Paddle and Carve Through History on a Sacred and Ancient Land


FestivalSeekers would like to recognize that the Carving on the Edge is a festival that celebrates creativity, traditions and history, taking place on the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation. Festival-goers are welcomed into Tofino and a part of Canada where for more than 10,000 years the people of this coast have been stewards of one of the planet’s largest, most diverse and unique, intact rainforests.


Carving on the Edge delivers a spirited experience that is so special it’s a bit hard to explain, but ideally this story will help give you a taste for it. But first, I want to paint a picture that transports you there.

Read these next four lines and then close your eyes:

Think about water,

Think about the cleanest air,

Think about rainforest,

Think about spirit.

Now close your eyes, while thinking about water, pure air, lush rainforest and the spirits who’ve been here for millennia.

Welcome to the aptly named Carving on the Edge Festival held literally on the edge of Canada’s pristine Pacific West Coast – where the next landmass across the ocean is Japan.

Take a walk on the wild side of Vancouver Island. Plan your trip to Tofino today...

Watch Carving on the Edge on YouTube.

Watch and learn what’s in store at Tofino's Carving on The Edge Festival

The annual September artistic celebration brings together Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, with more many opportunities for anyone who attends to paddle and carve their way through history. What I didn’t realize at the time, but now understand, is that as travelers we have a role in helping to preserve this way of life and culture. 

“During collaborations like the Carving on the Edge festival people get together, and when you have the chance to share each other’s cultures, there is better understanding,” says Joe Martin, event co-founder and master carver. (whose traditional Tla-o-qui-aht name is Tuu-tah-qwis-nuo-shee-tl)

Watch Dugout Canoes: A Master Carver on YouTube.

“By and large peopled didn’t understanding what totem poles meant to us as a culture and the purpose or story behind it,” he says.

The festival is a chance for people to join together to learn and get immersed in the making of Indigenous art – and perhaps even help produce some of it.

carving on the edge
Photo: Doc Pow

Experience the “Carving Shed” at Wickanninish Beach (aka Wick) as part of your Tofino experience 

“Art is something our people never lost,” says Martin, with chisel in hand as he leads his cedar box making workshop during the festival. “It helps tell our story.”

Just looking at the art, you’ll learn the stories that go back 10,000 years, showing what life was like on these raw and undeveloped landscapes. Living off the land is reflected in the pieces, giving anyone who attends the opportunity to learn.

Carving on the Edge
Photo: Doc Pow

Lectures, and art gallery and workshops are all apart of this annual festival - cedar box making workshop 2017

Blending Indigenous with non-Indigenous artists, allows folks like Christen Dock Smith to add his story to the experience. Born in Norway, he now calls Tofino’s surf and creative class home. He led a fascinating workshop on the art of producing Viking carvings. It was cool to see novice and talented carvers at the end of their eight-hour Norwegian learning session walk away with their own pattern from a Viking ship, guided by one of the world’s top Viking carving talents, no less.

Carving on the Edge
Photo: Doc Pow

Norwegian carver, tofino local Christen Dock Smith out front “Wick’s” carving shed

Next time you’re in Tofino, be sure to check out the space where Dock Smith and his colleagues craft their magic. It all happens in a 30-year-old Carving Shed, which is essentially a hut that can be explored on Chesterman Beach, next to the Wickaninnish Inn.

Carving on the Edge
Photo: Doc Pow

Hard to believe its made of wood, Carving on the Edge, Tofino

But it’s not only the artistic immersion side of this festival that you’ll take part in. You’ll also have the chance to experience how vital the water is to the way of life when you paddle into the rainforest on ancient pathways that are the lifeblood of the people living here. You’ll learn how the bounty of the land is so vital to generations of people and is part of who they are. 

Carving on the Edge
Photo: Doc Pow

Passing on the carving spirit, the Carving on the Edge Festival welcomes all ages

Check out to learn more about what to expect at the annual festival. 

“Being in a canoe is a continuation of an ancient life way. The tree used to produce this canoe is over 2,000 years old,” says Martin. “It’s not just the year, but the thought that this canoe carries the generations of Tla-o-qui-aht who took care of the forest,” says Martin. 

It’s this stewardship that allows any of us to be welcomed into this community and paddle into the region’s history, which will surely leave you feeling different than when you arrived.

If You Go

Go to Tourism Tofino’s website,, to start planning your trip.

Learn more about T’ashii Paddling

Want to do more to help preserve and understand Indigenous culture? The District of Tofino has introduced a helpful and educational Indigenous Canada cultural understanding certificate that you can earn. The link to get started in the online course is here.

Our Canadian friends and neighbours at the Tla-o-qui-aht and many other nations across the country invite you to learn more as a path to reconciliation.

Start with a visit to this festival on the edge and carve into the culture. Learn more.

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