Poole’s Land is shutting down.
The travellers and residents that made up the famous, controversial and longstanding “eco-village” or “hippie commune” community on the outskirts of Tofino have largely dispersed. The structures they stayed and lived in are being torn down, according to Michael Poole, who owns the roughly 20-acre property.
“They’re both the very best who are staying to help me clean up this mess, the true friends, and then there’s the ones who just really can’t seem yet to manage. People who just can’t operate in the usual world and love it here,” Poole said.
“It’s all transforming. We’re cleaning the board for a new era to begin, whatever it is…I’ve been the garbage man here and I don’t want to be in charge of anything anymore. I’ve had it. It was good, but I’m kind of burned out on it, honestly; more than burned out.”
Poole purchased the property in 1988. What it became began to take shape about a year later as people began visiting and staying.
“There were the really intelligent, the best travellers and university educated people that really came from good families and then there were the ones coming from totally broken situations with no education and poor working skills and all of that, so it’s been dynamic let’s say,” he said. “It turned into some kind of experience for people and I guess the town at first saw it as staff accommodation.”
He estimated the land hosted upward of 100 people in any given day during Tofino’s busy summer months and perpetually carried a varied reputation, from being heralded for the desperately needed staff housing it provided, to being slammed for its loose laws and perceived illegal activity.
“Whenever anybody does anything, there’s always a bell curve of responses. Many of the people still in Tofino got their start here because there was nowhere else to get a foothold in order to get a job and to stay. Even among that group, there’s a bunch of different responses,” he said.
He believes it was the affordable accommodation his land offered that allowed Poole’s Land to exist with little government intervention, despite its illegality, for over 30 years. He also said he was already itching to move on before Tofino’s district office began handing him fines this past summer.
“I’ve thanked [Tofino’s fire chief and manager of protective services] Brent Baker many times for giving the three fines of $1,000 each, that really got my attention. At first, I thought, ‘Oh well, they’re just rattling sabers because they have to,’ but then I realized, no, this is real and I said ‘Thank you. This is so good. Now I get to quit this crummy job cleaning up after world travellers,’” Poole said. “I’m fully dedicated now. I know I’ve run around the bush many times, but now it’s time to sell the place…I’m out.”
Baker has been with the district office for over three years and told the Westerly that he had not received a formal complaint about Poole’s Land, so the complaint-driven bylaw enforcement process had not been triggered, until early 2019.
“We don’t respond to complaints via Facebook and those sorts of things. When people sit down and take the time to go through the process, then we absolutely follow up with our process,” he said. “Sometimes it can be a lengthy process and we have to work our way through it, make sure that we’re doing all our due diligence, but that was the case here and hopefully we end up with a positive outcome.”
He said the three $1,000 fines were related to zoning infractions after an investigation determined that Poole was operating a campground illegally, though the primary focus of the Poole’s Land crac down was centered around health and safety. He added that the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department has responded to two vehicle fires and one structure fire at the property in 2019.
“This process has been ongoing for about a year because we set out with the goal of voluntary compliance,” he said, adding that Poole has been exemplary in his cooperation.
“Every engagement that I’ve had with Michael Poole has been very positive, very pleasant, he was very welcoming to myself or any other agencies that I brought along with me. He always greeted us as friendly as anybody you might imagine.”
Poole has looked into selling the property before and said he’s now committed to seeing that sale through, suggesting he’s received offers on the land for around $3 million.
He said he plans to help the Tofino Habitat Society with crowd funding or other means to try to buy the land from him, but added that it’s likely a developer will purchase it.
“There’s two options, one is that our society buys it and the other is that some rich developer buys it,” he said. “Whatever happens, from now on, it will have to comply with the bylaws of Tofino, which doesn’t really fit at all with our society and it’s very unlikely that a rag-tag crew could pull it together. It’s going to take some real savvy.”
He added that he is skeptical about the society’s ability to take it on.
“I, really, very much doubt that it’s going to go that way,” he said. “I’d say that this is ending and just going to get sold to someone typical.”
He said he’d like to see the land used for educational purposes, particularly to test out alternative energy and living methods, rather than be developed in a traditional sense.
“I’ve got about a month to decide finally. And, in that month, we are going to put it out that this is over and what can happen next and see if there’s any interest out there from anywhere to do a really good job here, instead of the usual money-grubbing cement works,” he said.
He added that if the land does go to a developer, he plans to put at least $100,000 from the sale of Poole’s Land towards helping the society purchase an Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District lot near the West Coast landfill between Tofino and Ucluelet where, he believes, the residents who relied on Poole’s Land will be safely distanced from public and municipal scrutiny.
“That, I believe, is the perfect halfway point where staff accommodation and food security meet in harmony. There’s no neighbours out there,” he said. “That takes the whole problem of staff accommodation out of Tofino and Ucluelet…It’s large enough to be a small town of its own.”
He added though that he does not plan to be involved in the management of the potential new site.
“I won’t be part of all that. I’ll be a visitor like everybody else. I don’t want to run anything. I don’t want to own anything. I’m going into my so called sadhu stage, which is when you divest of everything and let go of it all,” he said. “Ideally, right now, it will be up to the board of directors of the Tofino Habitat Society.”
Poole noted Oct. 7 marked the 31st anniversary of Poole’s Land and said he’s excited to spend more time travelling.
“I became old here. From 37 to 68 this all happened and I stopped being a traveller to become landed. Now, I’m going back to being a traveller again,” he said, adding he plans to explore and invest in other unique communities that he finds.
“To try and just add some good kitchens and quality food processing here and there,” he said.