We searched for my cousin’s bones in Telegraph Cove

TELEGRAPH COVE — My cousin Tony is a storyteller. I don’t know, maybe it runs in the family.

He knows everything worth knowing about his small town, Port Hardy, and the land around it. And he knows twice that much about the ocean, which has been part of him for so long he bleeds seawater.

When we stayed with his family this spring, he told Jilly — who’s 6, you’ll remember — about the time he spent in the sea during high school. A small group of teenagers were part of a program that saw them diving in a protected ecosystem. Tony told Jilly that he’d gathered marine-life bones that are now displayed at the Whale Interpretive Centre.

On our way back down the island, we took the rough road past dormant rail and a logging operation to see if we could find Tony’s bones.

Telegraph Cove, a historic lineman station turned sawmill and salmon cannery turned tourist marina, was a ghost town when we arrived.

The doors of the ice-cream and gift shop were open but the air inside was still. Several young people disembarked boats at the marina and walked silently past us, slightly bent under the weight of their rucksacks.

So we took a self-guided tour of the little town, reading signs on the sides of hundred-year-old buildings: the bookkeeper’s house and the mess hall, the lineman’s shack and finally the millhouse, wherein the Whale Interpretive Centre is housed.

It was locked.

We wandered back the way we’d come, passing a couple of workmen on the way and pausing by a pair of oars that were leaning against a tree just off the path.

Near them, a signboard told their story:

“For years this old pair of oars lay in the crotch of the maple tree and the tree grew around them. On Feb. 19, 2009, a young cougar came down onto the boardwalk and grabbed Buddy, a small dog that was sleeping in the sun at the end of the dock.

“A couple visiting from France, seeing what was happening, looked for a weapon to make the cougar drop the dog. They spied the oars and broke one off to do battle. Buddy survived but lost his sight due to the crushing from the cougar’s jaws. Feel free to use again to fight off cougars.”

We didn’t see any cougars, but we did meet a dog back near the entrance to the cove. While Jilly made friends with the dog, Melani made friends with the dog-owner, and soon enough we’d learned that Telegraph Cove wasn’t opening to tourists for another week, but of course we could take a look at the centre, “Come along while I find someone who has keys.”

And that’s how we ended up alone in the Whale Interpretive Centre for half an hour or so, walking among the bones of sea otters and eagles and dolphins, beneath the bones of a ship-struck fin whale. We peered at smooth ivory joints and marveled at sea creatures suspended above us. We made the shapes of bones with our hands, not quite touching, and called out to each other: “Did you see that? Check this out. The hell is that?”

We don’t know which bones cousin Tony is responsible for. But we loved that our family had a literal hand in building this exceptional exhibit tucked away on Canada’s left coast.


The Whale Interpretive Centre is open every day from May to September, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and a little longer in July and August. Adults $5, children $3. killerwhalecentre.org

Telegraph Cove is an inlet at the northern end of Johnstone Strait, across from the Broughton Archipelago. It specializes in ecotourism and offers whale-watching tours, accommodations, kayaking and so much more … when they’re in season. And staff will go out of their way to be sure you have an adventure.

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