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Where the Wild Pacific Meets Native Entrepreneurship: Wya Point Resort

The Ucluelet First Nation's Wya Point Resort is a bright spot in entrepreneurship for First Nations tourism in the Tofino region.

A blazing sun sets over Ucluth Cove, one of the loveliest on the wild, west coast of Vancouver Island. Waves crash on rocky islets, sending up towering sprays of foam. The surrounding rain forest is lush with ferns, moss and soaring, old-growth giants. This is the setting for Wya Point Resort, owned by the Ucluelet (Yuu?u?i??at?) First Nation.

For too long, First Nations have taken a back seat to tourism-related business in this isolated, but popular Tofino region. The Ucluelet First Nation, however, is demonstrating remarkable entrepreneurship. Their resort includes luxury lodges, camping and yurts. They are also operating a surf shop and café and a motel. Furthermore, their properties are steeped in Native art and culture, including a deep respect for the magnificent nature around them. A spa, convention centre and luxury hotel are planned.

In 2011, the Ucluelet First Nation, comprising about 650 people, signed a treaty giving them independence, as well as ownership of their reserve and nine additional properties totalling 13,500 acres. With the fishing and timber industries in decline, the Ucluelet sought new ways to generate income and jobs. The legislative council decided to enter the tourism industry, although the Nation had no prior experience in this field. The initiative was led by Tyson Touchie, the CEO of Ucluth Development Corp., the organization responsible for creating economic development opportunities.

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The Wya Point Resort, a few kilometres south of the town of Ucluelet, and set amongst 600 acres of old-growth forest, is the cornerstone of the venture. There are nine luxury lodges, which opened in 2014, facing onto the secluded Ucluth Cove. One lodge, the Salmon, features colourful salmons carved beside the front door. Another lodge, the Raven, has a traditional cedar house-post featuring a raven.

Hans Tammemagi

Tyson Touchie beside the housepost in the Raven Lodge.

At all stages, the elders and First Nation community were involved. For example, since this cove was the site of an earlier village, the elders asked that the lodges be built on stilts to minimize damage to the underlying midden.

Seventeen yurts line the treeline next to the beach. They’re attractive, comfortable, and popular. Each yurt has a barbecue, gas fireplace, cedar decks, and oceanfront beach access. Occupants fall asleep to the sound of the waves.

The campground has 32 sites, each one separated from the next by natural vegetation. Elders requested the campground not be visible from the beach, and that it could be reclaimed back to natural habitat in one year, if necessary. There are also a number of RV spots, both basic and full hookup.

To tap into the local surf subculture — this is Canada’s hottest surfing area — the Ucluelet opened the Wya Point Surf Shop & Café, which rents surfboards, wetsuits, and is the only surf shop with local First Nations instructors.

Hans Tammemagi

Orange-blue sunset over Ucluth Cove.

Activities abound at the Wya Point Resort including surfing, hiking, fishing, beach combing, and visits to the world-famous Pacific Rim National Park with its many trails and Long Beach. But best is sitting on the deck toward evening and watching a blazing orange sunset as waves cascade in from the far reaches of the ocean.

This story was originally published June 2, 2015.