Tofino’s hidden historical gem
Culture / September 29, 2010
By Matthew Bossons
We had been hiking for 45 minutes and still there was no sign of our end goal. The trail had been long and treacherous, at times our advancement was slowed to only a half dozen feet per minute.
This was largely in part to the bog like conditions along most of the trail and large open spaces where the trail itself became lost and navigating became difficult. We had been warned of this by a travel information employee at the travellers centre just south of Tofino, but we disregarded her warnings as ‘overblown’ because of her old age.
For a minute I thought she might have been right.
The trail my companions and I were hiking was about a kilometre south of the Radar Hill parking lot along the highway; near a telephone pole bearing the number 300 on it. I had been to Tofino many times before but had never heard of this trail and the unique treasure that lay at its end for anyone who dared hike it. When the story was relayed to me of a crashed WWII bomber just outside Tofino along said trail, I knew I had to check it out. The bomber had apparently crashed in 1944 during one of the terrible winter storms that regularly occur along the west coast of Vancouver Island. All crew had survived and hiked out to the highway but the plane itself was never removed because of its location on a hillside a good distance from the highway.
I was in Tofino for a weekend of surfing and exploring with my girlfriend and another couple I knew from Victoria. Everyone seemed interested enough that we decided to undertake this hike with the limited information we had. We loaded up my girlfriend’s jeep with my camera, bug-repellent, a case of beer and off we went. The closest to the trail you can get in your car is to park at the Radar Hill parking lot and walk south along the highway. Parking alongside the highway is illegal and having your vehicle towed is quite obviously undesirable. Once we got to telephone pole #300 we hiked up into the woods along a rustic and overgrown trail. The trail almost immediately began going up hill alongside a forested ravine, at the crest of the hill stood an old abandoned building of some sort. We wandered through it, it was empty and overgrown with vines and brush. The four of us continued on down the trail which, shortly after the abandoned building, became increasingly more muddy. The bog like conditions continued almost all the way to the plane.
I was told when we were close we would notice a large pond to the right of the trail, in a field of knee high grass. This pond is a crater that had been filled in over the years by rain water and run-off from the nearby slopes. How was this crater created you ask? Well, when the plane was coming in for an emergency landing the pilots deployed their explosive cargo to avoid landing with it still attached to the plane. The pond was large and murky, with a diameter of roughly twelve feet. The four of us passed along the left side of the pond and up a steady slope towards the plane. At this point the tail end was visible through the trees and we trudged onward to our long awaited goal.
The plane was almost more amazing then I had imagined. It was large, roughly 40 – 50 feet in length, although I admit this is an educated guess. The plane was decorated in colourful graffiti, patches of rust and 70 year old dents and scratches. The front cabin of the aircraft was almost unrecognizable, smashed into the rock hillside, while the body of the plane was stunningly still intact. The four of us climbed to the front of the plane then up onto its wingspan where we enjoyed a cold drink and gazed out upon the marshy flatland we had just traversed. I took many photos, as did my other companions.
We climbed all through the plane, right to the tail end where we could poke our heads out a hatch heading onto the top of the plane. The rusted old engines had fallen off the wings long ago, possibly during its landing, and the group of us examined them in awe. It truly was amazing that the men on- board this plane survived such a horrific crash in such a remote area, especially before creation of the trail that now leads to the planes final resting place. The four of us took one final look around and after spending a half hour at the crash site, we began the long walk back to the highway.