The Origin Story of Tofino’s Modern Music Scene

Tofitian Adam Buskard recalls the early days of the Royal Canadian Legion

For more recent Tofitian transplants, the idea that this town was once a musical wasteland seems like an impossibility. Modern-day Tofino regularly lights up with music, from happy kitchen parties with ultra-talented local guitar slingers, to the increasingly awesome rock shows at The Maq, and our super popular late-night sessions in The Hatch Waterfront Pub. It wasn’t always this way.

Adam Buskard is a notable character in Tofino’s scene. He moved from Whistler to Tofino in 1991, following in the gypsy footsteps of wood carver Vargas Dan. He is owner and operator of Tofitian cafe, co-publisher of Tofino Time, and a sound man who helps set up concerts and events all around town. But his greatest claim to fame may be being partly responsible for Tofino’s most celebrated music scene: Tuesday Nights at The Royal Canadian Legion. The story goes like this; by 2000, Buskard and his friend, Johnny Jenkins [JJ], were putting on Tuff City Sessions, a twice-weekly radio show on the now-defunct FM local station CHOO. “We used to stop in at the Legion to pick up off sales so we had beers for the show.” He recalls. “At that point, the legion was right on the edge of going under. It was really sad.”

As with many Legions, unfortunate times had fallen on the Tofino location, as the clientele aged, and a younger demographic shied away. The empty bar stools were showing, not just in the ambience, but in the bottom line. Thankfully, the citizens of Tofino were behind their future music venue.

“There was a local diver who was really rich,” says Buskard. “He bailed them out one time out of his pocket so they didn’t default on their mortgage.” Buskard and JJ wanted to help too. “We thought about it and said, ‘give us your deadest night of your week…give us Tuesdays.”

At first the Legion was cautious to hand over the building to a bunch of beer-soaked DJs, but soon relented. Tuesday Nights was born. “We originally called it Refuge.” Says Buskard. “It was just me and my buddy playing music.” The venue progressed quickly. “Within a month or two I started investing in proper sound equipment and started bringing acts in from Victoria. Acts like Velvet, Stir Fry, local DJs.”

The rest is history. By summer the Legion had become the centre for everything music in Tofino. “Tuesday nights were DJ nights. Saturday nights were live shows.” Says Buskard. “By Labour Day weekend, I had worked with another promoter to bring in [former James Brown’s saxophonist] Maceo Parker and his 13-piece band.”

To comprehend how incredible this era in Tofino was, you have to understand what the scene was like in the ’90s. “Tofino was starved. It was coffeehouse jam nights…the occasional band, but no real, consistent scene.” To go from acoustic guitars and cappuccino to funk saxophone legends backed by a big ol’ brass band was uplifting for the community. The growth would continue, with the list of bands over the next decade or so reading like a damn impressive diverse international music fest lineup: Burning Spear, Tegan and Sarah, Fishbone, Culture, 3 Inches of Blood, Reverend Horton Heat, K-Os, Buckwheat Zydeco, DJ Food, Xavier Rudd, The Waifs, Sarah Harmer, John Butler Trio, Chali 2Na, Dub FX, No Means No, Spearhead, K’naan, Sam Roberts Band, D.O.A.,…and that’s an abbreviated list.

“Tofino legion was on the map.” Recalls Buskard. “Bands would play [Vancouver’s famed] Commodore Ballroom Friday night, and Tofino Legion Saturday night. It felt like a living room party…with some international act.”

While Buskard has lost interest in booking bands in recent years, he still dabbles in producing local shows. You can see him in the shadows fiddling with speakers or adjusting the soundboard as a rocking band or melodic singer songwriter puts on a show. Be sure to say hi if you do. The stories run deep.