First Street dock, rotting beams and thin, makeshift wooden patches. An eyesore to locals and visitors alike.
It’s planks, pilings and beams are rotting, it’s holes patched with thin boards and nails popping up everywhere, yet the First Street Dock in Tofino continues to serve as a hub of activity for people coming and going from off shore communities.
The dock’s history goes a long way back, long before Tofino was connected to Port Alberni by a rough logging road.
Long-time Tofino resident Frank August, 75, said it’s been there as long as he can remember. “Tourists would come in on the Princess Maquinna and old ladies would sit on the dock selling their baskets,” he remembered.
According to August, there was a lot less sand. “You could tie up three fishing boats on the inside of the float and have no worries about going high and dry,” he said.
Archive photos available online show scenes on the First Street Dock dating as far back as circa 1910. Nobody seems to know exactly when it was built.
Known locally as Whiskey Dock, First Street Dock was built and maintained by the Federal Government through Transport Canada. But that all changed in 2003 when the Federal Government, through its Port Divestiture Program, gave the historic dock to a reluctant District of Tofino.
“The government wanted to give it away and they approached everyone including First Nations but nobody wanted it because it’s expensive to maintain,” explained Leif Pedersen, Administrator, District of Tofino.
Pedersen said at first Tofino turned down the government’s offer like everyone else. “But they came back to us and threatened to remove it if we wouldn’t take it; so we took because it would (negatively) impact our neighbours,” he said.
Now the proud owners of an old dock, Tofino had to overcome some tedious technicalities like obtaining an expensive foreshore lease.
“We can’t lease out or do anything on dock because we don’t have a foreshore lease,” Pedersen pointed out.
The district has been negotiating with the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands for several years to obtain a lease, which, according to Pedersen, would cost about $30,000 annually.
Treasurer Edward Henley said they tried to obtain a Nominal Rent Tenure but the provincial ministry denied them because the dock is used for commercial purposes. Some businesses using the dock are making money off of it like the airline, water taxis, tour operators and freight boats, rendering the dock ineligible for the far cheaper foreshore lease.
“The Government of Canada didn’t need a foreshore lease because they’re the government, but now we have to get one in order to have the right to own a dock that already exists,” laughed Pedersen.
The 2003 dock deal included a $500,000 federal grant for repairs and maintenance.
To date Tofino has spent about $100,000 in repairs. They are working on a business plan for the dock and anticipate it will soon be finished and presented to Tofino Council for approval.
Once the business plan is in place, expected to be within a year, Tofino will charge wharfage fees in order to cover the costs of maintenance and administration. “We will be asking the users to pay for it because we don’t think Tofino taxpayers will want to pick up the tab,” said Pedersen.
The district recognizes the wharf is in bad condition and has received several complaints about it. “We haven’t charged anyone a nickel to use that wharf because we’re not allowed to (without a foreshore lease), but because it’s free people use it at their own risk,” Petersen advised.
When everything falls in place the District anticipates spending $250,000 in repairs on the dock and more on setting up administration. Tofino Council recently approved spending a large portion of the federal grant to repair and refurbish the facility to its original condition with some minor modifications.
Modifications will include improvements to the gangways on both sides of the wharf. A recently installed steel structure on the west side is slippery in the wet environment. Henley said they will look a installing something to improve traction there.
The gangway on the Tofino Air side will also see improvements in traction.
Ecotrust, acting on behalf of local First Nations has approached the District asking to examine a possible partnership.
Henley said they expect it may take 1-2 years to hammer out a deal but first they have to spend the grant because it is non-transferable to new owners. “If the wharf changed hands and we didn’t spend the grant, we would have to give it back,” he explained, adding it makes sense to spend the money on repairs first before entering into new deals.
By Denise Titian