Road across Canada ends in Tofino on Vancouver Island, locals say

Published on July 29, 2012

TOFINO, B.C. - The black-and-white sign in Tofino's harbour is a pretty low-key affair, an arched orca adding a decorative flourish at the top, but there's nothing modest about the statement it makes.

It's literally at the end of the road — beyond it is the water's edge, a wooden wharf and the green mountainous backdrop of Meares Island in Clayoquot Sound.

That road stretches for some 8,000 kilometres to St. John's, N.L., at the other end of Canada.

The sign declares the spot on the west coast of Vancouver Island to be the "Pacific terminus" of the Trans-Canada Highway. Trouble is, it isn't — at least, not officially.

As a Mile Zero sign emphatically states in Victoria at the southern point of the island, the highway ends — or starts, depending on your point of view — in the B.C. capital.

Tofino's sign is "patently wrong," says Calgary-based Mark Ruthenberg, who runs a Trans-Canada Highway website and has researched the cross-country network extensively.

"That's a municipal designation, not a federal or provincial designation. It's like a bakery saying 'we're the world's best bakery.' ... It doesn't really mean anything."

Ruthenberg notes there is no Trans-Canada Highway signage on any of the roads leading up to Tofino, which has a winter population of about 2,000 and a summer crowd of considerably more.

Fifty years ago — on July 30, 1962 — the Trans-Canada Highway was formally opened at Rogers Pass in southeastern British Columbia after the federal government, under the Trans-Canada Highway Act of 1949, had provided millions of dollars to the provinces to share construction costs. The project would later be finished in 1970 to become the largest national highway in the world.

Tofino first erected a sign declaring itself the western terminus of the yet-to-be built highway in the late 1930s or early '40s, says Ken Gibson, a former member of community's chamber of commerce and son of a former town mayor. Local boosters of the designation hoped it would stimulate tourism and draw attention to the fabulous beaches nearby.

But the town was later "double-crossed" by government officials who had promised that it would get the terminus status, says Gibson, who has spent all his life in Tofino and adds that he was "hatched about 100 feet from where that sign is."

Asked why the sign has been left up all these years at the foot of First Street, the 77-year-old Gibson replies: "Because we're just a stubborn, determined bunch."

The original was made of wood; the current one is steel planted in concrete to deter vandals and thieves, who walked off with the sign several times.

On a recent sunny afternoon, a group of kayakers congregated 100 metres down the shore for an outing to Meares Island, and tourists were checking out the galleries, gift shops and surfboard rental outfits nearby. But the area around the sign was deserted.

Tofino's current mayor, Perry Schmunk, calls the sign "a bit of an undiscovered gem," saying visitors do snap photos "when they find it."

Tourism groups in town have discussed giving the sign a promotional boost, adds Schmunk, who's also the general manager of Long Beach Lodge. There are certainly no plans to take it down.

"No, definitely not," Schmunk says. "I've heard the double-cross story, but most Tofitians believe that we are, without question, the official — maybe only in our minds — terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway."

The fact that there is an official terminus elsewhere on Vancouver Island seems to be irrelevant.

"One coffee shop has got a great slogan, and I think it sums up the town quite well," says Schmunk. "It says 'End of the road culture.' It's true. There's a lot of fairly independent thinking out here."