Telegraph Cove is a charming historic waterfront community on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Being home to bears, cougars and killer whales, Telegraph Cove is an attractive destination for those who love nature.
Even if you’re not keen on seeing a bear, visiting Telegraph Cove, which is on the east coast of the northern side of Vancouver Island, is one of the things to do on Vancouver Island if you’re on a driving holiday.
About Telegraph Cove
Telegraph Cove is at the edge of the Vancouver Island wilderness.
One time, a cougar appeared out of nowhere and grabbed one of the resident’s dogs from their front lawn and started running.
The owner of the dog saw the attack and chased the cougar shouting at the top of his lungs. Fortunately the predator dropped the little dog but the little dog’s injuries left it blind.
Hearing about a cougar taking a dog seems incredible but stories like these are commonplace in Telegraph Cove, which is a charming historic waterfront community on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island.
The forest near Telegraph Cove is home to cougars and black bears. You can take a day trip to see the grizzly bears at Knight Inlet.
Rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, harlequin ducks, sooty shearwaters and bald eagles soar above in the clear blue sky.
The Johnstone Straits is one of the most accessible and predictable locations to spot orcas, or killer whales, in their natural habitat.
Beneath the water, the colourful invertebrate life is a kaleidoscope of thousands of species of sponges, hydras, fish, shells and shellfish.
The ocean is home to a wealth of marine wildlife such as Dall’s and harbour porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Steller sea lions, harbour seals, humpback and Minke whales.
Telegraph Cove is the destination for “orca-holics” and anyone who loves marine life. Once you’ve been on a Telegraph Cove whale watching cruise, you’ll see how easy it is to fall in love with killer whales.
What to do in Telegraph Cove
- Telegraph Cove whale watching
- Go on a kayaking tour of Telegraph Cove
- Learn about marine life at the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve
- Visit the Whale Interpretive Centre
- Take a wildlife (bear) watching tour in a boat in Knight’s Inlet
- Diving around the waters of Telegraph Cove
Telegraph Cove Whale Watching
Telegraph Cove whale watching is a fun experience. The waters around Telegraph Cove are home to three kinds of orcas: resident, transient and offshore orcas.
Each speaks a different whale language.
Residents are fish-eaters that return to the same area each year, transients are stealthy mammal hunters and offshores are the ultimate marine predators known to eat great white sharks.
Soon after our Stubbs Island Whale Watching boat leaves Telegraph Cove, we encounter a pod of transient orcas hunting a Pacific Harbour seal near Stephenson Island.
It is unusual to spot transients on a whale-watching cruise in these waters and the guide tears around the boat like a whale paparazzi taking photos to pass on to marine researchers who track and study orca behaviour.
Since 1973, Canadian scientists have been compiling photographs of killer whales off southwest British Columbia.
Individual whales can be identified by physical characteristics such as nicks, scars and the shape of dorsal fins to identify individual whales.
We follow a pod of resident orcas, the A36 group consisting of Cracoft, Plumper and Kaikash. Residents are fish-eating orcas that migrate in and out of the Telegraph Cove area seasonally with the salmon.
A lot is known about resident orcas. They live in a matriline society where the oldest female leads the group; female killer whales stop having babies at 40 but can live until 80.
Another amazing fact about orcas is they are able to recognise how related they are to each other based on the songs they sing.
Did you know? An orca will not mate with another from the same clan.
We compare recordings of the “A” clan’s high-pitched singsong sounds with “G” clan’s scratchy staccato sounds.
Later in the morning, a Dall’s porpoise rides playfully beside the boat while sooty shearwaters soar overhead. Three humpback whales blow and roll in the distance.
Humpback whales, which were once hunted in Canadian waters, are now protected and are rediscovering the inland waters of Vancouver Island as a migration route.
A colony of plump Steller sea lions basks on rocks in the sun, frolicking, fishing and splashing in shallow pools. One sea lion performs ballet movements with its flippers.
For more attractions in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island read:
Telegraph Cove Resort
Although Telegraph Cove was named after the telegraph station terminal, built in 1911, most of the historic buildings were erected after 1920 when a sawmill and cannery was established here to cut logs for boxes used to ship salmon from the Japanese salmon saltery.
The MV Gikumi, built in 1954 and fully operational, is moored in front of the whale interpretation centre.
After WWII, the population continued to grow and a school, a post office and more houses for the sawmill workers and their families were added.
These old buildings have been converted into cosy accommodation, offices and cafes.
It’s a picturesque base with old-world charm for visitors who want to get away and experience nature.
The oldest building, Crouter House, was built in 1940 for one of the mill’s employees Colin Armitage.
Armitage needed a house for his new bride so he found an old shack in Beaver Cove and floated it along the river to its current position on the waterfront.
We dine at the Killer Whale café next to the Old Saltery Pub, which occupies the former saltery.
A picture gallery between the pub and the restaurant displays historic black and white photos.
For more things to do in British Columbia see:
Telegraph Cove Accommodation
There are three types of Telegraph Cove accommodation to choose from at Telegraph Cove Resort:
- Historic houses and cabins – these range from small cabins to massive homes that can accommodate extended families. Choose one of these if you want space and the feeling of being in a home away from home
- Dockside 29 Suites – these suites are equipped with kitchen facilities and overlook the water.
- Rooms in The Lodge – the newest accommodation in Telegraph Cove, The Lodge is at the top of the hill with views looking down at Telegraph Cove.
- Telegraph Cove camping – the Forest Campground is 1km from the Telegraph Cove village near two creeks.
- Telegraph Cove RV park – there are 48 full-service sites for RVs right next to the marina.
Our Telegraph Cove accommodation is a duplex within a blue cottage called Burton House, constructed in 1929 using the balloon building method.
The most interesting thing about it is it’s a house with no frame.
External wall boards support the roof, which cannot be removed without the walls collapsing.
When the roof needed to be repaired in 1947, the builders constructed a second roof over the original.
The duplex is huge. There are two bedrooms and a loft; the living room has a floor-to-ceiling rock wall and a wood-burning stove.
As we’re here to enjoy the natural surrounds, it’s a good thing that there is no television and no telephones.
Outside, a pale orange sky is shimmering in the bay’s waters. A seagull hovers before landing on a fishing boat tied to a dock.
The serenity takes my breath away.
Telegraph Cove Resort has rooms and cottages from C$85 a night. There is also a full-service campsite. Orca watching season is from May to October.
Where is Telegraph Cove?
Most visitors to Vancouver Island visit Telegraph Cove while on a driving trip. It’s 26 km (16 mi) south of Port McNeill and 200 km (125 mi) north of Campbell River.
What to do near Telegraph Cove
Vancouver Island is an easy place to travel around. Here are some tips on where to find camping and RV Parks.
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Air Canada flies to Vancouver, where you can transfer to Vancouver Island on a seaplane or by ferry.