The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is seeking the public’s support in changing the name of Mackenzie Beach in their homeland of Tofino back to its Indigenous name—Tinwis.
Mackenzie Beach in Tofino is where you’re likely to spot paddle boarders or kayakers rather than surfers because of its calm sheltered waters and gentle waves. The beach is home to several campgrounds and resorts including the Tla-o-qui-aht-owned Best Western Plus Tin Wis Resort.
In Margaret Horsfield and Ian Kennedy’s book, Tofino and Clayoquot Sound, it states the beach was named after Donald MacKenzie, a veteran of Vimy Ridge, who came to work as the Lennard Island light keeper in the mid-1920s. In 1929, for $250, MacKenzie purchased 400 metres of shoreline on sixteen hectares of land at the beach now bearing his name. The book states the beach was formerly known as Garrard Beach, named after Francis Garrard, Lennard Island’s first light keeper.
For thousands of years before the beach was named Mackenzie, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation called it Tinwis—meaning calm waters. The First Nation has now set up a petition in hopes to garner as many signatures as possible and eventually have the beach renamed.
“It’s an important step for reconciliation. It puts the name on the land that has been on the land for thousands of years,” said Saya Masso, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation lands director.
Tla-o-qui-aht people’s ancestors have occupied the area of Meares Island, Tofino, Long Beach and Sutton Pass, that is now known as Highway 4 west of Port Alberni, for more than 5,000 years.
Masso said Indigenous place names, for the most part, all speak to the natural name that the earth is trying to give itself.
“They aren’t arbitrarily selected,” he said. “Tinwis of course is calm waters… when you’re looking at the rugged coast and where you’re able to land a canoe…it’s nice to know where there’s a beach called Tinwis. It seems pretty important to have names that speak to the natural environment.”
Tofino’s Wickaninnish Beach is named after the former Tla-o-qui-aht chief, Wickaninnish, from 1780-1790. The name means ‘He-who-no-one-sits-in-front-of-in-the-canoe.’
Cox Bay, which borders the Pacific Rim National Park at the South end of Tofino, was named in 1934 to honour British merchant John Henry Cox—a fur trader and organizer of the earliest expeditions to the pacific northwest.
Tofino’s 2.7-kilometre-long Chesterman Beach got its name from John Chesterman, who was a white settler who acquired grants from the Crown for the area in 1915.
Tonquin Beach, near the town of Tofino, was named after a ship that was destroyed in the channel. The ship’s crew were killed by Tla-o-qui-aht people over a dispute involving the trade of sea otter pelts, according to royhenryvickers.com.
Masso and the Tla-o-qui-aht lands department are tasked with replacing many place names in their territory, from lakes to rivers to beaches.
“We think [renaming Mackenzie Beach] will be a kick starter for us to get the right people involved and contacts formed for us to be able to take on other ones,” Masso said. “I know we’re going to have lots of support from local leadership and local businesses and such. I imagine there will be some steps to take with the province, ACRD and municipality.”
In addition to Mackenzie Beach, the Tla-o-qui-aht are looking at Kennedy Lake and the upper Kennedy River to be renamed.
The Tla-o-qui-aht’s petition to have Mackenzie Beach renamed can be found at change.org by searching Tinwis. Anyone who signs the petition by Nov. 1, 2023 will be entered to win a two-night stay at the Tin Wis resort. So far, just over 1,200 people have signed.