Skip to main content

Canada For years, it was an ecovillage and a commune. Now, Poole’s Land in Tofino, B.C., is up for sale

Melissa Renwick/The Globe and Mail

Michael Poole jabs a claw-headed garden tool deep into a matrix of roots on his 17.5-acre property in Tofino, B.C. Surrounded by moss, the 66-year-old crawls on all fours with a furrowed brow, puncturing the ground over and over. He’s looking for a jar containing $3,000 that he buried two years ago.

Like a squirrel hiding its bounty, Mr. Poole stashes his money and “earth medicines” beneath the forest, dismissing any worry that someone might try to steal his treasures.

“Oh no,” he grins, “that would just make it so much more fun.”

Story continues below advertisement

To Mr. Poole, money is a secondary concern; his real interest is in instigating cultural change, which may help explain why over the past 30 years he’s had an estimated 20,000 strangers pass through his property and take refuge for just $10 a night. Despite sitting on a multimillion dollar property, Mr. Poole lives in an old trailer that he lends out whenever he’s away.

“This profiteering at any expense to the people and the earth is wrong,” he says. “And so, I’d be a hypocrite to do anything differently.”

Famously known as Poole’s Land, it is often referred to as a “hippie commune,” or an “ecovillage,” but Mr. Poole describes it as an “anarchist experiment. “ It has become a Tofino mainstay, a travel destination passed down through generations. But as Mr. Poole is confronted with aging, he says he can no longer go on and is finally ready to sell.

Mr. Poole bought the property in the eighties, hoping to create a communal living area free from any corporate structure.

Having spent his last dollar purchasing the land, he couldn’t afford to pay anyone to help him build roads, composting toilets or boardwalks. So he decided to let people camp in exchange for labour.

Located on the border of town, Poole’s Land has been a topic of contention in Tofino for decades because of the people it attracts. There’s a saying among locals that sounds something like, “If your bike goes missing, you’ll likely find it at Poole’s Land.”

“We’re talking about the poorest people in our society,” says Michael Goodliffe, 48, who helps manage the property. Because there are no limitations on who is welcome to stay, the promise of utopia draws quite the cast of characters. On any given day, you can find travellers, transient workers or homeless people scattered about the property.

Story continues below advertisement

Left: Raised by a 'pack of wild hippies in Manitoba,' Michael Goodliffe is a Poole’s Land mainstay. Goodliffe first visited Poole’s Land in 1994 and over the years, started making more regular trips before eventually transitioning into helping manage the property. Right: Hamza Znibaa, 21, poses inside his cabin, which also serves as the greeting centre for Poole’s Land.

Left: Originally from Saint John, Nicky Lanteigne travelled to the west coast to determine where he wants to create a life. Right: Brandon Smith stands in front of 'the pyramid,' which was originally built by Canadian author and filmmaker Andrew Struthers in the early 90s. To Smith, 'it’s like a temple of creation.'

Serina Gesner (left) and Jessie Tremblay Lemieux (right), 25, first heard about Poole’s Land from an article online and from a friend, respectively. They each stayed for 'the sense of community' and sharing of happiness.

After landing in Vancouver and finding the city to be too fast and noisy, Fumiya Kaneko (left), 31, originally hailing from Saitama, Japan, was recommended to travel to Tofino and has since taken refuge on Poole’s Land. 'You could come and meet a bunch of weirdos and not like it and leave, or you could come and meet a bunch of really good friends and stay – it depends on the time of year,' says Chris Holmes (right), 25, who is originally from Massachusetts.

People fall out of the societal roles they’re expected to play for all kinds of reasons, says Mr. Goodliffe, who theorizes that drugs, alcohol and mental illness are the main contributors.

Often stigmatized by people in town, some Poole’s Landers feel the need to hide from their employers the fact that they live on the property, because of its ties to partying and drug culture.

Mr. Poole is the first to admit that he’s been dispensing since he arrived on the land 30 years ago. He continues to microdose with magic mushrooms “at least two or three times a week,” he says.

Any place such as Poole’s Land, where people have chosen to live in a different way than the rest of society, “is something that really confronts our perceptions and our biases about lifestyles and the way people choose to live,” Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne says.

Poole’s Land is legally entitled to have two dwellings, Ms. Osborne says, but “everybody knows it has more than two.”

“We’re in such a critical housing shortage right now,” she continues. “If people are living safely in a dwelling – that may or may not be legal – it’s not going to rise to the top of our list.”

Story continues below advertisement

One of the more permanent structures on Poole's Land sits tucked away near the back of the property and serves as a home to a rotating cycle of transients.

'The Magic Bus,' as its been dubbed, serves as a home to those passing through.

With a population of only 1,932, the town receives 800,000 visitors each year, Parks Canada estimates. This spike has created a housing crisis, which flares up every summer when the municipality’s long-term rentals transition to short-term accommodation for tourists. The continuing trend leaves seasonal workers and locals with nowhere to stay, forcing many to sleep in their tents or campers on Poole’s Land.

Housing crisis aside, thousands of people have travelled to Poole’s Land from across the world in search of something a little different. They weren’t forced there out of necessity, but came by choice.

Haley Vanwatteghem, 18, heard about the “ecovillage” through a friend who visited last summer. She only intended to spend a week, but, overnight, decided to stay through to the end of the summer. “It feels nice to be in a place where you can be completely yourself,” she says. “It’s magic here. I feel like I’m in a fairy world.”

Many people have echoed Ms. Vanwatteghem’s sentiments and resent the harsh criticism of Poole’s Land. To them, it’s a transformative place.

Haley Vanwatteghem stands in front of a man-made pond that many use as a swimming hole in the summer months.

But Poole’s Land’s future is unknown. Ever since Mr. Poole bought the land in 1988 for $50,000, he’s led various groups of people to believe he’d sign the land over to them for a communal living area or a new development project – always pulling the plug at the last minute.

But, after a cancer scare two years ago, Mr. Poole says he’s realized he’s not immortal and feels time is running out.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m really tired of it,” he says. “I can feel the aging slippage of memory and word power, strength – all of those things.”

While not officially listed, the land is for sale for $2-million, says Mr. Poole, who dreams of purchasing a 160-acre lot near Long Beach “to solve the staff-accommodation problem and the homelessness.”

But even those closest to him aren’t convinced.

“Michael Poole is a fascinating man who is completely unpredictable,” Mr. Goodliffe says. "So, maybe he’ll sell, maybe he won’t.”

Like his buried treasure, Mr. Poole is a difficult man to unearth.

“Trouble,” Mr. Poole says, “is my middle name.”

Michael Poole shaves outside his motorhome, which he lends out to friends and transients whenever he's away traveling. 'I'm a homeless person,' he says. 'I don't really claim this as my home. I'm just another traveler who just happened to get lucky with a purchase of this particular place.'

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.