There’s a song I like by veteran punk legend Mike Watt jamming with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. “The kids of today should defend themselves against the 70’s” rocks the refrain, with a catchier hook than you’d expect. A half a century later, astonishingly, I think we need more 70s, not less. I mean, sure, there were gas shortages and the Vietnam war, Watergate, and the Bee Gees. But hot damn did the 70’s strut, flaring its bell bottoms on the disco floor, covering station wagons with wood and carpets with shag. Macrame and printer trays, roller skates, mood rings, CB radios and punk rock itself. A pre-digital age blessed with consumerist naivety, it was an era when rocks made good pets and television channels were few. Today, as we drown in misinformation at the mercy of algorithms and treat us as data points, I think we need the brown and orange glow of the 70s, and that’s why I’m rather fond of Tofino’s Hotel Zed. Its bright-painted beautifully restored old VW van sits off the highway, signalling that here lies a hotel striving to be different. An innovative new hotel that nevertheless strives for the old-fashioned, quirky, and fun values of old.
With popular sister properties in Kelowna and Victoria, the Hotel Zed bills itself as a different kind of chain square in viewfinder of creative Insta-friendly millennials. It’s under the umbrella of the BC-owned and operated Accent Inn chain. Hotel Zed’s bright angular pinks, purples and oranges positively glow amidst the dense forests of Vancouver Island’s west coast. Although it’s not located directly on one of Tofino’s beaches, it’s just a five-minute trot to Mackenzie Beach, while the back of the hotel leads directly to a protected bird sanctuary on the less trafficked but just as spectacular inlet. The 6-kilometre multi-use bike path that runs along the highway from Tofino village to the wide sandy beaches now has a brightly painted detour, snaking into the Hotel Zed parking lot and then directly into the lobby. Automatic doors encourage guests and visitors to cycle into the lobby, out the back, and re-join the path. This is North America’s first bike-through lobby, and celebrates the fact that Tofitians are avid year-round cyclists. The lobby itself is decorated with antique wall clocks, knitted macrame, a fire place, sunken lounge and the most audacious lime green shag carpet this side of Austin Power’s underwear drawer. There’s also a psychic den, an authentic arcade, a disco room with an LED floor, an authentic 70’s desk with a working rolodex, and bike racks, of course. Together it amounts to a tasteful celebration of a bygone era, and a rather fun place to park oneself in Vancouver Island’s hottest tourist destination.
“You’ll notice there’s no art in your room, because the hotel was designed to be a work of art in itself,” explains the affable Miles at the front desk, himself a child of the 70’s. We may not be millennials snapping away instas for our followers, but we can relax and appreciate the sheer nostalgia of the venture. My comfortable king room is spacious with two leather lounge chairs, a cleverly designed bathroom, and low-hued boutique hotel lighting. Carpets and tiles are well representative of the era, and pulsar-shaped wall clock and a single plant add tasteful bling. The working rotary phone tops it off. Miles was right. Wall art would be overkill.
A 70’s themed Hotel Zed could be anywhere, but this one is in Tofino. The village has boomed in the decade since my last visit. It’s a busy long summer weekend, the surf schools are jammed, the restaurants have line-ups. I used to associate Tofino with camp fire chow, but after visiting the outstanding restaurants Shelter and Shed (a pox on those who don’t sample Shelter’s delectable Brussel Sprouts, or Shed’s silky spicy tofu and lettuce wraps), camp macaroni will no longer cut it. Meanwhile, Ronnie Lee has grown his passion for smoked meat from a humble tent into a large garden cookout located just off the Mackenzie Beach Campground. Ronnie used to sleep in his car, how he’s smoking brisket and ribs fourteen hours a day at Lil Ronnies BBQ, served by the pound with homemade pickles. It must be driving the wolves of Pacific Rim National Park insane, no wonder they’re starting to track pets on Long Beach. As Tofino itself continues to evolve from fishing village to a four season resort town, it’s reassuring the forests, beaches and trails remain much the same as always, although this was not always a given.
Moses Martin is the elected chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, a 79-year-old local legend who was born and raised in the Clayoquot Sound. His cultural tours offer a wealth of knowledge going back thousands of years, but it wasn’t always serene as the landscape suggests. Motoring inside the sound on his boat, he explains the conflict between warring tribes, the traditional fishing practices and canoe making, the horrific practices of the residential schools that only ceased operating as late as 1970. Moses discusses the struggle to protect the environmental treasures of the region from profit-mad logging, including the Clayoquot Sound Uprisings that took place from the 1970s to the 1990s, culminating in the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. Over 800 people were arrested in the non-violent protests, but ultimately, with international media attention, unified activism and NGO political pressure, their fight was victorious. I learned more about this back at the Hotel Zed, who commissioned an excellent booklet about Tofino’s War in the Woods. The hotel is part of Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Park Allies, a “a community of businesses committed to the ecological protection and restoration of the Tribal Parks ancestral gardens and the resurgence of Tla-o-qui-aht culture and governance.”
Tofino’s Hotel Zed is still growing, soon to incorporate a surf and stand-up paddle board shop, a restaurant and bar, and yes, an actual psychic to help with the crystal ball. For now, it’s a safe prediction that the hotel will be instantly woven into the vibrant fabric of Vancouver Island’s west coast.