The town of Tofino marked a grim anniversary on Tuesday – one year ago a whaling vessel capsized with 27 people onboard.

Five Britons and one Australian died when the 20-metre Leviathan II capsized near Vargas Island.

The initial investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found that an unexpected wave hit the vessel and almost all of the passengers were without life jackets.

“Certainly it has for many of us been one of the most life changing and difficult experiences that we’ve ever been through,” Tofino’s mayor, Josie Osborne, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The safety board is expected to release its report on the tragedy next year.

Tofino’s fire chief said the community is still trying to come to terms with what happened.

“In general people are doing well, but healing is a lifelong process,” Brent Baker said.

A ceremony was held on Tuesday afternoon where a plaque was unveiled honouring the memories of those who died.

“It’s definitely a tough day, I mean it’s been a tough year to be fair. Today especially brings back a lot of the memories for everybody who was involved,” Ryan Teremy with Jamie’s Whaling Station said.

The whaling station and operator of the Leviathan II closed its doors on Monday and Tuesday.

According to Teremy, Leviathan’s captain who survived, still can’t return to the water.

“The captain took this year off,” he said. “He’s taking some time for himself.”

Without government intervention, whale watching operators have made life jackets mandatory.

“On all vessels – our zodiac vessels, everybody wears the inflatable suits, the cruiser suits,” Teremy said. “All the other vessels that have passengers will wear those inflatable PFDs onboard.”

The town’s mayor said she would like to see more training and equipment in remote communities, which are often the first to respond on the water. 

“It’s not acceptable for people to have to rely on the boats that they may have and what gas they have in their boats,” Osborne said. “They need to know that they have a coordinated and effective response and they have the tools and equipment that they need to enact that response.”

Calgary survivor Dwayne Mazereeuw says he was thrown off the Leviathan II and he and his wife survived by clinging onto a life ring until they were rescued by members of the Ahousaht First Nation.

Mazereeuw returned to Ahousaht this week.

The skate-park designer was part of a project to build a park in Ahousaht for the village’s at-risk youth. It’s a way to say thank you to those who saved him and his wife.

“I think it’s helped with the healing and just reconnecting with the people who have helped us out with our greatest time of need,” he said.

The park’s ground-breaking ceremony was held on Monday.

“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time and we’re just thrilled to be supporting the kids of Ahousaht,” Mazereeuw said.

Construction is expected to be wrapped up in about six weeks.

For now the focus is on remembering the victims and supporting the survivors and rescuers whose lives were changed forever last year.

“I am today as I was a year ago incredibly proud of this community and the care the love and the support that was shown in the hours, the days, the weeks and the months following the incident,” Osborne said.

With files from The Canadian Press