I am in the car headed north, and by the time I reach Nimkish Lake, south of Telegraph Cove, the excitement has started to build. Soon I will be back on the boardwalk of this historic town that sits on stilts, nudged up against the heavily forested backdrop at the mouth of Beaver Cove.
I’ve been back a number of times since I first arrived as a lad of nineteen. Fresh off my first year of university on the way to a summer job at Farewell Harbour Resort, it became the launch point for my next four summers. In those days, Telegraph Cove was a quiet, sleepy resort, off most people’s radar and historically looked much as it did in the early days.
Established in 1911, the town of Telegraph Cove was originally as its namesake suggests—the northern terminus of the Campbell River telegraph line and consisted of one house manned by a telegraph operator. Area pioneer Fred Wastell whose father purchased much of the land around the Cove, established a salmon saltery and sawmill in the mid 1920’s, both of which were built on stilts in the Cove. Today, the sawmill is gone, replaced by the Dockside 29 suites, but the building that housed the saltery has been transformed into the pub. The rest of the buildings and boardwalk have been preserved in as close to original condition as possible.
The Cove is now home to two operations unrelated to each other: Telegraph Cove Resort and Telegraph Cove Marina which includes the latest development to the east of the resort including Dockside 29 and marina, an RV park and housing development.
Resort Owners Gordie and Marilyn Graham and their two daughters came to Telegraph Cove in 1978 with resort building on their minds. What you see today in terms of preserved heritage, the west marina, campsite and roads are a direct result of their hard work and dedication to preserving and building this community. Gordie is a visible presence around town and loves to fish, providing daily guide services for guests.
During summer, the boardwalk is bustling and a popular destination as the gateway to the beautiful Broughton Archipelago and upper reaches of Johnstone Strait—an area renowned for a large population of orcas and a host of other wildlife. A North Island destination, Telegraph Cove provides a launch pad for kayakers, fishermen, boaters and day-trippers eager to see a pod of orcas or try their hand at salmon or halibut fishing.
The preserved houses along the boardwalk have been transformed into accommodations for groups of all sizes. While not luxurious by Tofino standards, they are tastefully and comfortably furnished, and are what you would expect from restored houses that are approaching 100 years old. In a testament to their popularity, you need to book almost a year in advance. Regulars get first dibs, and several years ago after inquiring what a regular was, I was politely informed that I should ask again in fifteen years.
Telegraph Cove Salmon Fishing
The day gets underway early at Telegraph, and the early morning is still inky black as fishermen converge on the docks from the campsite and cabins along the boardwalk. Engines cough to life, navigation lights blink on, and fishing gear is assembled. Boats depart the tiny harbour one after the other, their twinkling navigation lights marking the route to the fishing grounds at Malcolm Island.
The magic of the area is always close by. Schools of herring break the surface of the glassy water and seabirds eagerly take up the breakfast hunt. Fog whisks around the boat, fishing lines hum, and we are greeted by the pink glow of the emerging dawn. Before long the calm is broken by the violent jerk of the rod as a large Chinook salmon swallows the bait. The reel screams as the large salmon rockets away. Around us, other boats are also hooking up as the bite starts in earnest.
At first, the salmon is in charge, streaming off many yards of line in long, fierce runs, but soon begins to tire under the relentless pressure of rod and angler. Once in the net, our adrenaline starts to fade. It’s time to give a moment of thanks for this beautiful creature.
Smiles are all around as other boats have landed fish, and local guides breathe a sigh of relief as another successful morning draws to a close.
Telegraph Cove Whale Watching
Heading back to port after a beautiful early morning on the water we pass the Lukwa, a ship in the Stubbs Island Whale Watching fleet headed out on a whale watching tour. During the summer months, orcas are plentiful in these waters, and approximately 150 individuals call this area home.
Stubbs Island Whale Watching, the first whale watching outfit on the Pacific Coast leads twice daily tours providing an opportunity to view orcas, Humpback and Minke whales, porpoise, dolphins, sea lions, otters, eagles and myriad other marine life. The Johnstone Strait area is important to whale researchers and is home to OrcaLab, a small land based whale research station founded by Dr. Paul Spong in 1970 to provide a non-intrusive whale monitoring and research program.
Other Fun Activities at Telegraph Cove
The town itself is an enjoyable spot to spend down time, whether learning about its historical roots from the plaques along the boardwalk or relaxing in the Killer Whale Café or The Old Saltery Pub. Several small shops are spread along the boardwalk, but my favourite on shore activity lies at the end and is the Johnstone Strait Whale Interpretive Centre, otherwise known as The Bones Project. The centre is dedicated to preserving the bones of marine mammals and already boasts an impressive collection including skeletons of a killer whale, porpoise, dolphin, eagle and sea lion, plus an enormous suspended skeleton of a fin whale. My kids love this centre, and there is no shortage of activities to keep them busy.
Part of the allure of this area is the consistently calm waters of the inside. If you are the type to get sea sick, this is a perfect area to venture out on the water. The Broughton Archipelago is a key kayaking destination and Telegraph Cove is the jumping off point for this region. North Island Kayak is located at Telegraph Cove and will customize a rental including singles, doubles and triples plus camping gear if you need it. Calm waters aside, the big draw of this area is the stunning scenery and diversity of wildlife as seen from the water. It would be a shame to get here and not experience the area by boat, but if you are limited for time, a visit to Telegraph Cove is certainly worth it and should be on your North Island list of must do activities.
If you see a tall fellow wearing orange logger suspenders and lumberjack shirt, be sure to say ‘hi’ as that will be Gordie going about the daily business of running a fabulous resort.