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EXPERT REVIEW Lumberjack luxe on Canada's western coast: get back to nature at this community-focused luxury green hotel on Vancouver Island

Eco


Overall eco rating


Wickaninnish Inn is doing a lot of the right things environmentally and has enthusiastic and imaginative staff and we are sure they will continue to improve their environmental performance.

The hotel was built 15 years ago in what is now a UNESCO Biosphere (a largely symbolic designation).  Today the owners (a local family) are in the process of upgrading energy and water systems – more difficult with an operational hotel than with a brand new building or a major refurbishment.

The hotel’s family connection shows in how they engage with their staff and neighbours and probably helps explain the respect that is shown for the beautiful Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

  • A Green Key Rating of 5 (the top level) from Hotel Association of Canada
  • Reduced energy consumption by 35% by upgrading boilers and water consumption by 15% in last 12-months
  • Family owned since construction, 70% of staff are local and conscious decision taken to use local suppliers for nature experiences rather than trying to corner the market by offering services direct to guests
  • Staff encouraged to volunteer (and paid while volunteering) e.g. in organising Earth Day clean up events
  • Supports a number of local and international environmental development projects
  • Building is well designed in its surroundings with minimal visual impact. Built using mostly natural, local and recycled timber, the construction of the Inn resulted in minimal land-take and therefore minimal loss of wildlife habitat.
  • Recent energy upgrades (new boilers, new thermostat controls, fireplaces without pilot light)
  • Effort made to source food from local, ‘happy’ organic sources including seafood, meat, eggs, vegetables etc.

  • The hotel is situated on Vancouver Island where there is no waste water treatment facility, therefore the sewage and foul water goes straight into the sea
  • Chemical detergents and soap in hotel rooms and Spa
  • The Inn is located in a rural setting where public transport is limited as is access to a large pool of potential employees
  • Its rural setting means that roadside-pickup for recycling is non-existent

People

Taking account of the limited number of available workers within its rural setting, the Inn does well to employ a predominantly local workforce. 130-150 staff work at the Inn depending on the season, of which only 35 are foreign. The Inn provides staff accommodation for immigrants for the first four months and supports work permit/permanent residency visa application after their first year.

  • Family owned since construction
  • 70% of staff are local
  • Conscious decision taken to use local suppliers for nature experiences rather than trying to corner the market by offering services direct to guests
  • Staff encouraged to volunteer (and paid while volunteering) e.g. in organising Earth Day clean up events
  • Charitable endeavours support local high school sports teams, Whale Festival and local branch of the Surfrider Foundation (activists promoting ocean and beach protection and enjoyment)
  • Donates second hand items to charities including diverting shower gels, etc. to developing countries via Clean the World
  • Predominantly local work force
  • Organisation and payment of staff to take part in community events such as Earth Day –beach and trails cleanup
  • Uses buying in bulk power to help community afford eco-cleaning products (i.e adds community orders to hotel’s bulk order)
  • Good showcase of local art work in the building for purchasing

  • No written employment policy, no obvious effort to employ minority groups such as disabled people

Animals & nature

A lot of effort has been made to ensure that the Inn itself is almost invisible in its natural surroundings. Recycled, local timber has been used in its construction and the paint was chosen to match the colour of cedar trees that surround it.  Hard landscaping is limited to car parking areas and short footpaths linking the buildings, there are no planted shrubs or lawns.

  • The hotel is located in a UNESCO biosphere – there is a lot of nature to see including bald eagles that roost on site and whale migration
  • Hotel concierge service links guests to local guides who offer unobtrusive nature experiences
  • Wickaninnish has helped organise several community clean up initiatives through staff volunteering
  • Building is well camouflaged into natural environment with minimal visual impact to surroundings. Built using mostly natural, local and recycled timber resulting in minimal loss of habitat as a result of footprint. Effort was made during construction to avoid unnecessary tree and vegetation loss. The two trees that were taken down were used in construction of the foyer of the hotel
  • Complimentary nature walk offered to guests on Wednesdays and Saturdays
  • Return of oyster shells to the ocean from kitchen

  • Chemical detergents and soap in hotel rooms and Spa (e.g. sodium laureth sulphate and other toxins)
  • Served fois gras as appetizer to dinner
  • No mention of soaps and detergents and spa products being not-tested on animals
  • There is only a small selection of vegetarian choices on the menu

Environment & buildings

Wickaninnish Inn’s top Green Key rating shows they are getting to grips with environmental issues and the recently implemented upgrades to the building are yielding concrete results.  We’d like to see the Inn move to the next level by incorporating renewable energy systems and water recycling.

Electricity generation in British Columbia is already predominantly from hydro-electric sources (90%).  Nonetheless, the Inn is working consciously to try to reduce its usage through investing in a variety of energy efficient upgrades such as new boilers and fireplaces and LED lighting. The biggest problem for the Inn is the lack of Waste Water Treatment Facility on Vancouver Island and so all of its sewage and waste water is piped into the ocean untreated; the importance of the use of biodegradable soaps and cleaning products being thereby amplified.

  • A Green Key Rating of 5 (the top level) from Hotel Association of Canada
  • Reduced energy consumption by 35% by upgrading boilers
  • Water consumption reduced by 15% in last 12-months through low flush toilets, motion sensitive taps and altering defrosting practices in chilled storage
  • Compost vegetable and fruit waste in the amusingly titled ‘Organic Temple of Transition’
  • The original construction of the Inn considered site layout so that no mature trees were affected and used largely reclaimed timber
  • Recent energy upgrades (new boilers, new lighting, new thermostat controls, fireplaces without pilot light)
  • Solar water heating panels on the staff accommodation
  • Green team (encompassing one member from each Department) meet regularly to focus on improving hotel sustainability
  • Effort made to source food from local, ‘happy’ organic sources
  • Efforts made to source sustainable goods e.g bamboo napkins.
  • No air-conditioning in either building
  • Comprehensive recycling and worm composting programme despite municipal limitations (people hired to sort and transport waste from hotel to Port Alberni,         1.5 hours drive away)

  • Upgrading boilers, lighting and water using appliances have yielded good savings but it is just a start compared to more groundbreaking hotels that have implemented renewable energy systems and water recycling
  • The hotel is situated on Vancouver Island, where there is no waste water treatment facility, therefore the sewage and foul water goes straight into the sea
  • Suspected evidence of detergent leak on beach in front of Inn (water at outflow pipe is bright orange with traces of oil in the water flowing to the sea)
  • Limited public transport. Need to take ferry and drive three hours or fly by float plane to Tofino, 5 km from Inn.

Reviewed by

Sophie Middleton & Ryan Glancy


Luxury


Overall luxury rating*


The scene

Tucked into a pinewood forest a few metres from the beach on the westernmost edge of Vancouver Island, the views from Wickanninish are pretty spectacular - straight out to the Pacific Ocean on one side, and over a beach and the island on the other side. Near the US border, you can drive here from Seattle, Washington, in less than 10 hours or from Vancouver or Victoria in six or seven hours.

At 12,000 square miles, you'll never see all of rugged Vancouver Island in one trip, but there's more than enough outdoorsy adventure near Wickanninish to keep you entertained for weeks at a time. Summer is best for whale and bear watching and sunbathing on the packed-sand beach in front of the hotel, but whale are seen throughout the year. Kayaking, surfing, island-hopping and hikes through the forests, mountains, volanoes and hot springs are year-round activities. In winter, storm watching seems to draw the crowds - go figure - but you can always retreat to the destination spa for native-inspired treatments.

The hotel attracts for surfers and hikers who like to go wild during the day, but plenty of pampering luxury at night. Its proximity to the bohemian town of Tofino also attacks those seeking to experience local culture, native arts, outdoor sports, whalewatching and good food.

  • Perched on a rocky outcrop on Canada's westernmost edge, with views to the Pacific
  • Rugged, dramatic scenery from its Vancouver Island perch
  • Beach by the hotel for summer sunbathing or year-round surfing
  • Watersports, hikes and bear and whale watching
  • Close to bohemian town of tofino
  • Great for hikes in the forest, bike rides, surfing and lazing on the beach
  • Easy access to restaurants, galleries and outdoor sports

  • The water is cold year-round, so surfing wetsuits essential, especially in winter
  • The weather gets wild in winter, so if you're not a storm watcher, you'll want to stay off the water and explore the island and spa instead
  • You need a car to get here: it's 1.5 hour by ferry from Vancouver, then three hours' drive from the ferry
  • It's faster but more expensive to reach by plane: you can fly straight to Tofino

The style

Built to mimic its surroundings, the hotel is made largely from materials taken from the cedar forest. The footprint of the building was carefully chosen to reduce the number of trees that were lost through its construction. The necessary few that were taken were used in the construction of the hotel lobby and entrance and have been made into feature pieces by a local artist. Clever attention was paid to the orientation and placement of all the bedrooms, restaurant and spa allowing for views of the beautiful beach and surrounding coastline from every window. All of the furniture has been crafted out of wood and matched with crisp white fabrics creating a luxurious yet rustic feel.

Handcarved cedar doors and sculptures by Canadian artist Henry Nolla and driftwood furniture by artisan Maxwell Newhouse set the scene, but the huge windows provide the eye candy, with panoramic Pacific Ocean vistas on one side, and views through the trees and over the beach on the other. Plump bedcovers, soaking bathtubs with views, balconies, squishy sofas and tiled fireplaces come as standard in every one of the 75 guestrooms - as do special treats and beds for dogs in some rooms.

Guests in jeans and tartan shirts share hot cocoa in the lounge, and swap hiking boots or flip-flops for cords and a pull-over or a sundress for dinner in the restaurant. The food might be Pacific Northwest gourmet and the wine list award-winning, but the vibe is very much lumberjack luxe.

  • Views over the Pacific Ocean or the beach from your bed - and your balcony
  • Fireplaces and soaking bathtubs with views in every room
  • Woodsy interiors, with wonderful sculptures, furniture and carvings by local artisans
  • Pets welcome
  • Great orientation towards the light and the ocean
  • Constructed of natural materials enhancing the connection to nature
  • Heavy wooden beams and lots of glass

  • Glamorous this isn't. Think log-cabin, luxed up
  • Interiors are all about simplicity, not eccentricity

The facilities

The Great Outdoors - surfing, kayaking, beachcombing, hiking, storm viewing and whale watching - are the main draw, but back at the hotel, the spa and restaurant are both noteworthy, and the lounge and library suitably soothing. The restaurant serves Canadian fare with a Pacific-Northwest leaning, and has a 180-degree view of the ocean, and the spa feels very private and relaxing.

  • Pacific Ocean - beach by the hotel for sunbathing in the warmer months; storm viewing in winter; surfing, kayaking, watersports and whale watching all year round
  • Vancouver Island's Pacific Rim National Park Reserve for mountain hiking and forests walks and, in summer, to seek out black bears - North America's densest population of these gentle (but powerful) creatures
  • Award-winning spa using locally gathered seaweed in some treatments
  • Drinks available all day in the cosy beach-level lounge
  • Vast 180-degree vistas from the restaurant, which serves hearty gourmet Pacific Northwest fare and an award-winning wine list
  • Wildlife walking tours
  • Yoga classes
  • Library and lounge

  • The cocktail bar is mainly used as a pit-stop for diners en route to the restaurant, with no real nightlife scene
  • No pool, and that Pacific Ocean water is icy
  • Small gym with minimal equipment

We love

  • Bed, bath, balcony and breakfast views - windows everywhere framing the ocean. There's nothing but the Pacific between the hotel and Japan
  • Vancouver Island's rugged natural beauty
  • Wildlife spotting - bears, birds and whales galore
  • Pet-friendly luxury hotel
  • The woodsy log-cabin decor and artwork
  • The huge beaches
  • Sound of the ocean lulling you to sleep in the beachfront rooms
  • Relaxed, friendly staff
  • Surfing, hiking, wildlife and watersports

You might not love

  • Brr... the ocean is chilly, especially in winter
  • No swimming pool
  • Not a lot to do after dinner
  • It's quite a drive to get here from most places, and you definitely need a car

Reviewed by

Sophie Middleton


Wickaninnish Inn

PO 250 500 Osprey Lane, Tofino BC, V0R 2Z0 Canada

Canada
+1 250 725 3100

Standard room rates from CA$300

Eco

Luxury*

"The Wickaninnish Inn, set on a remote, pine forest–ringed promontory, is best enjoyed during fierce weather—the more ferocious, the better" Travel + Leisure World's Best Hotels

"Guests can cosy up by one of the many windows to witness 30ft-high waves roll by" Conde Nast Traveller Gold List 2011