Art close up in Tofino on Vancouver Island

Chesterman Beach Ravens Michael Becker - Crafts and Design

Indian handicrafts

Indian handicrafts in Tofino? But yes. We discover that during our visit on the occasion of the Pacific Rim Whale Festival. We spend the night in the Long Beach Lodge, but also visit other hotels because of events taking place there. One of the top hotels in Canada, the Wickaninnish Inn employs sculptors and Native American carvers. They produce almost all of the Indian handicrafts that are on display in the hotel. What these artists create is impressive. As soon as you step into the lobby of the Wickaninnish Inn, you feel like you are in an art gallery. A cedar moon hangs on the wall over the fireplace. In the window niche in front of it there are several works of art made of soapstone. A work that depicts several seals. It looks so lifelike carved out of the stone that you think they really play with each other. In addition, seals wind their way through abstract waves, and not far from there a soapstone bear is fishing a salmon out of the water.



The outdoor areas, rooms and lounges of the hotel also testify to the skills of the local artists' community of Tofino. On the facade of the house facing the sea, there is a huge sun made of cedar wood and shells. A carving adorns the entrance to the Pointe Restaurant, and there are always new surprises in the rooms by local and Indian artists from Tofino. Charles McDiarmid, owner and manager of the Wickaninnish Inn tells us that almost all of the artwork in and around the Wickaninnish Inn is by carvers and sculptors from Tofino and the surrounding area. There is even a workshop on the hotel grounds where you can watch the artists as they create handicrafts from Indians.


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Prehistory of the Wickaninnish Inn

Well - art in the hotel is nothing new. But the fact that this is made by artists in the in-house workshop is something that I have not yet come across on my travels. Charles tells me that this is a tradition that goes back to his father, who encouraged local sculptors and artists who created handicrafts from an early age.

“He worked as a doctor in Tofino when there was no road from the east Vancouver Islands led to the Pacific coast. His main means of transport was a small seaplane. With that he flew down the coast to his patients. Most of them lived in equally remote locations on the west coast of the island.

My father recognized the tourist potential of the landscapes around Tofino early on. So he started to buy large plots of land on the coast when it was still available at a bargain price. His plan was to build a motel here once the eagerly awaited road from the east was completed. ”


Indians arts and crafts in Tofino Copyright Michael Becker
Indian handicrafts in Tofino Copyright Michael Becker

Hippies at the Pacific Rim

The "tourists" who came were hippies. They camped in the wild in the woods and on the beaches around Tofino. They first traveled by transport ships, which supplied the place. Or they came via the Holzfällerstrasse, which was only open to the public if no timber trucks were driving on it. It was only built in 1959 and remained unpaved until 1972 - an adventure for everyone who came by road.


That has to be in the suitcase


Among them was Henry Nola, who had camped in the woods on the estate of the McDiarmids. Here he lived in harmony with nature. Henry, whose real name was Enrique Sebastiani Nola, was the son of a Spaniard and a Swede born in Barcelona, ​​Spain. In this city he spent most of his childhood together with his three younger sisters. But he always traveled to his maternal grandparents in Sweden. His grandfather made furniture and decorated it with carvings. After the Spanish Civil War, he returned to Spain with his mother and sisters. There he made an apprenticeship as a blacksmith and learned the making of wrought iron, as well as the toolmaking.


Indian Handicrafts in Tofino Copyright Wickaninnish Inn Nola created Indian handicrafts
Native American Crafts in Tofino Copyright Wickaninnish Inn

Henry Nola - factotum and artist for Indian handicrafts in Tofino

After spending several years in northern Ontario, he finally came to 1965 on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There he settled down at the beginning of the seventies on Chesterman Beach.

Next door, the McDiarmids set up their home and hired Henry to help them build their home. Henry himself built a makeshift hut nearby, where he eventually lived for thirty years.

Charles McDiarmid reports how “Henry agreed to take care of my father's property. In his hut in the forest, he created works of art with tools that he made himself. No feat for someone who learned this from scratch. ”The artists at the Wickaninnish Inn still work with the awls and chisels created by Henry Nolla.

So Henry Nola became a close friend of the McDiarmids and the originally planned weeks were thirty years spent at Chesterman Beach.

Henry was both a factotum and an artist. He never completely abandoned his hippie past. Charles tells how once some of his hotel guests went for a walk on the beach. Then suddenly Henry - as God created him - jumped in front of them in the waves, followed by equally undressed bathing mermaids. His hotel guests came back from their trip excitedly, and one of them said to Charles: "I really like it here." (I really like it here.)


Indians arts and crafts in Tofino Copyright Michael Becker
Indian arts and crafts in Tofino Copyright Michael Becker

Indian handicrafts in Tofino - local artists take over Henry's legacy

After Henry Nola died in 2004, Charles McDiarmid opened his workshop for carvers and sculptors from Tofino. These include local Indians and artists from other regions. They still create works of art in it today. Indian arts and crafts in Tofino continue to play a role at the Wickaninnish Inn. These decorate the walls and rooms of the hotel. We meet one of them. She is in the process of carving a cedar wood bowl. She tells us how she learned carving from Henry Nola as a young girl. “He was a strict teacher. First he let us do it. But after a while he came to us and started correcting our work. Often he just took his tools and worked on our works with a few carving movements. The piece suddenly had a completely different charisma. "

Even today, his successors use Henry's tools. His life story is clearly visible on a poster about the jobs of the new artists. The hotel guests are still strolling through the woods to look over their shoulders at work. They like to chatter about what's going on under hard-working hands.

Wickanninish Inn
500 Osprey Lane
Tofino V0R 2Z0

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Indians arts and crafts in Tofino
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Source for Indian arts and crafts in Tofino: own research on site, kindly supported by the Wickaninnish Inn and Tourism British Columbia. Further Vacation destinations for a beach vacation can be found here.

Text Indian handicrafts: © Copyright Monika Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline
Photos © Copyright Wickaninnish Inn
Video © Copyright Petar Fuchs, TravelWorldOnline

Art close up in Tofino on Vancouver Island

12 thoughts too "Art close up in Tofino on Vancouver Island"

  1. We always like it when we meet people who do something extraordinary and can also talk about it. Great, if such handicrafts are passed on and live on. Partly with new interpretations etc., as you also report.

    1. These are usually the most beautiful travel experiences, I think. Unfortunately, they are not always that easy to find. But that's what makes her so memorable.

      Best regards,

  2. The photos from Chesterman Beach look cool. Since you can certainly do a lot of beautiful outdoor activities ... :-)

    Greeting Mario

  3. Hi monika,
    I like stories like that and I think it's too bad that Henry Nola could not be interviewed by you anymore. I have relatives in Canada myself, but somehow there is never any time to visit them. Too bad if I read this, because a grand cousin does not even live too far away (considered Canadian - not Austrian).
    Best regards,

    1. Dear Elena,

      his story would certainly have become an interesting article. But I think it's such a very interesting place too. Maybe it'll work out with a trip to Canada. I'll cross my fingers for you.

      Best regards,

  4. Yes, such stories as Henry Nola's like me well. Especially if they go down in history then. And good to know that there are not only whales to visit in Vancouver Island :-)

    1. Hello Bruno,

      oh, Vancouver Island has a lot more to see than whales. By the way, lives in Tofino, where Henry Nola lived, even today a very famous Canadian artist: Roy Henry Vickers has his gallery there. His paintings and woodwork from the northwest coast are well known.

      Best regards,

  5. That's interesting!!!
    I think it's great that you value regional art. Hippies, Indians (may we say that indigenous peoples ...), whoever was there and created something with the ingredients of nature are fantastic.
    Thanks, I love such reports!

    1. Hello Barbara,

      You are right, in Canada the Indians are called "First Nations", a more appropriate name than the one they got from Columbus. Only not everyone understands us. Visiting this carving workshop was a real experience. It's just a shame that Henry Nola is no longer alive himself. Because I would have loved to interview.

      Best regards,

  6. I once had breakfast at the Wickaninnish Inn !! The view of the Pacific is just awesome. And does this hotel also somehow appear in Frank Schätzing's “The Swarm”?
    In BC, I had the impression that with the support of local artists, you are much further ahead than anywhere else.

    1. We were there for dinner! Terrific! I read "The Swarm" a long time ago, but I don't remember the Wickaninnish. But the scenes with the orcas. As far as artists in BC are concerned, they already play a major role in these regions. Well deserved, I would say. I particularly like her works.

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