The Clayoquot protests started out as small blockades in the 1980s, in opposition to clearcutting in the region. Ten years later, it became one of the most significant public protests in Canadian history.
“The protests in Clayoquot Sound were very inspiring, led by Indigenous Nations and environmentalists, and really brought about change in the sound,” said Jens Wieting with the Sierra Club.
Nicknamed the “War in the Woods,” the protests came to a head 30 years ago, in mid-1993. The potential unrestricted logging of Meares Island, Tofino’s drinking water source, was the tipping point.
Thousands of people from the region and around the world joined Nuu-chah-nulth Nations, environmentalists, and big-name activist organizations like Green Peace and the Sierra Club to protest.
The international press came to report and big bands like Midnight Oil performed, delivering politically charged tunes to the protestors.
The protests peaked in the summer of 1993 with mass arrests. More than 800 people were arrested that year, 300 in just one day.
“You know the violence happening in our forests? They’ll never be back. They’re 1,000-year-old giants, gone in 45 minutes!” a protestor can be heard from CHEK News archival footage.
The sheer number of people arrested made it the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history at the time.
Legacy of the Clayoquot protests
Today, the old-growth forests of Clayoquot Sound still stand.
Out of the sawdust emerged new provincial logging policies, Tofino’s booming eco-tourism economy, and First Nations obtained more ownership of their region’s logging rights.
But the story of old growth as a whole on Vancouver Island remains one of two tales.
“Only a fifth remains compared to the original old growth,” said Weiting. “In 1993, we had about a little over 30 per cent of the original old growth left. And today it’s about 20 per cent. That translates to a loss greater than a third.”
As B.C. continues to lose old-growth forests elsewhere, the Sierra Club says the urgency to protect old-growth forests is more pressing than ever.
“This is a record-breaking wildfire season and temperate old-growth rainforest is considered the most resilient, most carbon-rich forest in this province and we really need to hang on to it if we want to get through this climate crisis,” said Wieting.
“It’s unsurprising that some people are walking into the woods to protect the forests because they are getting desperate. It shows that the B.C. government must work with First Nations to enable conservation solutions today. Without those solutions, you will see more and more dramatic protests in the future.”
Since 1993, the protests in Clayoquot Sound set the stage for protests like in Fairy Creek, also on Vancouver Island near Port Renfrew.
In 2021, the protests there broke the War in the Woods’ record as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history, with thousands arrested.
So, while it’s been 30 years, in many ways, the War in the Woods continues.