Living among wolves in Clayoquot Sound

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      Twenty years ago, two empty-nesters with a love of the outdoors stumbled upon a vacant beach house on a small island in Clayoquot Sound—part of an off-grid, 10-acre stretch nestled within a provincial park reserve. “Escape to Clayoquot Sound: Finding Home in a Wild Place” (April 2, 2024) by John Dowd and Bea Dowd is an extended love letter to this place, chronicling the decade John and Bea Dowd spent as year-round caretakers of the property. The following excerpt is reprinted with permission by the publisher. © 2024. Published by Heritage House. All rights reserved.

      Autumn sun streamed through the tall windows of the sunroom. Dave and Cindy’s kids played in the sand and Cobber frolicked with their Bernese mountain puppy on the beach. Bea set up tea and cookies on a table outside and cold beers appeared. With the stove puffing its first smoke, Dave, his two-year-old son on his shoulders and puppy at his side, went for a walk along the trail to Mel’s beach. On the way back, they met a wolf.

      He described it as a long-legged tawny animal. It stood atop a nearby mossy mound, watching. Dave had worked caretaking an Alaskan fishing lodge and was familiar with, if not comfortable around, wolves. He stood his ground, staring the animal down, expecting it to turn and run. It didn’t. Holding his son’s legs with one hand, he waved the other and yelled. The wolf moved closer. That was when Dave scooped up the puppy and backed down the trail. An hour later he was still shaken.

      “Someone better shoot that wolf,” he said. “It’s totally habituated.”

      John Dowd and Bea Dowd.

      Occasionally over the next few weeks we saw wolf prints on the beach. They were the size of my hand. The rear left leg was leaving a consistent drag mark, as if the animal was limping. Twice we glimpsed it in the distance, watching as I cut beach lumber. It was an elegant, rangy animal. Bea called it Amadeus. We liked knowing it was there, watching from the shadows only to vanish the next moment. Each time it came around, Cobber grew agitated but did not bark.

      In time, we started to notice more wolf tracks on the beach. Visitors told stories of wolf encounters around camp. We learned that the month before the infamous attack on our beach, our friend Martin, leader of an outdoor program with ten students from a fancy private school, had been awoken by yells at four in the morning. Wolves were tearing into one of the students’ tents. Arming themselves with sticks and flashlights, the group created enough commotion to give what proved to be a pack of seven wolves cause for pause. The reprieve was short-lived. The wolves were soon back, rushing amongst the frightened teens. Flares fired and pots banged amid much yelling while they frantically broke camp then launched into the breaking dawn. No one was hurt.

      That attack occurred at Hidden beach, just a quarter mile west of Mel’s beach and though Martin, one of the most experienced guides on the coast, reported the incident, he was not taken seriously by park authorities. They suggested the attack was the result of kayakers leaving food around camp. Indeed, the consensus among locals, many of whom darkly referred to kayakers as “speed bumps,” seemed to have been that they deserved what they got.

      None of this made sense to me since I knew the sub-species Homo kayakensis pretty well. As a group they were probably the most environmentally conscious of all users of Clayoquot Sound, and the program Martin was running stressed West Coast camping discipline that included caching food in bear hangs away from camp and never, never bringing food into tents.

      We later learned that, back in their day, Dick and Jane actually fed wolves inside the house, and Mel said they often sat around in the sun with a wolf pack. He had proudly shown us a torn shirt, the result of a tug-of-war with one. This explained a good part of the problem. It was as if diminished fear of humans was being passed around.

      We already had evidence that wolves swam between islands and were likely in touch with one another as the pack size changed. They are a coastal sub-species, and although sea wolves would happily take down a deer, they are not dependent on venison, and are well able to survive foraging the shoreline.


      Labour Day weekend had seen at least a dozen kayak groups camped on our beach. A surprising number of them were people we remembered or who remembered us. I’d walk by on my way to my fishing spot and someone would say, “Do you recognize this boat? You sold it to me in 1983. It’s been a good boat.”

      It was a familiarity we had not expected.

      After Labour Day, paddlers mostly stopped coming and whalewatching became less of a presence. The number of sport fishing boats hovering off Burgess also dropped to just the odd one or two, looking for that salmon left behind. The result was that our island started to feel more wild and clear. The weather began to change. Wind and rain softened the footprints in the sand and beat down blackened campfire rings.

      We took advantage of what remained of September’s sunny days, eating the last fresh seasonal salmon, barbequed on a hibachi outside, on the old picnic table that used to live in the sunroom. We had resolved to always take special care of at least one meal a day. Usually this was lunch since we both preferred light tapas in the evenings. The sea was generous to us.