History

The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre was originally the site of the Pacific Cable Board (PCB) Cable Station, which served as the eastern terminus of the trans-pacific telegraph cable from 1901 to 1959. In 1901 the cable ship Colonia set out from Bamfield to lay the 4,000 kilometer-long undersea cable line, known as the All Red Cable Route, to Fanning Island, some 1,600 kilometers south of Hawaii.

The Cable Station was designed by one of British Columbia’s best known architects, Francis Mawson Rattenbury. He was responsible for many of the province’s most famous landmarks including: the British Columbia Parliament Buildings (1893-1898) in Victoria, the Empress Hotel (1904-1908) in Victoria, the Vancouver Courthouse (1906).

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company constructed the Cable Station, Bachelors Quarters and Manager’s House in 1901-1902, and on November 1st 1902, the first two telegraph messages to encircle the globe were relayed.

In 1926, a duplicate cable was laid to the Fiji Islands and a new concrete cable office building was built below the original building. The original wood building was designated as the “Bachelors Quarters”, and eventually 12 new houses were built to house staff and their families.

The Canadian government took over the Cable Station in 1950 and the Canadian Overseas Telecommunication Corporation was formed. This company was later changed to Teleglobe. In 1959, a new state-of-the-art cable station was built in Port Alberni and the Bamfield Cable Station was shut down. The last messages were sent from Bamfield on June 20th, 1959. In 1965 The Bachelors Quarters were demolished, and a number of buildings on site were burned down purportedly to reduce the taxable value of the property.

In 1968, the National Research Council asked five western Canadian universities to propose the best location for a marine biology station on the Pacific Coast. A committee comprised of representatives from the universities of British Columbia, Victoria, Calgary, Alberta and Simon Fraser University studied a number of possible sites. Although it appears that Victoria was an early front-runner, a feasibility study tendered in 1969 recommended Bamfield as the superior location.

The former cable station property was purchased in 1969 and a formal structure for the management and development of the station was created in 1970 when the five universities ratified a Constitution and joined the Western Canadian Universities Marine Biological Society (WCUMBS).

In 1971, development began to convert the site into a research station. Due to construction delays, the first summer classes in 1972 (Marine Phycology taught by Dr. Louis Druehl and Marine Ecology taught by Dr. Bill Austin) were conducted from a temporary location in the former BC Packers building in West Bamfield.

With most of the physical facilities completed by the end of 1972, the Bamfield Marine Station began operations as a true marine laboratory.

In June, 2001, the Management Council voted to changed the name from Bamfield Marine Station (BMS) to Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre (BMSC) to be inclusive of sciences outside biology. At the same time, they changed the name of the society from WCUMarine Biology Society (WCUMBS) to WCUMarine Science Society (WCUMSS).

For more about the history of Bamfield and the Cable Station, see the Bamfield Historical Society website; images, newspapers, and audio/video stories.