A True West Coast Pup: The Salish Wooly Dog

This might be a controversial thing to say, but we believe Tofino was made for dogs. Beaches, forests, water and wide-open spaces to run. What’s better? That’s why we are a dog-friendly hotel, but we are far from the first to believe dogs belong on a beach or a bed. Take the Salish Wooly breed of dog, a now-extinct Good Boy that lived throughout the Coast Salish territories, including on the southern end of Vancouver Island. And while it not known 100% if it lived in Tofino, the Salish Wooly’s story feels appropriate to tell here.

Small, mostly white, and long-haired with upright pointy ears, a curled tail, and a thick coat, the Wooly was first observed by a European settler named George Vancouver, somewhere around 1792. Georgie was sailing around what now might count as Seattle, and saw the Puget Sound pup, which he thought looked like a pumped-up Pomeranian.

So, where did this puffy little pup come from? Dog historians know the breed developed before settler contact. How? They found the remains of one in Puget Sound and another in the Strait of Georgia, both dating from roughly 4,000 years ago, long before Europeans made it here. And when they did arrive, they did not like the sounds of the Salish Wooly…literally. Famed Spanish naval officers Cayetano Valdés y Flores (who worked with hydrographer Vicente Tofiño de San Miguel…whose middle name you might recognize) and Dionisio Alacalá Galiano (who had a little island named after himself as well) both saw the same dog while sailing Coast Salish waters in 1792. They said the dogs didn’t bark, but “simply [had] a miserable howl.” Once again, those dastardly Europeans were not making many friends back in the day.

The Salish Wooly dogs were domesticated by the Coast Salish people, and would reportedly live in packs of 20 to 30, eating a diet of fish, meaty bits, and rendered elk fat, so they could stay shiny and strong. The First Nations didn’t do this because they wanted fancy show dogs; they wanted dog fur jackets. And they made sure their breed stayed pure to protect their wooly little resource, keeping the breed separate from other domesticated dogs. The Coast Salish would often confine the breed to the Gulf Islands and San Juan Islands, leaving them alone in the warmer seasons and shearing them in autumn. There is exactly one Wooly Salish dog hair blanket left in existence, and it’s keeping a table warm at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, Washington.

A Coast Salish weaver and a wool dog. Painted by Canadian artist Paul Kane.

So where did these Good Boys and Girls go? In the 1800s, more Europeans meant more European dog breeds, and that led to more indiscriminate dog sex in the Pacific Northwest. Add in settler colonization and the displacement that came with it, and the Wooly Salish didn’t stand a chance. Cheap, machine-made blankets came overseas and there was no longer any need to keep the breed pure. Remember, no dog shows. By the time we entered the 20th century, the dogs were gone. We’d like to think—like all dogs—the memory of them continues to bring a smile to humans’ faces.

Dig deeper into the story with the fine folks at Hakai Magazine.

At Tofino Resort + Marina, we are dog friendly. Cats, too. Let’s be honest, though. Dogs are better. Guests may bring pets and will be charged a $20.00 per night per pet accommodation fee to a maximum of $40 (two pets).

  • Pets must never be left unattended in the room or leashed on the property at any time.
  • Pets must be on a leash at all times.
  • Pet dishes, beds, towels and dog biscuits are provided upon request.

With the exception of guide dogs, no pets are allowed in the food and beverage outlets due to health regulations.