Pacific Rim National Park, located on the traditional territory of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on Vancouver Island, is made up of three geographically distinct units: Long Beach, the Broken Group Islands, and the West Coast Trail (Horsfield and Kennedy 27). In my first blog post I chose to write specifically about Long Beach, which runs between Ucluelet and Tofino (or “Tuff City” as the locals call it). It is perhaps the most notable tourist destination on the island- a microcosm of the rugged persona for which the Pacific Northwest has come to be synonymous. Branching out from my first post, I will be discussing the broader Pacific Rim National Park and the history of the surrounding area in order to analyse how spatial practices, representations of space and systems of whiteness have resulted in the region’s adoption of a singular and somewhat exclusionary identity – that of an untamed western frontier, free of the shackles of colonialism and its lasting effects.
Sarah Ahmed describes whiteness as an “ongoing and unfinished history which orientates bodies in specific directions, affecting how they ‘take up’ space” (149). This definition entails the practice of domination: the subjugation of one group of bodies by another (150) – a process seen throughout the long colonial history of Vancouver Island. In the case of Pacific Rim National Park and the surrounding traditional areas of the Nuu-chah-nulth people, whiteness was heavily imposed through acts of dispossession, manufacturing an inherently unequal and divisive status quo. In the present context, whiteness is re-articulated and re-enacted on a daily basis up and down the shores of Pacific Rim – an effect I’ve witnessed, and undoubtedly participated in, living near the end of the West Coast Trail. What started as hippies driving up the logging road to crash on the shores of the wild west coast, likely unaware of the history of the surrounding area, has evolved to a large extent into affluent members of society lounging in luxury cabins and mulling about the beaches, further reinforcing dominant power relations in the process.
In many ways, the bodies that inhabit Pacific Rim National Park borrow and appropriate from the traditional aboriginal culture of the area. Tourists and locals alike romanticize and co-opt the practices of fishing, boating and other coastal traditions in order to enact an entirely homogenized and simplified “west-coast” identity: full of surf lessons, salmon and expensive thermal swimwear. These entrenched spatial practices, which Henri Lefebvre describes as the cohesive patterns of social activity, are supported by representations of space: signs and codes orienting you towards specific directions and conclusions (290). Dominant institutions such as Parks Canada and Tourism BC continuously chart, categorize and capitalize off of First Nations heritage without so much as a mention of the effects of colonialism, both past and present – presenting a whitewashed and simplified version of the area’s “wild” past to an eager cultural consumer. Through these restrictive representations of space, prejudice and the theft of native land are seemingly things of the past – referenced perhaps in the sidebar of a textbook but nowhere to be seen on the signage and maps of a national park. As a result, bodies inhabiting the space of the Pacific Rim and the surrounding area exist within a pre-determined and somewhat deceptive schema, one of whiteness and strict spatial practices, hidden beneath a layer of “laid back” rhetoric. Is the west coast rugged and beautiful? Yes. Is it my home? Yes. Is it a space of whiteness, most accessible to those individuals in the process of “being” rather than “being not” (Ahmed 161)? Undoubtedly.
This image is a print titled “Wolves of Long Beach” by Roy Henry Vickers, a First Nations artist who operates a gallery in Tofino. On his website Vickers states that the wolf, which can be seen in shadowy form in this image, is an “important crest of families in the Northwest Coast – a symbol of strength that represents lessons to be learned from thoughtful contemplation.” Although Vickers’ work by no means curates a differential space, it serves as a microcosm of the blending of First Nations and broader western imagery found throughout the Pacific Northwest – mixing modern techniques and traditional motifs in an attempt to create one unified expression of a place in time.
Ahmed, Sara. “A Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8.2 (2007):149-168.
Horsfield, Margaret and Ian Kennedy. Tofino and Clayoquot Sound: A History. Pender Harbour: Harbour Publishing, 2014.
Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Ed. Jen Gieseking and William Mangold. London: Routledge, 2014. 289-293.