to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
NCC regional vice-president Linda Hannah said it has been an honour to work with someone with those values.
“I think we need to celebrate that choice,” Hannah said. “She’s a very quiet, deeply principled individual. I’d like to applaud her for taking a different path.”
Also known as Stubbs Island, Clayoquot Island sits near the brink of Pacific Rim National Park to the south and is the gateway to the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve to the north.
Bloom has donated approximately two-thirds of the island (its wildest 93 acres) to the NCC, while retaining ownership of its more developed portion. According to Hannah, the property is unique among NCC holdings and an ecological treasure trove.
A dense old-growth and mature second-growth Coastal Western Hemlock forest collides with four-meter thickets of California wax-myrtle, a vulnerable shrub found only in the coastal regions around Ucluelet and Tofino. Sand dunes and thick eelgrass beds provide habitat for the great blue heron, black oystercatcher, Pacific geoduck and Brandt geese.
The island hosted the first European settlement on the west coast of Vancouver Island — a fur trade outpost established in 1855. It then evolved into a fishing village of about 400 people with a hotel, school, jailhouse and beer parlour. It served as the area’s commercial hub before eventually being overtaken by Tofino. Schooners stocking for a journey across the Bering Sea anchored offshore and a sizeable Japanese community existed on its western end prior to the internment programs of the Second World War.
The community had disappeared and the property had fallen into neglect through a series of private owners by the time Bloom purchased it and set about cleansing it of bottles and other refuse. She established a few small off-the-grid outbuildings and a heritage garden on the old townsite, built a boardwalk through the woods and made sure the rest of the island was left to exist as nature intended.
Hannah thinks it is a fascinating story in how, after 150 years of use, it is now returning to its natural state.
“To go about re-wilding it is a neat circle,” she said.
Public use of Clayoquot Island will continue to be by invitation only. The caretakers who tend to the gardens and other upkeep will remain its only residents. The NCC will spend the next year taking inventory of the property and developing a ecological management plan, funded again by the generosity of its former owner.
Bloom declined an interview request and the NCC took pains to deflect any questions that might infringe on her privacy. She is a resident of B.C. but not of Tofino, does not spend as much time on the property as she used to and is no longer young.
She did, however, release the following prepared statement.
“From the very first time I visited and then became the owner of Clayoquot Island, my goal has been to protect the island from any more development, to preserve it in its natural wild state,” she said. “My recent lifetime goal is to see that this beautiful land, steeped in Canadian history, be placed into safe conservation hands and cared for in perpetuity.”
Hannah hopes Bloom’s generosity and commitment to conservation will inspire others.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Ms. Bloom to help her realize her vision,” she said. “Hopefully this will pave the way for others.
“We have so much. We can’t take anything for granted.”