Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

End of an Era at Telegraph Cove

Jan 26, 2019

I was sorry to read at the CBC website that BC's first whale watching operation is going out of business.

Stubbs Island Whale Watching was founded in 1980 by Jim Borrowman and Bill McKay at Telegraph Cove near the northern end of Vancouver Island at the top of Johnstone Strait, where orca gather in the summer months. The company played a key role in the creation of the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve and the groundbreaking orca research that was going on at that time. In 1996 Jim and his wife Mary (that's them below) took over ownership of the company and ran it until they retired and sold to new owners in 2012.

I have visited Telegraph Cove several times and had the opportunity to meet Jim and Mary and to go out on the water in their lead boat, the historic Gikumi, a couple of times. The last time I was there was back in 2007 when our book Operation Orca was published. My co-author Gil Hewlett and I presented a slide show about the book at the interpretive centre in the cove. Before his retirement Gil was a marine scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium and knew pretty much everyone involved in whale research on the coast so there was a big turnout for our talk and the event had the feeling of a class reunion.

Telegraph Cove itself, a couple of hours north of Campbell River via the Island Highway, is one of the few old boardwalk villages on the coast and is a magical place (even more so before a housing development blasted out one side of it). Apparently a new company is going to continue offering tours. One hopes it will show the same commitment to the area and to the whales as Stubbs Island.