Boom & Bust

The Resilient Women of Historic Telegraph Cove

Reviewed by Beverley Tallon

Posted January 22, 2021

In 1911, Mame and Duke Wastell purchased what they named Telegraph Cove on northern Vancouver Island in British Columbia. They were the great-grandparents of Jennifer Butler, the author of Boom & Bust: The Resilient Women of Historic Telegraph Cove. Butler’s grandparents and parents lived and worked in the community, and it was there that she spent her childhood summer vacations.

Although the men of the area received attention for their work in establishing the community, the women generally did not. As the author notes, her book “aims to help redress the balance.” At its peak Telegraph Cove had a population of sixty people. Butler interviewed many mothers, daughters, and granddaughters and asked them to tell their families’ collective memories of living in an isolated community.

The women’s stories are both poignant and humorous. Many of them raised their families and also worked outside the home. We meet the post mistress, the general store shopkeeper, the schoolteachers and bookkeepers. Some of those who lived and worked at Telegraph Cove stayed until their deaths. They survived the wars, the Depression, and much social and economic change.

Some members of one generation of young ladies chose to move on after spending idyllic-sounding childhoods there. Boating, fishing, skating, and exploring the woods and the former salmon saltery filled their days. “There was always a rowboat on hand. We never had to tell anyone where we were going, we just knew we had to be home by dinner,” noted Eva Vinderskov’s daughters Anne Marie and Lisa.

Numerous delightful photographs — including many from Butler’s grandparents — show the community’s women at work and at play. These images speak volumes about the strength and courage of the resilient women of Telegraph Cove.

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This article originally appeared in the February-March 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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