There are countless tales of adventures you could tell about Canada’s West Coast Trail: stories about the hike of a lifetime; a bucket-list experience. Reports of a journey reserved for those who can meet and overcome the unique challenges presented on the trail; legends, really, of an experience not for the faint of heart, and not to be undertaken alone. But did you know long before the West Coast Trail became the legendary hike it is today, its story begins as an ancient passage for traders, a route to cross-island communication and a much needed life-saving trail?
Traditional Territory for First Nations Peoples
The West Coast Trail snakes through the traditional territory of the Huu-ay-aht, the Ditidaht, and the Pacheedaht First Nations, who have traveled this ancient trail since before time began, fishing and trading with neighbouring Aboriginal peoples. With no language for the word “wild” or “wilderness” to these three Aboriginal bands, this land was simply “home.”
Over 200 years ago sailors began washing up on the beaches of Vancouver Island’s southwestern coast – survivors of maritime wrecks along the island’s treacherous shoals. The First Nations peoples took those sailors in, provided them with shelter and food before showing the way out through the rainforest; a grueling 75 kilometer hike through mud and sand, and the most inspired, rugged and wild terrain in all of British Columbia.
With the instant communication we enjoy today it’s hard to imagine these First Nation trails were used to create the earliest link between western and eastern communities, and the Cape Beale and Carmanah Lighthouses. Then again, when you consider the limited cell range you have on the trail, you can appreciate the challenges of connecting a telegraph line in this rough and tumble place from 1888 to 1890.
The Dominion Life Saving Route
When you hike the West Coast Trail you’re truly walking in the footsteps of shipwreck survivors and their rescuers. In 1906, 125 people perished in the Valencia shipwreck, motivating the Canadian Government to install the Paschena Lighthouse and lifesaving shelters every eight kilometres on the trail. Those shelters are gone today, but stories of daring rescues endure. Eventually known as the Dominion Life Saving Route, and now the West Coast Trail, these former travel and trade routes have now evolved into one of North America’s most renowned and challenging endurance hikes, and the basis of more than one tale of adventure.
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