Do I have to have boots with a foot shank for hiking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island?
Hell-oo-o, Victoria! On a clear day I can almost see you from the beach just north of where I live.
I definitely think a boot for a trip such as the West Coast Trail need some sort of shank. Maybe not steel, but at least nylon. Why? A shank is a semi-rigid insert that fits in the midsole of the boot. They serve several functions: they protect the foot from sharp objects, give the boot enough stiffness so it flexes at the ball of the foot even when loaded, and provides stability on rough terrain. Without them, your feet will feel bruised and tired after a long day on the trail.
In any event, the West Coast Trail is really no place to venture with inferior footwear. It is rugged, wet, and often treacherous. This year, due to windstorm damage, it's even more sporty than usual. So I highly recommend a real hiking boot. A good example would be the La Sportiva Cypress GTX for women ($190). They're made with tough leather and synthetic uppers, have a Gore-Tex bootie, and have half-length steel shank for good support. They're completely up to the West Coast Trail. But they're also comfortable, without much break-in required.
Another good choice is the Scarpa Kailash ($199), also available in women's sizing. They're a lot like the La Sportivas, with leather and synthetic uppers, Gore-Tex bootie, and excellent comfort. It uses a nylon shank that will be a little softer than that on the La Sportiva, while still giving good support. I have pair of Kailashes and love them.
For something a little more old-school but really good, take a look at the Zamberlan Vioz GT boots for women ($260). Full leather uppers, which are more durable than leather/synthetic blends. Gore-Tex booties. Stiff plastic shanks for support. Not at all fashionable. But hey, after a few days on the West Coast Trail, will you really care? Probably the boots I'd take.
Have a great trip!