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Tofino Botanical Gardens changes hands, MakeWay Canada takes ownership

10-acre property is now an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area (IPCA) Innovation Centre
Meet some of the new team at Naa’Waiya’Summ Indigenous Coastal Gardens: Tessa Ma, Ian Enns, Miles Steven, and Vania Bowman. (Nora O’Malley photo)

The Tofino Botanical Gardens changed hands in the fall, and it reblooms this spring as the Naa’Waiya’Summ Indigenous Coastal Gardens. 

In Nuu-chah-nulth language, the word Naa’Waiya’Summ speaks about the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next.

“I owe credit to (elder) Levi Martin for bringing this word to me,” said Eli Enns, a leader in Indigenous conservation and the visionary behind the rebirth of the gardens, during a Feb. 13 virtual announcement.

“There were always these cedar benches in front of our villages where you can imagine an elder sitting on the bench with a young person and the elder is speaking to the young person and passing on knowledge. These Naa’Waiya’Summ benches were places of observation, iisaak, and the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next. I couldn’t’ think of a more fitting word for the gardens, a place of learning and inspiration,” Enns said, the co-founder of the IISAAK OLAM Foundation.

Ownership of the 10-acre Tofino property was transferred to MakeWay Canada’s Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCA) Innovation Program in September 2021. MakeWay is a national charitable organization whose mandate is “nature and communities thriving together.” The IISAAK OLAM Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting the establishment of IPCAs, was the agent that made the deal come to fruition.

George Patterson, who established the Tofino Botanical Gardens over 25 years ago, will stay on as an advisory for the next three years.

“For me it couldn’t have been a better outcome. Eli and I have been talking about how he could be involved in this for about 15 years. It wasn’t an overnight decision,” said Patterson during the Feb. 13 virtual gathering. “It’s very exciting. I’m looking forward to the next 10 years of watching what happens here.”

After spending time in Costa Rica at the Las Cruces Research Station and Wilson Botanical Garden, Patterson bought the undeveloped piece of land and moved from the USA to Tofino with aspirations of creating a similar educational and nature loving hub. Over the years, the Tofino Botanical Gardens emerged as a beloved public space, hosting countless community events and providing office space for local environmental non-profits.

READ: Tofino Botanical Gardens for sale

Enns says elements of Patterson’s botanical gardens will live on in the Naa’Waiya’Summ Gardens. The Ecolodge will remain a learning lodge, plus Darwin’s Café was tentatively renamed the Little Costa Rica Café in honour of the original inspiration for the gardens.

Naa’Waiya’Summ’s head gardener Vania Bowman planted tulip bulbs in the winter and is anticipating an early spring bloom.

“I’m just taking it on one garden at a time,” Bowman told the Westerly during a recent site visit.

Operations manager Tessa Ma says the goats went to a farm in Errington and the chickens, unfortunately, were taken by a black bear. The duck has been missing for some time.

“It’s been a quiet winter,” said Ma. “Come by for a coffee and have a wander. The gardens are still open to the public.”

Maintenance crew Miles Steven and Ian Enns have been working hard pulling up old carpet, painting, repairing the road and doing whatever else needs to get done as the gardens cruises in “transition mode” as Steven puts it. Ian, Eli’s son, is thrilled to be involved in the transformation from the get-go.

“It’s where my heart’s at,” he says.

Wood harpoons whisper stories from the centre table of the quiet café while at the top of the property two, 26-foot cedar logs lay horizontal, awaiting the hands of master carvers and their destiny – totem poles to be erected, one in the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations community of Opisaht across the inlet from Tofino and the other on Naa’Waiya’Summ lands down by the water.

“The place is just going to be exploding right away with these master canoe and totem pole builders that are going to be giving new life to the gardens. It’s going to be gradual, over three to five years, the transformation of the property,” said Enns.

Individuals and groups are encouraged to email to request more information about booking the Ecolodge or signing up for one of the upcoming educational experiences that focuses on Indigenous-led conservation.

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