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Island Diaries: Adam Buskard of the Tofitian and Tofino Time Magazine

Island Diaries: Adam Buskard of the Tofitian and Tofino Time Magazine

Adam Buskard reflects on his journey from baker to carpenter apprentice to newspaper publisher and owning one of Tofino’s most iconic cafes.

As told to writer Dre Turner. Illustration by Kevin McBride.


It was 1989 in Whistler and a guy I knew was telling me he was going to the Island to check out this place called Tuh-fee-noh. Back then, Tofino wasn’t on the map. The concept of white sand beaches and surf wasn’t really in the consciousness of the Canadian public. If you lived in Kansas, you knew California existed. But if you grew up in Manitoba, you grew up thinking about California, you didn’t think beaches and surfing were a reality in Canada.

I was born in Vancouver, but when my parents split up we moved to Ontario for a bit. I wasn’t there for long, only until I was 18 or so, and then I moved to Whistler. Shortly after meeting the guy who told me about Tofino, I hitchhiked out there, camped on the beach for a week, and then went back to Whistler and grabbed all my stuff. 

I was really inspired by the rugged, self-reliant individuals that I met in Tofino. It inspired me to find mentors and learn from them. They knew how to build a house, fix a boat, drop a tree, mill a tree, catch a fish, clean a fish. I’m a high school dropout and as I was leaving school, I gave my mom the analogy that I wanted to go out in the world and learn as many things as I possibly could—I would have this toolbelt on me through life so I could deal with any situation. It’s worked well for me in my life—especially owning a business like the Tofitian cafe, and my house and whatever. I don’t have to wait and find people who can do things, I can just do them.

There were times I’d commute in with my clothes held above my head when the tide was high, or I’d wear my wetsuit and put my clothes in a dry bag, and show up to the job site like that.

When I first moved to Tofino I lived on a boat. Noah Cohen’s father was this legendary character named Dutch. He was fucking legit, this tiny little guy with a beard and a corncob pipe. He had three boats: the Orca Four, the Waltzing Matilda and the Tilted Hilton, and I lived on all of them. That was my first summer. Then I moved into a friend’s cabin for the winter and later onto Frank Island that spring. 

I lived on Frank Island for seven years. It was probably one of the most formative experiences of my life. I was doing my carpentry apprenticeship and we built house after house on Chesterman Beach—when I first started, there were only five houses on the beach. I’d wake up on Frank Island, make coffee, then walk down the beach to the job site. There were times I’d commute in with my clothes held above my head when the tide was high, or I’d wear my wetsuit and put my clothes in a dry bag, and show up to the job site like that. Another unique commute from Frank Island was when I worked on Clayoquot Island as a gardener. I’d walk across the sandspit, ride my bike into town, then get in my kayak to paddle to work.

It got to the point where bands were playing the Commodore Ballroom [in Vancouver] Friday night and the Tofino Legion Saturday night—big massive tour buses pulling into town.

Before I did my carpentry apprenticeship, I worked on commercial fishing boats and in the bush doing salvage work and road deactivation. I even did a stint at the Common Loaf as a baker. I also lived and worked in the logging camp near Cougar Annie’s and got to know Peter Buckland [the owner of Cougar Annie’s Garden]. I spent a bunch of time helping him salvage logs and run sawmills in the middle of nowhere, learning shake block cutting—one of the hardest jobs in the entire world. There’s this side of me that is full on West Coast pirate; I love pulling logs off beaches and milling big timbers and that’s why I moved here. There were moments working in the bush, and fishing, of full on Can I do this? and being pushed to the absolute limits of what you can endure physically and mentally and emotionally.

By early 2000, I was working as a journeyman carpenter and running various local events under my company, Tofitian Productions. The legion was on the edge of going under; it was pretty touch and go, so I came in and I said, “Give me your deadest night of the week,” which was Tuesday. And so me and a buddy started doing a DJ night called Refuge. Within a year it was through the roof, and I was bringing in some of my favourite acts from around the world like Burning Spear, Tegan and Sara, Sam Roberts Band, Bedouin Soundclash, Spearhead, k-os. It got to the point where bands were playing the Commodore Ballroom [in Vancouver] Friday night and the Tofino Legion Saturday night—big massive tour buses pulling into town. It was such a tight-knit community that those shows would feel like a living room party, but with the likes of Maceo Parker and his 13 piece-band playing. 

Local status used to be 12 winters—it didn’t matter how many summers.

To promote the DJ night, I would create a poster for it that would list all the upcoming shows. I also wanted to do a little zine, so I approached my friend Baku to teach me how to put one together. We thought, Wait a minute, Tofino doesn’t have a magazine, fuck it let’s do it. So we put out the first two issues, paid for them out of pocket and put everyone in for free. “We did two months’ worth of content and said, “Here’s the concept, here’s the idea. Who’s in?” Everyone was like, “Yep.” And it’s been going for the last 206 months.

I started the Tofitian cafe about a year later [2002]. I’ve always loved coffee, and my friend who had a gallery in [our current] space was moving to a different location. So I went for it. It was just the downstairs space to begin with. I love the coffee shop—the creative process of it. But back then, I was a major workaholic. I averaged 80 hours a week for a long time; I’d finish a show at 2 a.m. and be at work for 8 a.m. These days, I just run the Tofitian, Tofino Time Magazine, and some smaller side projects, along with a vacation rental, which is pretty awesome because I’m creating an experience that enhances people’s lives. When I bought the vacation rental property, I had to put in the road, water, power, sewer—that was all my money at the time. To make it work, I lived in this sweet little setup—It was an Airstream trailer and a cabin that sat side by side, and in between was a fire pit, a Japanese soaker tub and an outdoor shower, all under a ridge beam with a tarp for a cover. I lived there for like, ten years while I plugged away at the property. 

Before Craigslist, there was a newsprint thing on Vancouver Island called Buy-Sell-Trade. My buddy Asia and I would buy a copy whenever it came out on Thursdays and we’d meet up to drink coffee and scour for deals. One day, Mayfair Lanes [a landmark bowling alley in Victoria] came up on the Buy-Sell-Trade and I had a vision that those lanes needed to be used for something that did them justice. So I went down [to Victoria], helped pull out the lanes and then brought up here. I refinished them in my workshop, then used a crane to put them in as the ceiling in the house

I will always have this pirate anarchist side to myself. I told myself for years that I was never going to get in the game, that one day I was going to leave Tofino on a sailboat.

I now live in the Comox Valley half the time and I love it over there. It’s got everything—hot summers, snow in the winter, lakes, nearby islands. There’s this thing in Tofino where everyone’s claiming to be this or that, and it’s becoming very image oriented. Local status used to be 12 winters—it didn’t matter how many summers. I know a lot of people who get the hell out in summer. A few years ago now I noticed a real influx of new people seeing Tofino as a place of opportunity. It is what it is; the reality is that for six months of the year, you struggle with trying to balance wages and everything. I imagine there’s a lot of businesses in Tofino that hemorrhage money half the year. But in terms of new business and more things opening, if what we already have is being diluted, it can be more difficult for everyone. Then there’s that drawbridge mentality: “I’ve been here five years, pull up the bridge!”

The reality is when I moved to Tofino, people who had lived here longer were salty about me showing up. But who are they or I to say how many businesses and people are too many? I will always have this pirate anarchist side to myself. I told myself for years that I was never going to get in the game, that one day I was going to leave Tofino on a sailboat. Twenty years ago, it was a full on raging hippie town. Back then, there was just one good restaurant–the Orca Lounge. Phenomenal Italian food. Today, it’s pretty amazing to live in a remote village of 2,000 people and have a dozen fantastic places to choose from when you think about going out for dinner.

Check out Tofino Time Magazine and the Tofitian and give the Tofitian Cafe a follow on Instagram.

Looking to stay in Tofino? Check out Adam’s vacation rental.

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