It started with a $10 can of Coke, recalls Sandi Knighton in the newly released documentary ‘Chez Monique’s: a burger on the edge of the world’ produced by Pink Buffalo Films.
“It was a hot day. There was a hiker that came down the ladder and he saw us with this pop and he comes running up and sits down and he’s sweating and he’s got a big backpack and he says I’ll give you 10 dollars for just one of your pop. And from there it just grew,” Knighton says of her family’s restaurant Chez Monique’s located on Carmanah beach on the West Coast Trail.
Over the last 25 years, the legendary off-the-grid establishment fed and hosted hikers from all over the world.
Vancouver-based director Chris Lorenz first encountered Chez Monique’s while he was hiking the West Coast Trail.
“Like so many others, I was taken aback by the hospitality and persistence exhibited by the Knightons and amazed at how they had made such a harsh environment feel like home — not only for themselves but for their guests,” wrote Lorenz.
“The story we are trying to share is of the loving haven they created and sustained for decades, and all the hearts they touched,” said producer Joaquin Cardoner.
“With the passing of the restaurant’s founder, Monique, in January 2018 followed soon after by the unexpected death of her husband, Peter, the film depicts their daughter’s struggle to keep the business afloat without them, while also sharing the restaurant’s origin story and its impact on visitors,” said Cardoner.
Due to the passing of Knighton’s father, a Carmanah or kwaabaaduw7aa7tx First Nation, this is the first year in which Chez Monique’s has not opened.
“[Chez Monique’s] is all I know. I’ve been out of place,” Knighton told the Westerly from her base in Duncan. “If they said, ‘this is your legacy and you can go back’, I would be there in a heartbeat.”
Her parent’s ashes remain in the cabin they built on the West Coast Trail. Knighton said she is not allowed to go back to the area because she is not a member of Ditidaht First Nation, the tribe that governs the territory within the West Coast Trail, which is part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
According to Parks Canada, approximately 7,500 hikers take on the West Coast Trail per year. Knighton said Chez Monique’s was “always for the hikers.” She said her family was there for the people in dire need.
“Come get a warm drink, come get something to eat. Come to the fire. We gave them tea, coffee, put them under shelter. The best gift you can ever give someone is to help them,” said Knighton.
Karen Haugen, superintendent of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, addressed the issue.
“Parks Canada does not own the land where Chez Monique’s restaurant is located, however the Agency respects the Ditidaht First Nation’s land management decisions,” wrote Haugen in an email to the Westerly.
The 21-minute film ‘Chez Monique’s’ was released online and on VOD by Telus Originals on July 16.
READ MORE: Ditidaht and Pacheedaht First Nations move to final stage of treaty negotiations (June 28, 2019)