We got an early start for what we anticipated to be a long drive to the North of 290 mile long Vancouver Island. Allowing for a couple of stops along the way. Our route north to Telegraph Cove entered into a much more remote area of the island.
Duncan, about an hour north of Victoria and nicknamed the City of Totems, was our first stop. The town, located in the Cowichan Velley, borders the Cowichan Tribe’s Reservation, and the two communities work closely together on local issues.
The totem pole project began in 1985 as a way to promote the city and also In an effort to recognize the strong bonds between these two communities. It is an on-going project that has grown into the world’s largest outdoor collection of publically displayed totem poles.
There is a self-guided walking tour of the totem poles beginning in downtown, marked by yellow footprints on the sidewalks and streets. The walk takes you through the downtown business area, where the majority of the totem poles are concentrated. Past some cute looking businesses including a tempting breakfast diner (too bad we’d had breakfast).
Each totem pole has a plaque with its story, and the stories really make the totem poles come to life. The walk takes 30-45 minutes, and there are also guided one-hour tours four to five times a day on the hour Mondays to Fridays from June through August. We purchased a booklet that contains all of the stories of the totem poles at the Judy Hill Gallery, located at the beginning of the walking tour.
I find the totem poles and their stories fascinating, many include animals that are of great significance to the Quw’ utsun’ (Cowichan) people: the killer whale, the raven, the bald eagle, the bear and others. We highly recommend a visit to this town.
As we continued north and passed central Vancouver Island, traffic decreased significantly, the multi-lane road became a two-lane road, then a road with no stripe. After the mid way point there were no towns, and for long stretches not even a building.
As we drove north we saw the forest plots of various heights, some recently clear cut. This is big logging country.
Approaching Telegraph Cove we passed by the enormous Englewood Forest Operation Beaver Cove Log Sort.
There is an elaborate process of packaging and transporting lumber from this area to their final destinations. During our visit we took a little time to observe the operation from an overlook that is provided by the facility.
Logs come in on railroad cars or trucks from different parts of the island. Englewood Railway runs 60 miles or so into the heart of Vancouver Island and is the last operating logging railroad in North America. Cool.
The logs are sorted by size and shape and like logs are grouped using giant log loaders, some capable of lifting 60 tons of wood in one scoop. Bundles of similar sized logs are placed into strapping bunks where metal straps are then applied to keep the bundle together.
The log booms are large pens formed by an outer frame of logs that have been attached together by chains. These pens are filled with the floating bundles of logs until full, forming a big raft or “boom” about 350′ by 60′.
When twelve booms are accumulated, they are transported by tugboat to a mill further south on Vancouver Island. We actually saw one of these tugboats tugging an enormous group of logs along slowly through the water. These boats rule the water, they have right of way over everything else.
We’ll never look at lumber at a Home Depot quite the same way again. Fascinating.
Telegraph Cove is a tiny hamlet with a population of around 20 year round residents which grows incrementally to support about 120,000 visitors in the summer. It is so named because it was selected as a lineman’s station and northern terminus for the telegraph line from Campbell River in the center of Vancouver Island.
In the 1920s, one of the original pioneers in the area, with help from Chinese and Japanese workers, built a small lumber mill and salmon saltery. The lumber business grew and prospered and the workers built picturesque houses on a boardwalk that sat on stilts over the beach.
During World War II, the Royal Canadian Air Force commandeered Telegraph Cove and took over the sawmill as a relay station. After the war, the sawmill continued to grow, providing custom-made lumber for boats and docks.
There is a Telegraph Cove Resort and a Telegraph Cove Venture (which owns Telegraph Cove Marina) and they are not one and the same. We arrived at the marina to find that we had no reservation. We weren’t the first to make this mistake and the camp hostess graciously explained the situation and told us where the other campground was located. As we spoke with her, an eagle flew above us, always a good omen.
We booked our Vancouver Island campgrounds using the WiFi in a café. In the rush to get it done, I apparently sent a message from the wrong website, and didn’t follow up on their cryptic confirmation.
Telegraph Cove Resort was back in the forest and quite pretty, but we had our hearts set on being near the water and also found that the mosquitoes were terrible in the forest. So we opted to go back to the marina, and take the hit of losing our deposit. I won’t make that mistake again!
Telegraph Cove Marina was a bit plain but very clean with grassy areas between the sites, a view of the charming harbor and is conveniently located within walking distance of the village.
The old sawmilling village and the saltery buildings have been restored and are now part of Telegraph Cove Resorts.
How did this town become such a tourist attraction? Killer whales and other wildlife viewing and fishing. Jacques Cousteau called it one of the best places in the world to view and enjoy Orcas in their natural environment. And visionaries started a whale watching operation and restored the old town. The whales are what brought us here. Much more on that later.
Meanwhile, back at the campground, one of our kind neighbors, Georgie, brought us a fresh “pink”. The smallest type of salmon. We met her when we arrived at the park, and she mentioned that she and her husband had been fishing and threw a lot of the pinks back in the water, because these are generally smaller and supposedly less desirable (but abundant).
Hector was asking about a market to get fresh fish (there isn’t one), and jokingly asked her to save a fish for us. Later there was a knock on our door and voila … dinner. She’d even cleaned and scaled the fish for us, another Canadian kindness moment.
Hector forgot to take a photo of the whole fish, but I got one while he was filleting it. And it was delicious – two meals worth!
Back to the whales. We visited the Johnstone Strait Whale Interpretive Centre, located at the far end of the boardwalk. It’s a simple museum with an astounding collection of marine mammal bones, including a fully assembled orca skeleton, Pacific white-sided dolphin, harbour seal, sea otter, minke whale and a 59 foot long fin whale. And a yet unassembled humpback whale skeleton from a whale that had beached itself.
The fin whale skeleton has an interesting and sad story. The whale was hit by a cruise ship, whose crew remained unaware of what had happened. It apparently lodged itself on top of the bulb on the bow of the ship and was not discovered until the ship docked in Vancouver harbor.
The volunteer at the museum, Emily, was an enthusiastic fountain of information. She educated us about the process of cleaning a whale to prepare the bones for assembling. Yes, this young dainty lady has been one of the volunteers who cleaned a rotting whale carcass off the bones.
Anyhow, after the meat is cut off the bones and disposed of, the bones are enclosed in containers that allow tiny organisms to enter, then sunk. They are left underwater for a year or longer, while tiny critters clean off the bones. Then they are recovered and the cleaning is completed, including bleaching by the sun. Reassembling the skeletons costs many thousands of dollars. The Interpretive Center was fascinating.
And, while asking Emily about places where we might see black bear, she pointed to the window and said “there’s a bear” and there was a bear on the tree by the window. Wildlife is truly rich and abundant here.
What a perfect introduction to the rest of our adventure.