North to Telegraph Cove

Duncan Telegraph Cove  023vancouverislandWe 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 Telegraph Cove  002Duncan, 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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  022

Duncan Telegraph Cove  029The 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  003

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).duncan telegraph cove  019
Duncan Telegraph Cove  033

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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  026I 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  025Duncan Telegraph Cove  024

Duncan Telegraph Cove  011Duncan Telegraph Cove  010As 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’d expected, the trip took longer than the projected time, so we skipped our planned second stop and continued north.Duncan Telegraph Cove  040Duncan Telegraph Cove  039

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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  041Duncan Telegraph Cove  042There 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  043Duncan Telegraph Cove  054

Duncan Telegraph Cove  053Logs 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  044

Duncan Telegraph Cove  045Duncan Telegraph Cove  047The 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  046

Duncan Telegraph Cove  048Duncan Telegraph Cove  049The bundles are then slid down a ramp into the water for “booming”. Adorable little tugboats push each bundle towards a log boom or pen.

The tugboats are tiny but powerful and it is amazing how they lean waaaay over in all directions as they shove the big logs around.Duncan Telegraph Cove  050

Duncan Telegraph Cove  052The 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′.Duncan Telegraph Cove  051

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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  084 (1)

Duncan Telegraph Cove  055Telegraph 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  058

Duncan Telegraph Cove  056In 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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  065Duncan Telegraph Cove  060

Duncan Telegraph Cove  057Duncan Telegraph Cove  062Duncan Telegraph Cove  066Duncan Telegraph Cove  064Duncan Telegraph Cove  063During 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.

Our arrival at Telegraph Cove was not quite the perfect landing as I discovered that I’d booked the wrong campground! Ay, Ay, Ay!Duncan Telegraph Cove  072

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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  082

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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  073Duncan Telegraph Cove  076

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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  059The old cottages on the boardwalk are colorfully painted.   There are several businesses, mostly service providers: a pub and a restaurant and a couple of tour operators.

An informative plaque in front of each structure describes their previous owners and history.   And there are old sawmilling and logging artifacts all around.Duncan Telegraph Cove  068

Duncan Telegraph Cove  071How 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.

Duncan Telegraph Cove  079Duncan Telegraph Cove  081Duncan Telegraph Cove  061

Duncan Telegraph Cove  069Meanwhile, 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!

Duncan Telegraph Cove  083Duncan Telegraph Cove  084Duncan Telegraph Cove  089Duncan Telegraph Cove  086Back 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.Duncan Telegraph Cove  087Duncan Telegraph Cove  090Duncan Telegraph Cove  088

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.

Killer whale

Killer whale

Anyhow, after the meat is cut off the bones and disposed of, the bones are enclosed in containers that allow tiny Duncan Telegraph Cove  091organisms 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.

~ Brenda

10 thoughts on “North to Telegraph Cove

  1. Oh, you’ve got me! I have to visit this island. This is everything I love about travel, small, quaint, and unique. I would have enjoyed the logging processes so much. Weird things like this fascinate me. Also, I taught my students about logging when we read a novel about saving the spotted owl and how this hurt the logging industry. I do hate to see clear cutting. It does so much damage to the surrounding area and wildlife.

    The whale museum sounds great. What a wonderful opportunity for you two and a black bear, too:) Perfect!! Can’t wait for more! I so enjoyed this post.

  2. Oh, you’ve got me! I have to visit this island. This is everything I love about travel, small, quaint, and unique. I would have enjoyed the logging processes so much. Weird things like this fascinate me. Also, I taught my students about logging when we read a novel about saving the spotted owl and how this hurt the logging industry. I do hate to see clear cutting. It does so much damage to the surrounding area and wildlife.

    The whale museum sounds great. What a wonderful opportunity for you two and a black bear, too:) Perfect!! Can’t wait for more! I so enjoyed this post.

  3. I forgot to mention the totem poles!! How totally cool! Having the booklet to understand the story behind each would make it all come alive. They are so beautiful. I use to carve totem designs in small logs when I was younger. Strange hobby I know. I can’t remember why I started but we had vacation house in the woods and my grandparents lived deep in the woods. Maybe that environment!? But it was great fun.

    • And we are only seeing the east side! On the west there are additional amazing sounding places that we are unfortunately going to leave for next time. AND … totally dog friendly on all trails. Only down side is it was pricy to bring a big RV across. $300 ish in each direction. But Island Girl does love her boat trips 🙂

      Travel safe friends!


  4. When it comes to capturing Canadian adventures, I will always bet that you will share all the fun and fascinating places to see and do. As you will see the Canadian westside are a little different than the maritimes, nevertheless all Canadian provinces are scenic and fascinating altogether.

    • Yes, some parts of Vancouver Island remind us of the maritimes, but I know when we get to the mainland it will be a very different experience. I think the remoteness of some of these areas is what makes them so beautiful.

  5. We saw a lot of logging in Washington State, but a logging railroad? That is cool! Fascinating post. Enjoyed reading about the cute tugboats but their job looks very hazardous. And whales and a bear? Fantastic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *