Tofino 1982 – Wandering Mind


A couple of months ago I posted a shot of Tofino harbour that I took in 1982 and only recently scanned and brought to digital life. These shots are from that same roll of film. I was going to subtitle this post Wanda, but my mind wandered while my fingers were still attached to the keyboard. All over 1982 and fieldwork on the coast.

I could find nothing on the web about the fishing boat Wanda seen in both these photos. I don’t know if that means she is no longer, or just low profile or renamed.

[Edit: More than a year after posting this, I got the following comment on my About page: “The Wanda was sitting as a piece of landscaping just off the highway in Sidney BC last time I saw her. Ralph Tieleman Tofino BC”. Thanks Ralph! This is pretty ironic since I grew up in the Sidney area and have driven past the Wanda hundreds of times at the corner of Beacon Avenue and the Pat Bay Highway. Sometime more than 5 years ago the Wanda was removed from that location. I can’t imagine to a good fate either. I found a good picture of her in position as an ornamental reminder of the fishing history of the area – ironically it is taken by someone I went to school with. This is a great example of seeing and yet not seeing all at once. Perhaps if my world centred on fishing boats I would have made the connection at once.]

I can’t make out well enough who the person is on the dock in the lower picture but I  expect he was one of my crew on a project I was running on Meares Island (which is in the distance behind the dock in the picture below). Field work ran from late August to December 22nd. We were probably in town for groceries, gas, phone calls, mail and beer. Likely our inflatable boats are tied up where he is squatting.

The only fly in this speculative ointment is that he is not wearing field clothes, and I don’t recall town clothes being part of our repertoire unless we were in for a few days. And (takes deep breath as this is going on a wee bit) if we were in town for a few days that would be because a winter storm was blowing through, work was nearly impossible and thus it was time for a motel, bath, beer, bought cooked food, beer and then more beer. I don’t see a winter storm in these photos. Often beer was had in the dark because the electricity would go out, a tree taking the line down somewhere between Tofino, Ucluelet and/or Port Alberni. The bar (there was only one) would put out Coleman lanterns and keep right on serving – bottled beer only till the power came back. Except that took days sometimes. The toilets were pitch-black, so we would go outside to pee on the wall of the hotel by starlight, or if lucky, moonlight. Once or twice we were interrupted by the ironic spotlight of a Mountie police car. The cops only ever sat in their car and watched, never even spoke to us. I think they must have had the same experience and sympathised about the dangers of aiming for a urinal in complete darkness.



Anyway, those were the days, not necessarily better than now, but different.

  • Phone booths (with doors), land lines (only) and snail mail (only).
  • Small trollers and a decent living from fishing, free wharfage for short stays.
  • Cavernous capacity for beer.
  • Hand-held magnetic compasses, paper charts, tape and chain mapping on mylar or ‘waterproof’ paper.
  • Woolen shirts, woolen underwear, rubber coated rain-gear.
  • Hand-rolled cigarettes, smoked in the bars, in the restaurants, motels, cars, houses and, for all I would know, in the churches.
  • Wax paper packaging inside paper boxes. White wonder bread. Canned everything you might want. Fresh nothing except fish and crab.
  • Spam in cans – the processed meat kind, not the processed words, believe it or not there was no internet (did you hear my cane scrape across the floor when I said that?).
  • Camping while in the field (well, squatting actually but we had to fix the roof and put in a new wood stove), working 15 long days on and 3 days off at straight time (because the storms came every 15 days or so and lasted about 3 and the budget would not stretch to overtime).
  • Outhouses.
  • Beer in glass bottles – identical brown stubbies only for all brands. Molson Canadian, Labatts Blue, Carling O’Keefe, Lucky, Uncle Ben’s (yuck, drunk only and reluctantly during a brewery strike), Heidelberg, Labatts 50, Kronenbrau, Carling Black Label. Industrial brews only. Purchased only in government liquor stores.
  • Terry-towel covered bar tables. Round ones. Soaked. Beer by the glass only, not pints. Illegal to stand or walk with a beer in a bar (call the waitress if you want to move to another table with your beer). No craft brews here either. Stale beer and cigarette smoke smells, all bars smell the same. Not a bad smell at 10:30pm after a few. Wretchedly awful smell at 10:30am.
  • CPM operating system on a Kaypro computer with no hard drive, no function keys, no number pad,  64K of RAM, and two double-sided double-density floppy drives (it was a hot machine), and a 5? inch monitor, green numbers and letters on black.
  • Mice in the cupboards, but not usually on desks. No such thing as a keyboard tray.
  • Gooey was not spelled GUI and meant the way your feet were after 4 months in rubber boots with ‘soakers’ most days getting on and off beaches.
  • Cameras with film in them, solid ones that still work after you drop them, months between shooting and seeing the prints, pale blue Pelican cases (which float when the tide came in – did you know that in the old days the tide came in, and went out. Every day?), hand-held light metres, developing tanks, timers, enlargers and chemicals.
  • Film with visible grain.

OK, so that list talked me into pulling two more images off this roll of film. This is some of the crew (Buddy, Boris and Pat from left to right) in our ‘borrowed’ cabin, the remnants of fresh crab ‘borrowed’ (in dense fog for secrecy) from a crab pot that was ignored by its hard-drinking owner (we would leave him a bottle of the hard stuff in a crab pot from time to time), cooked on a coleman stove, beer in stubbies, Jamieson Irish Whisky served in teacups, by the light of a Coleman lantern, and rain washed windows. Hard work. Hard play.





Pentax Spotmatic, no surviving exposure or lens information (SMC Takumar, probably a 50 or 55mm), Ilford Pan-F, scanned from the negative at 600dpi.




24 thoughts on “Tofino 1982 – Wandering Mind

  1. I have edited the post with more recent information regarding the whereabouts of the Wanda, thanks to a comment made by Ralph on my About page. I saw her in her revised role hundreds of times and never made the connection.


    • Thanks Karen. They were good times – the work was rewarding and otherwise really interesting, the environment was fantastic even in the rain and cold, the people were fun, and the days off were memorable.


      • Thanks David for both comments. I don’t know if you did any time in the bush, and you look to be quite a bit younger than me, but a lot of this persisted into the 90’s when I last did fieldwork on a sustained basis. And I have lived in tent camps as recently as 4 or 5 years ago in Haida Gwaii, but with laptops, generators, radios to call out on, GPS units and many other improvements to camp existence.


  2. Hi ehpem, great post. I was immediately drawn in by the photos of fish boats which, as you know, I love. But then the beer bottles caught my eye. What you might not know is that my father owned the trucking company and warehouse that had the contract for distributing all the beer in Victoria back in those days, both draft and bottled. My oldest brother and my mother worked there as well, along with some other relatives. So beer was big in our household – as was the beer strike (not exactly my father’s finest moment!), and the bottle debate. Yes, I definitely remember those stubbies…and all the rest of your list as well – it really took me back. Thanks for the fun ride down memory lane!


    • Laurie – what a great reminiscense to add to my ramblings.Beer must have been big in your household. I remember little of the beer strike, which I spent in the Victoria area, other than finding a case of uncle ben’s at a dig that was in its second year in 1976 – we were clearing a tent spot and found someone’s stash. It had gone off (of course we checked it out). Now, it might be that we found a case of some thing else and then had to resort to UB’s when disappointed with the ‘find’. It was really a very long time ago now….
      Stubbies had some redeeming qualities, especially the ease of recycling – any brewery could use them since, apart from the label and cap they were identical. Simple is sometimes (or frequently) better. It is really a shame to see the passing of some of the things on that list – like simpler more ecofriendly packaging.


  3. This reminds me of my old co-worker who said that the guy who went the farthest in the company was the guy who took photos at the company Christmas Party. Memories, misty watercolor memories…


    • Ha! Well I was in charge, and I was taking the pictures, but I did not get any further than this. But, to illustrate your point a bit – one of the guys in these pictures has a very respectable museum job in the Northwest Territories now. I hope he does not mind the publication of this photo!


  4. Ephem – please, please keep posting these!

    Ever spend any time on the south (opposite) side of Barkley Sound, in or around Bamfield?

    There’s a marine research station there (BMCS) – I can’t now remember if you said your dad might have worked there at some point. My family and I lived & worked at the lab and on fishing boats for a couple months (Oct-Nov) back in 1977. Testing fish livers for PCBs and other toxins – turns out, the west coast of the Island is (or at least, was) one of the cleanest areas in the Pacific. Probably not anymore…

    Some of the things you recalled, I do also – but would have to add:

    – Kokanee beer (brewed right, in the Kootenays!)
    – Fuddleduck. Please tell me that I’m not the only geezer to remember Fuddleduck…
    – A shot or two of Lamb’s Navy in a large mug of hot cocoa after a long day on an otter trawler in the rain.
    – Fresh tiger prawns, spot prawns and squid – brought up in the otter trawl along with our sample fish
    – Fish, fish every meal for a couple weeks when we were snowed in and no supplies were getting through
    – Yeah, canned everything. Want fresh veggies? Wait for summer!
    – Someone left a box of Mackintosh’s in the big chest freezer in the Lab for us to find (Smack your Mack!)
    – Emergency generators at the station starting in the middle of the night when the power fails
    – No commercial radio or TV (no cable!), no phones half the time – using the VHF to call the Marine Operator to place landline calls to Vancouver and Seattle
    – Swarms of bald eagles, fighting with the gulls for the leavings of the otter trawls we brought up

    The days, those were, indeed. 😉

    Wonderful post and great photos. Thanks again.


    • Hi Sam, thanks so much for the great comment. I have been to Bamfield many times. I spent 4 months there in 1984 doing the same kind of work as on this project. And, we rented a crew house from the BMSC. It was also a fall and early winter project – we worked in Bamfield and Grappler Inlets (when the weather was crappy) and otherwise out in the Deer Group and down the Mills Peninsula to the national park boundary. It was a great project, and a fantastic area. I have worked there since then, and also spent some time in the Broken Group and other parts of Barkley Sound. Some of my favourite places are in these areas.
      Kokanee was not something I was drinking in the early 80s, a late adopter perhaps.
      Fuddleduck for sure.
      Lamb’s Navy in hot buttered and brown sugared water was my version.
      TV antennas, everywhere. More common than chimneys.
      Marine operator! Though for me that was only in the later years when I worked in Haida Gwaii and we had radios.
      The bald eagles are the same!
      And yes, my dad did work at Bamfield a bit, though I never went there with him. Except, he was on the committee that chose the marine station location and I hitched a ride on the float plane flight that visited the short-listed locations up and down the west coast, including Bamfield. Not sure what year that was, probably 1970, possibly 1969, I was still in Junior High School.
      I have tested a lot of west coast fish for toxins, but only by eating them myself, and I am not dead yet so I figure they must be pretty clean.
      One day I will be scanning my Bamfield images – there are some that might be of interest to this blog, though mostly they are pretty boring documentation shots of uninteresting locations.


  5. Thanks for bringing back great memories of working in the deep dark woods of British Columbia in those days, ehpem. Fieldworkers, construction gangs, cutline crews of various types would converge on some semi-isolated establishment and have a good time. Another antiquarium item comes to mind: draft 1:50,000 maps from the NTS series for northern BC and Alberta, that had been created by somebody eyeballing WWII era air photos of varying qualities, some really had guesswork contours and completely speculative secondary water courses. Compasses had purpose. Wonder where my crew photos of those days are now…


    • Hi maddog – I remember those maps because they are still in cabinets in my current office. Compasses saved my ass many times, but especially navigating in the dense fog on the outer coast in a small boat. Most of my crew photos ended up in project archives at museums, in fact most of the photos that I have ever taken, until the past couple of years, are in dusty museum boxes in at least three countries.

      I wonder if there is any connection between my maudlin ramblings and that I am leaving a job of 19 years next Thursday for an adventure in employment?


    • I am sure I used the fuzzy word too – usually they were really faded. The red ones were usually more orange.

      One long hot summer digging in Hope (the year before you worked there on a different project, but probably most of the same people) we would descend on the Silver Chalice where we would get 50 beers per round since that is all the table would hold and there were probably 15 of us. I can’t remember what we did for driving, but it was something sensible.


  6. Great post, and photos! They bring back memories of very similar field experiences. But 6:00 am is way too early to be recalling that stale bar smell.


    • Oh Vicki – I am so sorry if I inserted the memory of that smell into your nose before breakfast! As I recall these bars had indoor-outdoor carpet in them. Just to hold the fragrance.

      The last time I smelled this was when picking my son up from the (high end) pub where he was playing a New Years Eve gig and had not wanted to drive. Me sober, out of bed, 1:30am. The pub, totally rocking (he plays in good bands), broken beer glasses on the floor pushed out of the traffic areas, sticky floors, so tightly packed you could not fit a credit card between the patrons, most of whom were moving, sometimes and probably accidentally in time with the music, and staggeringly blindly drunk.
      It sure brought back memories – and shows some things don’t change – they might have been taking pictures and foolishly posting them on facebook on the spot, but they were still having the same kind of ‘fun’ as in the old days.


    • Thanks Beth. This was one of the best projects I ever had. So many sites found and recorded (191), such beautiful country, great people to work with and mostly really good weather (cold though).


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