A new whale-watching team sails into Telegraph Cove

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Troubled waters at Telegraph Cove have forced Vancouver Island’s oldest whale-watching team to shut down its engines and a Victoria-based company to expand operations.

Troubled waters at Telegraph Cove have forced Vancouver Island’s oldest whale-watching team to shut down its engines and a Victoria-based company to expand operations.

A lease dispute between Telegraph Cove Resort and 38-year-old Stubbs Island Whale Watching has forced Stubbs to close and begin selling its assets, while Prince of Whales has signed on to operate in the northern resort town. island for at least the next five years. years. It’s a situation that has created resentment and mistrust in the small community 210 kilometers north of Campbell River.

‘I am extremely disappointed,’ said Stubbs owner Heike Wieske, who was ‘shocked’ when she received the letter telling the company it would have to leave its offices at the station by the end of it. of this month after more than 30 years.

Stubbs has operated at the resort on a month-to-month lease for years.

What seems to have poisoned this deal and any chance of a long-term deal is that Wieske and his partners put the company up for sale last fall.

‘There have been too many life changing events… in the long run, we couldn’t do that at Telegraph Cove,’ she said, noting that they intended to ensure that they found a buyer who would be a good fit for the business and a good fit for the resort.

Although there was some interest from whale-watching organizations and other groups, nothing materialized, so Wieske planned to operate as usual for the coming year and buy time until until they find a buyer.

But Gordie Graham, owner of the Telegraph Cove Resort, said that was not enough. “We have 70 employees here and we take that responsibility seriously, and we realized that we had to find an operator that would offer security, because always in the back of our minds was [Stubbs] are going to go anytime,” he said.

The Grahams established a campground and marina at Telegraph Cove in 1979, and within 40 years the site grew into a resort that could accommodate 500 people. It includes a restaurant and pub, general store, hotel and the Telegraph Cove Whale Interpretation Centre. Graham said they invested a lot of money in a new lodge at the resort last year and wanted long-term operator safety.

“That’s when we approached Alan McGillivray [owner of Prince of Whales] and we offered a long-term lease for them to operate from here,” he said.

Graham said it was unfair to suggest the station kicked out Stubbs. “They were going to leave anyway, we didn’t ask them to leave.” he said. “We realized we had a great operator coming, we got the long-term contract.”

Wieske said she understands the business case and the need for long-term security, but she doesn’t understand why they couldn’t have worked out a smoother transition.

“I am personally very disappointed with this scenario; we trusted Gordie,” she said.

The result, she said, is that Stubbs will not be able to take advantage of the goodwill established over its history and has only its assets – two ships – to sell. They are contacting 2,500 customers who had booked tours for 2019.

Wieske, who also owns Discovery Marine Safaris in Campbell River, doesn’t think the ships would suit the Campbell River market, but said there’s been good interest in the boats.

Prince of Whales is preparing to start operating from Telegraph Cove Resort on May 1. Prince of Whales manager Ben Duthie said the company would move the 74-passenger Ocean Magic II, which has operated in Victoria since 2006, to Telegraph Cove.

This vessel will be replaced in Victoria by a 95-passenger catamaran this spring.

They will also be moving the Ocean Magic I to Telegraph Cove from Vancouver in mid-summer when another new catamaran is ready for use.

Duthie said Telegraph Cove’s appeal is obvious, given that it’s the birthplace of whale watching in British Columbia. “Accessibility and biodiversity are also unmatched on the West Coast,” he said. “The operating conditions are ideal.

Stubbs Island Whale Watching was founded in 1980 by Jim Borrowman and Bill McKay. Wieske and his partners Geord Dunstan and Roger McDonell bought the company in 2011.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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