Thursday, July 12, 2012

balancing tofino and the plane

On Tuesday, we made an epic trek to find the wreck of a lost plane.

First of all, I should tell you it was actually a gloriously sunny holiday. Six days of sun, sun and more sun.

Except – except!– on the very west coast of Vancouver Island in a little surfing town called Tofino. We had just finished lunch at Shelter (pinot gris and local shrimp sandwich, very nice) where we had to move from a sunny table to a shady table because we were too hot. Ten minutes down the road, we parked at Long Beach and found this . . .

But it was warm(ish) and children were building sand castles and people were surfing and it was a lovely walk along Long Beach before we got back in the car for the tortuous drive home.

Now, let me tell you what we were doing around Tofino.

It has always been family legend that my husband's grandfather Jack Campbell was lucky to make it through the Second World War – even though he never left Canada.

You see, he was one of seven crew members who were on a plane loaded with bombs, flying out of Tofino in 1945. Almost as soon as they lifted off, an engine gave out. The pilot quickly dropped the bombs over a bog and soon crashed into the side of a hill.

 But – and this is the good part – everyone survived.

That was all we knew.

Then, a couple of years ago, we were out hiking with a new friend when he starting telling us about this great hike he'd gone on in Tofino, to this old plane from World War II that had crashed into the side of a hill. The hike was unauthorized, but there was a trail through a swamp and a bog and up to the old wreck.

The light bulb went off pretty quick and Scott looked it up as soon as we got home. Sure enough, it was his grandfather's plane. It soon became our mission to take his parents to it.

This was a serious hike. Scott printed out instructions from various websites. I borrowed a GPS. His mother bought rubber boots.

We found the trail head along the road and headed in. The first part was an easy path through the bush. Then we got to this sign:

Yay! We were definitely going the right way.

We went through a creepy abandoned factory and out the other side. That's when the trail started getting iffy, as we scrambled down the side of a hill and learned how handy it is to hold on to trees.

In fact, that was nothing. The real fun was getting through the swamp. The mud would suddenly be up to our knees, so we followed a rope and skirted tree roots to stay above it (somewhat successfully).

Someone fell three times and another person fell once. I'm not naming names.

Once we were finally out of the swamp – which did bring back memories of the fire swamp in the Princess Bride (only without the fire) – we came out on a flatland of bog that looked like a veritable bonsai forest.

Just another kilometre or so across the bog . . . and we were there.

Sure enough, the plane was pushed into the hillside and we could hardly believe that everyone had survived.

It took our breath away.

Sixty-seven years later, the aluminum frame had hardly rusted, although there were tatters of some lighter metal fluttering off the wings.

I am not telling you how many times we fell on the trail heading home, but I will say I'm glad I borrowed these gaiters (not to mention they make me look like a very serious hiker in this glamour shot).

And getting back to the theme of this website – that would be food – we definitely worked up a good appetite for dinner here, which included a Dungeness crab and lemon risotto that I definitely earned.

You see, a girl can wear gaiters, be spattered in mud and still enjoy fine dining. It's all about balance.


  1. What an incredible story and great post!! I especially love your "glamour shot". You guys are adorable!!

  2. These stories about your travels (and food) are making me envious! You and Scott live a life of adventure.

  3. I am so moved by this story of finding Scott's grandfather's airplane 67 years later! Truly amazing...

  4. Why did you never mention this to me before?
    Also, I don't know why Parks Canada has not made this an official trail yet. People get lost every year on the muddy thing.

  5. Sterling, I know! We kept thinking how great it would be if PC put in a wooden boardwalk right over the swamp. If it weren't for the rope strung up over the swamp, we *definitely* would have gotten lost -- especially when I tried to lead us in the exact opposite direction and Scott gently pointed me back to it . . .

  6. Great story, I enjoyed reading about your fun adventure. lovely that you did the trek, accompanied by Scott's parents. thanks for the history Steph!!

  7. Glad to hear you made it! As an aside, the creepy building you saw was Radar Station C-38 of the Pinetree Line (, part of the DEW Line that was built in the 1950's to watch for Soviet nukes coming over the North pole. That installation gives Radar Hill its name.

    1. That makes sense . . . thank you again for recommending this hike to us!