Chapter Seventeen


When hikers walk two kilometres along the Bomber Trail, south of Tofino and just beyond the Radar Hill turnoff, they arrive at the wreckage of Canso aircraft #11007. This Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) plane crashed here on the night of February 10, 1945. “The Bomber,” as it is locally known—although it was not a bomber but a multi-use transport plane—is a reminder of the time when large air bases in Tofino and Ucluelet served as the first line of defence for western Canada during World War II. Along with other isolated bases along the British Columbia coast, they faced the Pacific Ocean, constantly on the alert for signs of Japanese hostilities.

Given Japanese aggression in Manchuria and China in the early 1930s, Canada’s Ministry of Defence concluded by 1935 that Japan and the United States might well become involved in a war, and that Canada could be drawn in. Three years before World War II began, military planners started constructing an RCAF base at Ucluelet, anticipating war in the Pacific, and in 1938 Western Air Command came into being to coordinate West Coast defences. The war officially began in Europe on September 3, 1939, and Canada declared war on Germany a week later; at that stage, Canadian defensive efforts focused on protecting the East Coast and safeguarding ships and convoys in the Atlantic Ocean.

Early in 1939, Western Air Command ordered RCAF No. 4 General Reconnaissance Squadron, based at Jericho Beach in Vancouver, to send a detachment of obsolete, amphibious Stranraer flying boats to Kennedy Lake near Tofino. Called the Barkley Detachment, the aircraft and crews carried out reconnaissance flights when weather permitted, with crews and mechanics camped in tents awaiting favourable flying weather the rest of the time. The planes continued their patrols from Kennedy Lake until June 1940, when the Western Air Command, anxious to activate its coastal defences, deemed the Ucluelet base ready for occupancy. When RCAF personnel arrived at the base in July 1940, they found nothing complete: the hangars, barrack blocks, storm sewers, wireless masts and workshops all needed a great deal of work. Stumps littered the area, and slash fires spread a haze of smoke over the base. Many personnel camped in tents, and those allocated to the unfinished barracks crammed into every available corner. The water reservoir had dried up that summer, and at high tide it filled with salt water.

The mechanics managed to keep the two ancient Shark seaplanes and the two four-man Stranraer flying boats ready for crews to make what patrols they could. They flew out over the Pacific, often in appalling conditions, on the lookout for submarines and Japanese vessels. Soon after the squadron arrived at the Ucluelet base, the air force equipped the planes with bombs, and the squadron’s name changed to No. 4 Bomber Reconnaissance. The Canadian Army sent a detachment of the Canadian Scottish Regiment to guard the Ucluelet base; shortly after, members of the Veterans Guard of Canada replaced them. By late 1941, some 400 servicemen were stationed there, as conditions at the base slowly improved thanks to the many construction workers also based there.

In 1938, keen to increase surveillance on the coast even before the outbreak of war, the Royal Canadian Navy created the Fishermen’s Reserve (FR), its motto: “Ships of Wood, Men of Steel.” Unofficially called the Gumboot Navy, this outfit consisted of fishermen and towboat men using their own or fishing company boats. When the men joined up, they took their boats down to the Esquimalt naval base to undergo basic training—at times a bit too basic for these experienced men. “In the early days they even had a course to teach us how to row, for God’s sake!” remembered one Fishermen’s Reserve captain. Each boat had huge identification letters and numbers painted on the hull near the bow. Kitted out with .303 Lewis machine guns, as well as wireless/telegraph sets, and depth charges or minesweeping gear, the small craft became even more cramped than usual. Due to a shortage of radios, some FR boats took along carrier pigeons to keep in touch with headquarters in Esquimalt.

On the payroll of, and commanded by, the Royal Canadian Navy, members of the Fishermen’s Reserve patrolled the coast on the lookout for suspicious activity, assisting police whenever needed and keeping in close contact with naval authorities. Called upon to investigate a reported sighting of a submarine, one member of the force commented wryly, “Our total armament was a half dozen depth charges, a few rifles, and some stripped Lewis guns. Don’t know what the hell we would have done if we had bumped into it.” The 975 volunteers of the Gumboot Navy never fired a shot and spent most of the war investigating all the inlets along the coast and dealing with wild West Coast weather.

Typical of boats in the Fishermen’s Reserve, the HMCS Margaret, shown here, patrolled the west coast during World War II. Equipped with light armament, depth charges, and sometimes minesweeping gear, none ever actually engaged the enemy.  A number of men from Tofino served in this “Gumboot Navy,” as it was called.
Typical of boats in the Fishermen’s Reserve, the HMCS Margaret, shown here, patrolled the west coast during World War II. Equipped with light armament, depth charges, and sometimes minesweeping gear, none ever actually engaged the enemy. A number of men from Tofino served in this “Gumboot Navy,” as it was called. Image E004665419 courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

A total of eight Fishermen’s Reserve units operated along the west coast, ranging from Port Renfrew to Kyuquot. From Tofino, members included Andy Johnson; Roy Erickson; Hubert Eik; Oscar and Alfred Hansen; Ian, Joe, Donald, and Ron MacLeod; Wallace Grant; and Bjarne, Douglas, Edgar, Norman, Trygve, and Waldemar Arnet. Arthur Park headed up the unit at Nootka, and George Rae-Arthur had charge of the Ahousat unit. Although no Tofino-based boats participated in the Gumboot Navy, Edgar Arnet skippered his Cape Beale, registered out of Vancouver, as part of the fleet. In the five years of its existence, the Fishermen’s Reserve lost only one of its boats, the Midnight Sun, which sank off Cape St. James with a loss of all hands.

The Pacific Coast Military Rangers, also known as the BC Rangers, provided further surveillance along the coast during the war years, bringing a number of volunteers into action. The Rangers recruited loggers, trappers, prospectors, and aboriginals living in remote locations to be on the alert for suspicious activities. Each volunteer carried his own rifle and received a pair of binoculars from the government, along with training in how to identify fifty-five types of enemy aircraft and all classes of Japanese submarines. Teenage boys and men too old to join the regular forces took part in this outfit; later, many of the younger ones joined the Canadian forces. According to Walter Guppy, various Rangers units received Sten guns: “Tofino had one and the Ahousat Indian Band four.”




On December 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the worst fears of Canadian military planners became a reality. America entered the war, heightening the possibility of a Japanese attack on the Pacific coast. Immediately, Canadian military activity increased along the coast. Plans already existed for a series of air bases along the outer BC coast, and with the Ucluelet base now open, construction crews moved north to Coal Harbour, at the tip of Vancouver Island, to begin building a base for amphibious aircraft there. At the same time, the Sea Island base in Richmond (now Vancouver International Airport) and the Jericho Beach base near Point Grey in Vancouver, underwent expansion. Construction also began on an airport at Boundary Bay in Delta, another at Patricia Bay near Victoria, one at Bella Bella on the central coast, and a fourth on Digby Island off Prince Rupert. Most significantly for the west coast of Vancouver Island, development of a proposed airfield and RCAF base at Long Beach suddenly became high priority. Within weeks of Pearl Harbor, the area near Long Beach buzzed with activity as throngs of construction workers and road builders arrived.

The Tofino Air Base under construction in late 1942, with the waves of Long Beach and the Tofino-Ucluelet road visible in the lower section of the photo. The aircraft hangars had yet to be built but most administrative buildings appear to be completed, including the 128-bed hospital, a recreation hall, a canteen, a thirteen-bay garage, barracks, a diesel power plant, and mess halls. Over 2,000 air force servicemen and eighty members of the Women’s Division served at the Ucluelet and Tofino bases during World War II.
The Tofino Air Base under construction in late 1942, with the waves of Long Beach and the Tofino-Ucluelet road visible in the lower section of the photo. The aircraft hangars had yet to be built but most administrative buildings appear to be completed, including the 128-bed hospital, a recreation hall, a canteen, a thirteen-bay garage, barracks, a diesel power plant, and mess halls. Over 2,000 air force servicemen and eighty members of the Women’s Division served at the Ucluelet and Tofino bases during World War II. Courtesy of Fran Aitkens

The site the RCAF chose for the Tofino air base occupied what locals called the “Burnt Lands,” an area once swept by fire, extending from Long Beach over to the mud flats on Grice Bay, adjacent to property owned by the Lovekin family. Poorly drained and difficult to access, the site posed immense logistical challenges. Coast Construction Company, hired to prepare the site and build the air base, found its machines repeatedly bogged down in mud, while the military focused its initial efforts on completing an all-weather gravel road between Ucluelet and Long Beach, also pushing side roads through to Chesterman Beach and Cox Bay. While crews punched the roads through, Coast Construction struggled to clear land at the base site. The company realized the job was beyond its capacity and subcontracted Gordon Gibson of Ahousat to prepare the site. “When we took the contract,” Gibson wrote, “we changed the whole procedure. We divided the area into 200 sections, each 400 feet square [37.16 square metres]. Between the sections, we put in the roads, and set up spar trees, so that the donkeys [steam engines] could yard out the logs. The stumps were gathered into piles every 800 feet [244 metres] and burned…We built a wharf for unloading our barges [in Grice Bay] and brought in thousands of yards of gravel. Then, after our contract came to an end, Coast Construction leveled the ground and built the airport.”

Fran Aitkens atop a piling on Long Beach in the late 1940s. Placed there in long lines to deter landing craft and airplanes in case of Japanese invasion during World War II, some pilings can still be seen at low tide on the beaches.
Fran Aitkens atop a piling on Long Beach in the late 1940s. Placed there in long lines to deter landing craft and airplanes in case of Japanese invasion during World War II, some pilings can still be seen at low tide on the beaches. Courtesy of Fran Aitkens

In his book Eighty Years in Tofino, Walter Guppy recalled the frenetic activity in the spring of 1942. Lines of barges filled with gravel from Cypre River headed along Tofino Inlet into Grice Bay. A bustling work site emerged at August Arnet’s long-abandoned property in Grice Bay, with workers hacking a couple of old buildings free from the salmonberry and salal to be used as a bunkhouse and cookhouse. The gravel barges offloaded into trucks that headed out through a sea of mud along the newly created mile-long road to the airport site. There, crews struggled to build the ambitious airport with three 1,500-metre runways and all the structures required for the expected influx of military personnel. Gordon Gibson and his crew built anti-aircraft bunkers and gun emplacements at the airport site. To prevent enemy airplanes, landing craft, and tanks coming ashore, the RCAF also commissioned Gibson to drive pilings every 300 metres, from high water to low water, into the sands of Long Beach and adjacent beaches, stringing wire and cables between the pilings. “We also assisted the army in building machine gun redoubts along the beach, which we made using huge drift logs bulldozed over with sand as cover. Demolition experts laid charges across the runway in trenches every 500 feet [152 metres] so that it could be blown up in the event of a Japanese attack,” wrote Gibson. As the rush of construction work continued at Long Beach, hundreds more workers arrived, camping out in a primitive collection of shacks thrown up amid the mud. The number of construction workers employed at the Ucluelet and Tofino bases peaked at 1,500 in late 1942. The RCAF Tofino base was still far from completed, and month by month the fear of Japanese aggression in the Pacific Northwest mounted.




Even before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, nine Japanese submarines had been positioned along the west coast of America. In the weeks following that attack in December 1942, observers reported some 147 submarine sightings between Alaska and California. The I-series B-class submarines measured 105 metres long and had a range of 25,000 kilometres, enabling them to stay at sea for ninety days. On December 20, 1941, Japanese submarine I-17 attacked the oil tanker SS Emidio off California’s Battery Point Lighthouse, killing five crew members. On February 23, 1942, the same submarine fired twenty-five shells at an oil tank complex near Santa Barbara, California; following that attack, the submarine sank two ships on its way back to Japan. An imminent invasion along the west coast of North America seemed all too possible. To aggravate matters, Japanese submarines launched dummy periscopes made of buoyed bamboo poles with a weight at one end to hold the mock periscope upright. This ruse kept anti-submarine patrols busy on useless missions long after the I-boats had returned to Japan following their initial sorties along the West Coast.

On December 7, 1941, the same day as Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces launched attacks on the Philippines and set off with electrifying speed down the coast of Southeast Asia. They soon occupied much of Eastern China, including Hong Kong, Thailand, the Dutch East Indies, and Malaya, and within five weeks had reached the Burma/India border. Japanese planes, flying from occupied Port Moresby in New Guinea, bombed Darwin, Australia, and in April 1942 Japanese bombers sank Britain’s newest battleship, the Prince of Wales, as well as the battle cruiser Repulse near Singapore, killing 840 seamen in total. The speed of Japanese advances threw the west coast of North America into an even greater state of alarm, putting the Ucluelet base on active war alert. Patrol flights out of Ucluelet increased, personnel on the base began carrying gas masks and steel helmets at all times, blackout curtains and shades blanketed all windows, and before long Western Air Command had over 200 men guarding the base. Additional Veterans Guard members arrived to set up four gun emplacements around the base.




After war broke out in Europe, the ladies of the Red Cross in Tofino busied themselves knitting for victims of the Blitz in England. The West Coast Advocate reported on November 12, 1941, that the Red Cross in Tofino had provided “Forty attractive sweaters for the refugees,” to be sent to England. In addition, “twenty nightgowns were handed in by the Japanese ladies, to help out with the local war effort.” Shortly after, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. According to Mary Kimoto, recently wed at St. Columba’s Church and raised in Tofino, “the world we knew disappeared forever.”

Right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Johnny Madokoro encountered Jack MacLeod, who told him what had happened. Madokoro called Mr. Nakagawa, president of the Tofino fishing co-op. “‘Gee whiz,’ I said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ It never entered my head that it would be real trouble for us, because we were all naturalized Canadians. But I guess there was anti-Japanese feelings building up right from the day the first immigrants came. It was building up, building up and bang!” Some Japanese cut their firewood for the winter as they listened anxiously to the radio, filled with disbelief but hoping life would continue as normal even as “the news got worse and worse.”

On a Christmas visit home in 1941, Ronald MacLeod became keenly aware of the increasing tensions in Tofino. His father, Murdo MacLeod, as the local fisheries inspector, “had the unhappy chore of escorting RCMP around when they came in their patrol boat late at night to check Japanese papers.” Every fisherman in the area knew Murdo MacLeod; the local Japanese addressed him as “Sensei,” a sign of respect. MacLeod did his best to quell the fears of the Japanese, and on one occasion he reprimanded an officer who acted harshly toward them. “He [gave] the officer a dressing down and made the point that even though there was a war, there was no excuse for uncivil behavior. My father made a point of emphasizing what fine community-minded people the Japanese were and that they deserved better treatment. He could get away with this because he was a veteran of WWI...and he was the local Fishery Inspector on whom the officer depended for information.”

During his visit, Ronald MacLeod walked down the hill toward the government dock. “Standing there with his hands behind his back stood Mr. Mori. He was staring at a sign that read ‘Western Terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway’. This sign had been put there at a time when locals were pushing for a road link to Port Alberni and points east. As I approached Mr. Mori, I could see tears streaming down his cheeks. It was obvious even to an insensitive lad like me that he was very much moved…I can only assume that Mr. Mori had expected to be in Tofino for all the days of his natural life.”

Rumours about political plots and treachery spread in the town: of local Japanese boys receiving military training; of Japanese newcomers to the area who had trained in Japan as spies; of naval officers in the pay of Japan infiltrating the fishing co-op; of Morse code messages being transmitted to the Japanese military on secret radio equipment. “There was a feeling that, if Japan invaded the coast, a lot of local Japanese would help them,” Walter Guppy later wrote. “Whether this was right or not, I don’t know. How can you tell?”

“We heard all the stories,” Tommy Kimoto commented. “Like we had gas ready for the Japanese navy to come and load up. I mean, maybe they were using diesel fuel, how would we know?” He tried arguing with local fishermen: “They said there were two or three ex-Japanese naval officers fishing, but I never heard of any. They were all ignorant fishermen, every one. All guys like me.”

In 1942 the Canadian government seized all fishing vessels owned by people of Jap-anese descent on the west coast of Canada and impounded them at Annieville on the Fraser River. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Fishermen’s Reserve seized 1,200 boats in total, many of them shown here.
In 1942 the Canadian government seized all fishing vessels owned by people of Jap-anese descent on the west coast of Canada and impounded them at Annieville on the Fraser River. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Fishermen’s Reserve seized 1,200 boats in total, many of them shown here. Image C07293 courtesy of Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

“How quickly attitudes in Tofino changed,” Ronald MacLeod wrote. “Suddenly our friends and neighbours were enemies...We are all guilty to some extent—those who preached hate and those of us who remained silent...My father was an exception. He remained sympathetic and supportive of the Japanese residents of Tofino until he died.” Interviewed for Settling Clayoquot, Johnny Madokoro described how Murdo MacLeod kept the fishermen informed as tensions and uncertainties rapidly mounted. Then the government ordered the Canadian Navy to seize all 1,200 fishing boats owned and operated by the Japanese in BC coastal waters. In mid-December 1941, all Japanese boats in Tofino had to be rounded up on the waterfront. “I was sort of the spokesman,” Johnny Madokoro said, “so when the Coast Guard came in, I had to talk to the commander. He said we would have to take our boats to New Westminster. I said, ‘But when do we get them back?’”

“Boy, there was all hell broke loose around here then,” commented Trygve Arnet. Most West Coast Japanese fishermen took their own boats over to the mainland, under escort and at their own expense, Johnny Madokoro among them aboard his troller Crown. His brother Hiroshi also took part in the sixty-strong flotilla of boats from Tofino and Ucluelet, heading to New Westminster under guard of the navy vessel Givenchy. The boats left Tofino Harbour in a long string. Each fish boat had a soldier aboard; the one aboard Crown, a prairie boy, was terribly seasick. Foul weather forced the boats to seek shelter for three days at Bamfield; the trip took five gruelling days instead of the usual day and a half. Once at New Westminster, according to Harold Kimoto, “a whole gang came aboard and they took everything that was left on the boat. Some of the men were beaten up. They took batteries, everything. I didn’t care because we were leaving the boat anyway, but gee whiz.” Tommy Kimoto blamed the “navy guys” for most of the stealing, adding, “They even stole anchor chains.”

“We were detailed to the Fraser River,” recalled Trygve Arnet, then working with the Fishermen’s Reserve out of Victoria. “Our job was to round up all the Japanese owned boats and put them away...It was heartbreaking. I remember seeing Japanese there and, you know, they were crying. There were men in their old World War One uniforms, wearing Scottish tams and the jackets with the brass buttons buttoned up. It was pretty tough. Those who were Canadian-born were the same as you or I, they’d never seen Japan…The Government sold all the boats. There were some good buys there…Oh yes, the Japanese got a pretty dirty end of the stick on that deal.”

On January 14, 1942, the Canadian government declared all Japanese in Canada to be enemy aliens, decreeing that all persons of Japanese descent be moved inland at least 160 kilometres from the coast. Although rumours of evacuation had been circulating, Canadian-born Japanese citizens could not believe they would also be included. “Then the lifeboat crew came and took away our telephones,” Johnny Madokoro recalled. “But I never heard anybody say we should be in a concentration camp or prison or anything like that. Those guys were old friends. They all said, gosh, it’s too bad.”

When the evacuation order came, it came fast. “One day, bang, came this Mountie and told us they were going to move everybody,” Madokoro recalled. The officer arrived by float plane in Storm Bay. “Mr. Nakagawa and I walked down to the plane. He said ‘We have to move you guys tomorrow morning. The Maquinna is coming down.’ I said, ‘We can’t do anything in that short time. We have to get rid of our belongings. At least give us 24 hours.’” Within a day, all Japanese residents had packed up their allowance of one bag each, making frantic last-minute plans for keeping their homes and possessions safe in their absence. Complete confusion reigned. Isabel Kimoto lived in Tofino at the time, newly married, nineteen years old, and with a small baby. “I remember police just pushed the door open and took the radio,” she says. Tatsuo Sakauye’s mother hoped to save her remaining twenty bottles of sake until they returned. “She told me to go to the beach away from the tide and bury them,” he related in a letter to Dorothy Arnet. “The sake will be gone but I am sure the empty bottles are still there.” At least two Japanese residents of Tofino had only recently acquired new homes: Harold Kimoto had purchased Ole Jacobsen’s home early in 1941, and the Nakagawa family had built a house in Storm Bay that same year.

The day of the evacuation is etched in the memories of those who witnessed it. March 15, 1942. Damp and chilly. All local Japanese assembled at the government wharf in the morning: twenty-seven people from Clayoquot, sixty-eight from Tofino. The Princess Maquinna kept them waiting for hours, not arriving till late in the day. Looking out from her window over the crowded wharf, Katie Monks worried about the long wait the Japanese were enduring. “I said ‘Harold…there isn’t even a public toilet over there and the women and all those kids—could I go over and get some of them and bring them over here and at least give them a cup of tea?’ He thought about it quite a while because it was bothering us. He finally said, ‘Well, I don’t think you should. Just look at it this way: they’re leaving but we have to stay.’”

“I sure was heart-broken,” Ken Barr, a teenager at the time, recalled. “I remember old Japanese ladies sitting there with the few belongings they could take with them…I remember crying, seeing them go.”

“I didn’t go down to see them off,” said Marguerite Robertson. “There was no way I was going to see people herded aboard a boat like that.”

As a schoolgirl, Islay MacLeod watched the confusion in disbelief: “There were my friends, Emiko and her sister, Sachiko…and there was the Japanese boy who had won a place in my heart forever by helping me with my arithmetic. And there were all the others, milling about on the Government wharf…I had never seen so many Japanese adults and children together at one time. It seemed to my young eyes that half the population of Tofino was leaving. And there we were, the other half…watching, watching watching…These friends who had almost overnight become our enemy…there was no communication between ‘us’ and our friends.” The Maquinna arrived, looking “drab and ominous in her wartime grey,” and the Japanese embarked with their suitcases and bundles. “Not one of them looked back and not one of them waved goodbye…I never heard their departure discussed—ever—by children in my age group, or by the adults.”

Over on Stubbs Island, Joan (Malon) Nicholson, aged eight, pestered her mother with the same question, over and over again. “Why did they take Gloria away?” Joan and Gloria Karatsu, also eight, had been best friends since they could remember. Madeline Malon, Joan’s mother, had no answer. Eventually Joan stopped asking, but she never stopped wondering about Gloria. Decades later she tried to track down her long-lost best friend. She managed to contact Ruby (Karatsu) Middeldorp, Gloria’s older sister, only to learn Gloria had died several years earlier.

The Canadian government interned a total of 22,000 Japanese during World War II, including a number of veterans from the previous war. During the 1914–18 war, 222 Japanese Canadians had fought for Canada; fifty-four had died, eleven won the Military Medal for bravery.




Older people in Tofino still recall the sharp realities of the war, and the genuine fear of a Japanese attack. “you had to have buckets of sand upstairs in the attic in case of incendiary bombs,” Ken Gibson commented when interviewed for Settling Clayoquot. “you really knew there was a war going on.” Ken still owns a copy of the “Air Raid Drill Precautions” handwritten by his teacher, explaining that the school bell would ring in “three short, sharp soundings” for an air raid drill. On hearing this, the children were to head into the playground and “seek shelter without delay in the stumps and bushes…each should seek shelter separately; avoid grouping together.” At Christie School on Meares Island, the children also carried out air raid and fire drills, and by 1943, according to Indian agent P.B. Ashbridge, all the children there had gas masks. “The threat of attack was so real,” wrote Gordon Gibson in Bull of the Woods, “that the military authorities insisted a box of groceries be kept in every home in case it became necessary to evacuate the women and children. I carried a gun in my car at all times as did many others.” Blackouts became part of everyday life on the coast following Pearl Harbor, with people putting tarpaper over their windows. Enforcing the blackout regulations was the task of the local Home Guard, which sometimes put the men in awkward situations, as Arthur Guppy discovered when he had to row over to Beck Island to tell his curmudgeonly father to douse his lights. Guppy Senior angrily refused, outraged by his son’s impudence and by this affront on his liberty.

On June 3, 1942, Japanese planes launched the first of two attacks on the American military installations at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands, killing 100 servicemen and civilians. This prompted American authorities to send a contingent of fifteen radio-detection specialists to Ucluelet to provide early detection of future attacks with their equipment, a forerunner of modern radar. In June 1942, within a month of the attack on Dutch Harbor, Japanese forces captured and occupied Kiska and Attu, the two most westerly of the US Aleutian Islands.

Japanese submarines returned to the west coast in June 1942. On June 7, 1942, submarine I-26 torpedoed the SS Coast Trader sixty-four kilometres off Port Renfrew, and on June 20, I-25 torpedoed the British freighter Fort Camosun in Juan de Fuca Strait, only eighty kilometres from Victoria. Then came the attack that electrified the west coast of Vancouver Island and sent shock waves across Canada. On the night of June 20, 1942, submarine I-26 shelled Estevan Point lighthouse at the entrance to Hesquiat Harbour—the first attack on Canadian soil since the war of 1812. Twenty-two people then lived at Estevan Point, one of the biggest installations of its kind on the coast, with its lighthouse, telegraph office, weather centre, and powerful radio that coordinated shipping throughout the North Pacific. As salvoes of enemy fire erupted at Estevan Point, the residents reacted in stunned disbelief.

Robert Lally, the lightkeeper, immediately doused the light. He later claimed to have seen more than one hostile warship offshore, as well as the submarine, and a strange white light emanating from one of the vessels. Radio operator Edward Redford stated that “the submarine surfaced about two miles [three kilometres] offshore and was plainly visible. Shelling commenced at approximately 9.40 p.m. and continued for about forty minutes. The first shells landed on the beach about one hundred yards [90 metres] in front of the lighthouse…The submarine pulled out on the surface and everyone could see her and hear her diesel engines quite clearly.” Some twenty-five shells were fired, the noise terrifying as they exploded near the light or whistled overhead toward Hesquiat village.

The telegraph operators stayed at their post, contacting Pacific Command, while everyone else evacuated the light station. According to Redford, “except for a few buildings hit by shell fragments, no damage was caused either to the lighthouse or radio station.” Meanwhile, over at Hesquiat village, panic-stricken people ran from their houses and headed to sea in canoes and motorboats to be out of range of the shells flying overhead. The lighthouse tender Estevan had anchored off Hesquiat earlier in the evening, unloading supplies that later would be taken along the eight-kilometre wooden road to Estevan Point. Working as fireman on the vessel, Tommy Rae Arthur recalled the intense excitement. When the Estevan’s skipper heard that a submarine had been sighted, Tommy reported, “He told me and all of the ship’s whole crew that he was going to go full steam ahead, getting to hell out of Hesquiat.”

Everyone in the vicinity related slightly different versions of the events of that night. Ada Annie Rae-Arthur (Cougar Annie) came up with one of the more colourful: she claimed to have seen the submarine surface right inside Hesquiat Harbour. “My great old mother [saw] a real submarine out in Hesquiat Harbour,” wrote Tommy Rae-Arthur proudly. “So she…made a very special phone call on the old land line phone to Estevan Point to let them know.” Later, Cougar Annie said a shell had hit the beach near her place at Boat Basin; this would have been eighteen kilometres off target, given that the submarine was aiming at the lighthouse.

Commodore W.J.R. Beech coolly dismissed some of the more excitable eyewitness accounts of the shelling. His official report to Ottawa stated that “the excitement during the bombardment may have caused those present to see and hear things which did not actually occur.” Calmer than most witnesses, Edward Redford commented: “While naturally there was some nervousness, everyone, including the women and children, took the whole incident in their stride, then spent the following day souvenir hunting.” Searching for Japanese shell casings provided entertainment for years to come. Shortly after the attack, coastal missionary Harold Peters found one measuring 16 inches long [40 centimetres]; the last shell to be discovered turned up in 1973.

Bjarne Arnet served as a skipper in the Fishermen’s Reserve at the time of the Estevan Point shelling. He received orders to take his boat out and intercept the submarine. His weaponry on board at the time amounted to three old Enfields from World War I and a stripped-down Lewis gun. Arnet had been born and raised in Tofino and knew every shoal, rock, and sandbar on the coast, but he decided to take no chances on this mission. “The next thing you know,” recalled a fellow Fishermen’s Reserve member, “Esquimalt got a message from Bjarne that they were ‘aground on a sandbar!’ No way was he going after a sub equipped like that!”

The attack on Estevan Point has sparked much debate over the years. Some historians maintain a complex conspiracy lay behind the event, and that ships of the US Navy, not a Japanese submarine, fired on the lighthouse. Writer Douglas Hamilton supports this argument, suggesting the attack was meant to “scare the bejesus out of Canadians and wake up those reluctant Quebecois and other ‘lukewarm patriots’ to the very real dangers of the deepening war.” The attack came at a time when conscription had become a hot topic in Canada; shortly afterward, the pro-conscription lobby prevailed. Also following the attack, according to Frank Rae-Arthur, “War bonds went on sale the next week, and sold out!”

Not even the testimony of the submarine captain, Yokota Minoru, convinced everyone about the nature of the attack. Many years after the war, in 1973, the captain stated: “It was evening when I shelled the area with about 17 shots. Because of the dark, our gun crew had difficulty in making the shots effective. At first the shells were way too short—not reaching the shore. I remember vividly my yelling at them, Raise the gun! Raise the gun! to shoot at a higher angle. Then the shells went too far over the little community toward the hilly area…the people were very quick to put out lights in the buildings but the lighthouse was slow to respond—the last light to turn off.”

Only a day after the Estevan Point attack, Japanese submarine I-25 launched a similar attack, firing seventeen shells at the US Army’s Fort Stevens near Seaside, Oregon. Most of the shells hit the beach, and residents of nearby Astoria watched the gun flashes far out to sea as the submarine fired its rounds. Within hours, Radio Tokyo boasted that the attacks on both countries had left citizens from Mexico to Alaska “panic stricken,” and that Canada was now suffering “attacks by Axis navies from the East as well as the West.”

Although submarines continued patrolling West Coast waters, no further shelling or sinking of Allied ships occurred on the coast for the rest of the war. Japan turned its attention to other means of attack. The I-series submarines, though they possessed no radar, each carried a small float plane that could be assembled and dismantled in under an hour. A compressed-air catapult launched the plane from the deck of the submarine, and when it returned a crane lifted it aboard where it could be disassembled and folded up for storage. Powered by a 340-horsepower radial engine capable of doing 150 knots, the little aircraft could remain in the air for five hours and could carry two seventy-six-kilogram bombs. At dawn on September 9, 1942, submarine I-25 launched its small float plane off the coast of Oregon, and the plane dropped two bombs in the forest near Brookings. A forest ranger spotted the resulting fire and managed to douse the flames. Three weeks later, a similar attack occurred, but with no ill effects. Given such incidents, people along the west coast of North America remained edgy.




On October 14, 1942, Coast Construction declared the new Tofino airfield ready for use, and the first military aircraft touched down on the east-west runway. The pilot of this Lysander, a British high-wing airplane primarily used for artillery spotting and army reconnaissance, ignominiously lost control and ran off the end of the runway. The plane had to be trucked to Ucluelet and shipped by barge to Vancouver for repairs. After this inauspicious beginning, the Kittyhawk fighter planes of No. 132 Fighter Squadron landed at Tofino the following day. The air crews found their new home in an appalling state.

Personnel bunked down in the construction camp and looked around in complete dismay. Nothing seemed remotely ready. Only the east-west runway could accept flights; the other two runways were still covered with trees and stumps. When the barracks opened a few days later, they offered little more than a roof, walls, and a floor. “No partitions, no electricity, no water, no toilets, washing facilities or showers. Lavatories were of the outdoor multi-holed variety reached by a trek through mud and construction debris,” recalled Leslie Hempsall. “A few wood-burning stoves provided heat, their chimney pipes stuck through the nearest window…At times food was so short that rationing began. To add to the confusion, knives and forks were in short supply and not everyone could eat together at one time.” No hangars had been completed, so maintenance personnel and ground crews had to stand by, huddled in tents at the end of the runway during October storms. Tarpaulins over the noses of the fighter aircraft provided minimal protection during maintenance work. In a desperate move to speed up completion of the base, the RCAF assigned airmen to construction duties, never bothering to ask if they knew a hammer from a chisel, nor checking with the unionized construction workers, who promptly threatened to strike.

Adding to the overcrowding and confusion, No. 147 Squadron and its Bolingbroke bombers then landed at Tofino. By the end of 1942, the Tofino base had eight Kittyhawk fighter planes, three single-engine Harvard trainers, two Cessna twin-engine trainers, and three Bolingbroke bombers. These Bolingbrokes required a crew of four, carried four 115-kilogram bombs or depth charges, and flew at 290 kilometres per hour. On patrol, the planes undertook twelve-hour flights extending 800 kilometres out into the Pacific, looking for submarines and monitoring shipping activity. Among the pilots of No. 147 Squadron were a number of New Zealanders, who must have wondered how they ended up on this dismally uncomfortable west coast base. One week after arriving, the Kiwis, with their great love of rugby, organized rugby training sessions on the sand of Long Beach in preparation for a forthcoming game against a Navy team.

Thirty officers and 357 non-commissioned officers and men ushered in 1943 at Tofino air base. The place by then boasted six toilets, some electric lights, and running water—if the pipes had not frozen. More army personnel soon arrived to protect the new airfield and the newly installed fuel tanks at Grice Bay, and four army encampments sprang up between Tofino and Ucluelet. To keep the soldiers active and to hone their skills, the army set up a rifle range and survival school on the Long Beach sand dunes, and conducted a rigorous obstacle course. The planes from the Tofino base also used the sand dunes for strafing and to bomb mock targets; as recently as February 2012, police were forced to cordon off a section of the sand dunes while demolition experts dismantled yet another unexploded bomb, one of several discovered over the years.

Aircrew of No. 147 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron pose in front of one of their Bolingbroke Bombers at the Tofino RCAF Station in 1944.
Aircrew of No. 147 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron pose in front of one of their Bolingbroke Bombers at the Tofino RCAF Station in 1944. Image PA162822 courtesy of Library and Archives Canada

The Ucluelet-based Sharps and Stranraers continued making their lonely patrols out over the Pacific, rarely spotting anything, but every now and then the station would be on high alert. In early December 1942, Western Air Command warned that an enemy strike force might be off the coast, intent on an attack to mark the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. All aircraft from both Ucluelet and Tofino headed out to sea on patrol; finding nothing, the general state of boredom resumed. One veteran recalled how “there was so little to do, and so many to do it.” To boost morale the Tofino station printed its own newspaper, the Western Flight, and hosted movie nights. They also welcomed the Kitsilano Boys Band, and Barney Potts and his dance band, who made their way over from Vancouver. Sports and clubs of every description also kept the men occupied during their non-working hours. By the end of 1943, nine Canso and two Catalina aircraft had replaced the obsolete Sharks and Stranraers at Ucluelet.




With no liquor outlet in Tofino during the war, the beer parlour at Clayoquot became a popular destination for military personnel and construction workers keen to escape the monotony and discomfort of life at the base. Walter Dawley did not witness these wartime boom years; he had left the area around 1937, having stubbornly remained at Clayoquot as long as he possibly could, and he died in Victoria in 1944. He passed his business on to his daughter Madeline and her husband, Pierre Malon. At some point following their marriage in 1933, he gave all of Stubbs Island to them for the sum of one dollar, and they moved there to help run the place. Madeline Malon never much liked living at Clayoquot, constantly waiting on others, emptying the “thunder mugs” (chamber pots) in the hotel bedrooms, and dealing with the demands of the bar at the hotel. In 1942, following the Japanese evacuation, the Malons sold the entire island to Betty Farmer and her brother Bill White.

Born in England and raised in Victoria, Betty Farmer came to the west coast in 1941 following the death of her husband, at the suggestion of her brother Bill, then living at Clayoquot and working for Pierre Malon. Betty began cooking for the Clayoquot Hotel, and she fell in love with the whole setup on the island, then comprising five cottages, beer parlour, hotel, and store—not to mention the school and the jail, still standing. Along with Bill and his wife, Ruth, Betty ran the place. Petite, strong-minded, and extremely capable, she became the heart and soul of Clayoquot for the following twenty-two years.

Entirely undaunted by the challenges of running the beer parlour, during the war years Betty Farmer became famous for her ability to control the large numbers of men who came to drink, sometimes too much, at Clayoquot. If an unruly customer refused to leave when asked, she would simply stop serving that table, or even the entire room, until the other customers had removed the troublemaker. “Throw that man out, or make him sit on the porch, or no drinks for anyone.” According to American biologist Ed Ricketts, who first visited Clayoquot in 1945, “many were sent to sober up under the rhododendrons before being allowed back in.”

Dr. Howard McDiarmid came to know Bill White well in later years, and his memoirs recount Bill’s story of one particularly memorable weekend during the war at the Clayoquot Hotel. “One Labour Day weekend when the miners were busy, the loggers were cutting spruce for Mosquito bombers, and there was a huge crew building…[what became] the Tofino airport. The workers had all downed tools for the long weekend and headed for Clayoquot, quickly overwhelming the tiny beer parlour. The party flowed out to the adjacent lawns, beach and dock, continuing through Saturday, Sunday and into Monday, at which point the RCMP patrol boat arrived at the dock. Bill came down to meet [the boat] and the corporal told him, ‘All right, Bill, shut her down.’ To which Bill replied, ‘No, you shut her down. you’ve got the gun!’”

A number of the wives and families of air force and army personnel came to visit for varying periods of time, offering a welcome break for the men posted to the grim, muddy isolation of RCAF Tofino. With no married quarters on site, the cabins at Singing Sands and Camp Maquinna on Long Beach often hosted visiting families, charging around fifteen dollars per month. Others used the collection of cabins earlier occupied by construction crews, some of which had been moved to Schooner Cove. Officially dubbed Pacific Heights, this scrappy hamlet, with no electricity or running water, became known as “Dogpatch,” after the hillbilly town in the comic strip L’il Abner. Some wives and families staying for longer periods rented rooms in the town.

When Catharine Whyte’s husband, Peter, was posted to Tofino air base as a photo technician, he found two rooms for them to rent in Mrs. Ragnhild Ericksen’s home. Catharine wrote to her mother every day about her life in Tofino. She vividly described walking in the pouring rain to meet the Princess Norah, battling with the oil stove, chasing cows out of the yard, and her daily treks with the “WC bucket” to dump it in the sea. The Ericksen home consisted of “six rooms and two bathrooms and four families…and yet we are so comfortable and cozy.” The other renters in the house included air force families and a schoolteacher. Peter Whyte travelled back and forth to the base every day, with Sundays off and “a 48 once a month.” Both Catharine and Peter Whyte had close associations with the art world and painted throughout their lives. They founded the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta, where they made their home after the war.

The presence of the RCAF base at Long Beach had an immediate impact on Tofino. Even though an “arm’s length” policy officially prevailed between the town and the base, the presence of hundreds of young men in the area, and their planes flying overhead continually, brought a huge amount of excitement to the town. The people of Tofino went out of their way to make the military men feel welcome when they came to town, hosting dinners in their homes, holding Red Cross fundraising dances and whist drives at the Legion Hall, and playing various sports with members of the forces. Local girls enjoyed the frequent dances at the air base, on the strict understanding that no local women could spend a night there.

“It was a great time for the ladies,” Ken Gibson commented, recalling how the pilots went out of their way to court local girls. “Marg Sloman was about eighteen or nineteen at the time and she lived next door to the school. The Kittyhawk pilots would fly over her house and do ‘chimney sweeps’ which involved screaming down from a great height and pulling out at roof level. When the pilots started this air show, the teacher couldn’t get a word in edgeways and we would all be at the windows watching the show. The squadron leader who organized the air show would tell Marg at the next dance at the base how he had led his squadron in serenading her.”

With his store now powered by a diesel generator, “thus doing away with Coleman gasoline lighting or Aladdin kerosene lamps,” and with a modern refrigeration unit, Sid Elkington felt well-equipped to meet the demands of the young air force men and their wives. He did run into unforeseen challenges, though. “With so many young marrieds,” he wrote in his memoirs, “we got requests in the store for such previously unheard of things as condoms. I had then to delicately advise local young girls working for us what they were, so that they might not be embarrassed.” Sid also noted the occasional presence of attractive, well-dressed women who arrived on the steamer and passed through his store; he learned from the local constable that these were ladies “of ill repute...planning to reap a bonanza...with so many unattached young men there.” Several of the air force wives found part-time work at Elkington’s store on the weekends, “when we were tremendously and excitingly busy.”

Wartime on the West Coast inevitably gave rise to mishaps and snafus. In July 1943, a fighter aircraft flying over the islands in Tofino Harbour experienced engine trouble; after spluttering and banging, the motor quit entirely. The pilot bailed out by parachute, landing in a tree near Lemmens Inlet, and the plane crashed on the far side of Meares Island. When two Opitsat men found the pilot swinging from the branches, with the help of the lifeboat crew they climbed up and lowered him to the ground with ropes, returning up the tree to retrieve the parachute. Long-time coxswain Alex MacLeod arranged for a “medical plane” to come to the scene, and reported that the rescue had taken four hours. Grateful for the help of his Tla-o-qui-aht rescuers, the pilot gave them his gun and flare gun. A few weeks later, when his superiors learned that he had given away air force equipment, they made him go back to retrieve his gifts.

Six months later, on December 18, 1943, personnel at the top-secret installation at Ferrer Point, a radio-detection station near Nootka, radioed headquarters that they were under attack, with shells exploding nearby. Coal Harbour and Tofino RCAF stations immediately launched aircraft; they located two small fishing boats in the vicinity but found no sign of an invasion fleet. Intelligence later revealed that the Princess Maquinna, on one of her usual runs up the coast and entirely unaware of the installation at Ferrer Point, had chosen to do some gunnery practice, firing off a number of 5.5-kilogram shells from the lone gun mounted on her foredeck.

On another occasion, Ruth White and Betty Farmer paddled from Clayoquot over to Vargas Island for a picnic. As they sat contentedly picnicking on an isolated beach, a fighter aircraft suddenly zoomed in low over the trees and began machine-gunning the beach. “We dove for cover under a huge log. We couldn’t tell where the plane was from—it all took place in seconds—then we heard it again, machine gunning in the distance. From then on we stayed close to the bush, just in case the plane should come back, which thank goodness it didn’t.” The attacker was probably a bored pilot having a bit of gunnery practice on what he thought was a deserted beach.




In May 1943, US forces advanced on the Alaskan island of Attu and reclaimed it from the Japanese, who had taken it in June 1942. After fierce fighting the Japanese forces surrendered: the US suffered 3,929 casualties, with 549 killed. Three months later, after bombing the island relentlessly, a combined Canadian and American force of 35,000 succeeded in recapturing the island of Kiska, with a loss of twenty-five Americans and three Canadians. Securing these islands dramatically reduced the Japanese threat to North America, but forces along the West Coast continued to remain vigilant.

One further Japanese threat materialized along the coast early in 1945, when Japan launched its “Windship Weapon.” Knowing that the prevailing winds (later termed the jet stream) flow eastward across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to North America, the Japanese built large balloons to carry incendiary devices to the West Coast, hoping to ignite massive forest fires. Ten metres in diameter and twenty metres in height, each hydrogen-filled balloon carried four incendiary bombs weighing a total of ninety kilograms. The balloons could climb up to 10,000 metres and took three days to reach North America, their altitude maintained by an altimeter-driven control system. At the end of the calculated period of travel, the bombs aboard dropped one at a time.

Only about 1,000 fire balloons of the 9,300 launched reached North America, travelling as far east as Detroit, Michigan; as far south as the California/Mexican border; and as far north as Alaska. Few forest fires resulted, but a woman and five children on a church picnic near Bly, Oregon, died when they discovered one of the devices, and the bomb exploded. Most of the balloons landed in remote areas, and three were shot down by the RCAF. In May 1945, American bombers destroyed two of Japan’s balloon factories, forcing an end to this scheme. To this day, loggers and hikers continue to find remnants of these balloons.




In order to relieve crews in remote locations who had been on active service for extended periods, the RCAF made a practice of rotating squadrons through its various stations. Those on remote bases went to more populated settings, which perhaps saved the sanity of many serving at the Tofino airbase, unaffectionately known as “Mudville.” In January 1943, No. 4 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron at Ucluelet switched with No. 120 from Coal Harbour. On October 31, 1944, No. 4 Squadron moved to Tofino; less than a month later, on November 25, 1944, it was disbanded as the Japanese threat to the coast receded. On July 1, 1943, No. 132 Fighter Squadron flew its Kittyhawks to Boundary Bay, and No. 133 Fighter Squadron flew its Hurricanes to Tofino. Nine months later, the two squadrons switched places again. On March 12, 1944, No. 115 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron from Patricia Bay flew its fifteen Venturas to Tofino, replacing No. 147 Squadron, which officially ceased to exist on August 23, 1944. Over 2,000 air force servicemen and eighty member of the Women’s Division served at the Ucluelet and Tofino bases during World War II. In addition, some 8,000 army personnel served at the two air bases during the war, as well as many hundreds of construction workers. In their thousands of hours in the air, the aircrews and aircraft based at Ucluelet and Tofino never fired a shot in anger, or sank any enemy submarines. On September 1, 1944, both RCAF Ucluelet and RCAF Tofino became inactive. Left with no aircraft and a complement of only 186 personnel, the Tofino base became a signals unit, used by planes from other bases for practice landings and takeoffs and for flight training.

With the war virtually over, on the afternoon of February 10, 1945, RCAF Canso #11007 landed at Tofino. Pilot Ronnie Scholes wanted to do some landings and takeoffs to test repairs on the aircraft’s port engine. Crew members went to Ucluelet to pick up some parts, and after they spent time in the mess at the Tofino base, the Canso took off to return to Coal Harbour at about 11 p.m. with twelve people, four 115-kilogram depth charges, and a full load of fuel on board.

Shortly after takeoff, the port engine died and Scholes tried to turn back to the Tofino airfield. With the plane quickly losing altitude, he put it into a full stall to slow down, then “pancaked” it into the tops of the trees on the southern slope of Radar Hill. Miraculously, all twelve aboard survived. Scholes suffered a fractured forehead and broken nose; others had only minor bumps and bruises. No sooner had the plane hit the ground than a broken fuel line in the port engine began spewing fuel, which caught fire. One of the survivors doused the flames as the others scrambled to get away from the crash. The survivors made themselves as comfortable as possible and waited. When the plane failed to arrive at Coal Harbour, a search plane took off from Tofino and soon spotted the wreckage, and ground parties rescued the survivors. Later RCAF personnel from Tofino returned to the crash site, retrieved the radios and machine guns and exploded the depth charges near the downed plane.

At the end of the war, along with the two runways and the nearby wreckage of the Canso, some fifty-odd buildings remained at the Tofino air base as visible reminders of the military presence there, including two hangars, a 128-bed hospital, a two-chair dental clinic, a recreation hall, a canteen, a thirteen-bay garage, barracks, a diesel power plant, and mess halls. The military also left nine enormous 113,650-litre fuel tanks at the head of Grice Bay. Too big to remove, authorities fenced them off and all but forgot about them until 1993, when remediation crews took two weeks to safely remove what was left of the very old fuel.

Over the years, local people found many uses for various buildings at the air base, moving some to new locations; dismantling others and integrating them, or their lumber, into different structures. The firehall, the Schooner Restaurant, and the Maquinna Hotel in Tofino all made use of military buildings, as did the original St. Francis of Assisi church. The local curling club created an ice surface in one of the disused hangers and used it well into the 1960s. Today only four or five of the original buildings still stand at Tofino Airport.

Commercial flights began using the airport following the war, sporadically at first, increasing over time. The year 2010 saw the construction of a new terminal building with a twenty-five-seat waiting room to handle daily scheduled flights to and from Vancouver and Seattle. yet however much traffic or excitement or improvement Tofino Airport may see in the future, it seems unlikely anything will ever rival the events here during World War II, or will match the heightened atmosphere that affected the whole area at that time.



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