“It’s positively probably the most weird incident that’s ever occurred to me on the ocean.”

That’s what tugboat captain John Dolmage of North Vancouver, now 65, lately mentioned a couple of excessive “steaks” story from Sept. 28, 1976, within the waters of Burrard Inlet. This identical story has lengthy been a favorite round our household dinner desk, due to my father’s direct involvement.


Within the early 1970s, my dad had entered right into a partnership to buy an previous farm on Gambier Island in Howe Sound. The plan was to subdivide the property into heaps to promote for cabins, and hold the principle farm operational. They named it the somewhat quirky sounding Gambier Island Sea Ranch.

There was livestock on the farm, together with cattle. On the finish of every summer time season, the cattle had been loaded onto a barge and brought to market.

Within the fall of 1976, Dolmage, then 23 years previous, was captain of the tugboat Defender. He and his first mate, Colin Lester, had been tasked with loading 9 head of cattle onto a barge that they might tow from Gambier Island to the loading dock in North Vancouver.

My dad, then 36 years previous, was stunned to see that the barge had no railings.

“The skipper assured me that they transported animals on a regular basis and that the cows would quiet down,” my dad recalled.

Dolmage concurred that there have been no sides to his barge, however mentioned he did have five-foot posts with rope between them, making a barrier.

“That type of scenario was often nice and the rumble of the tug’s engine calmed them proper down,” mentioned Dolmage.

The ocean was lifeless calm that evening. They departed Gambier at excessive tide, roughly 7 p.m.

“By the point we rounded Level Atkinson, the cows had been all mendacity down on the barge and every part was easy,” remembered Dolmage.

Dad had already returned to our West Vancouver residence. We watched the tug and barge move by alongside the shore from our eating room window. All appeared properly and my dad went to mattress relaxation assured.

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“Once we obtained underneath Lion’s Gate Bridge, I requested my first mate Colin to see how the cows had been doing. Effectively, he did a double take that I’ll always remember,” laughed Dolmage.

“He says to me, ‘John! Oh Christ, they’ve jumped!’”

Dolmage seemed again simply in time to see the final cow make the leap.

A West Vancouver resident trying to calm a cow coming to shore in September 1976. Photo Jean Lawrenc
A West Vancouver resident attempting to calm a cow coming to shore in September 1976. Picture Jean Lawrence

“Within the second, we didn’t know what the hell occurred, however in a while we figured that the overhead automobile noise from the bridge should have spooked them. So I adopted protocol and known as it in immediately to the First Narrows Sign Station. I mentioned, ‘I simply misplaced a load of cows they usually’re swimming round within the narrows.’”

There was a protracted pause. The marine operator responded with, “It sounded such as you mentioned cows. Might you repeat?”

Dolmage yelled again, “Sure, cows! Cows overboard!”

“Hastily the radio got here alive, as a result of each ship within the harbour heard my name, eh?”

Quickly the narrows underneath the bridge was full of boats, together with a Vancouver Police launch, all collaborating in a never-seen-before-or-since rodeo at sea.

“There was this one actually huge Vancouver cop named Jack who grew up round cattle. He got here aboard Defender and we managed to it get alongside two of the calves. This cop reached over and lifted the calves one after the other proper out of the water and onto the tug,” Dolmage mentioned.

The remainder of the full-grown herd was swimming off in numerous instructions, so the responding crews usual their ropes as lassos. “That really labored on a few the cows, and we towed them into shore alongside the tug,” mentioned Dolmage. “However it was chaotic and getting darker. We had been shedding sight of the remainder of the herd.”

A couple of of the cows swam for Stanley Park, the place the mounted VPD had been radioed. The police thundered down the hill on horseback for a Third Seashore roundup. Extra cows had been noticed by freighters and different boats all through Burrard Inlet.

Dolmage and Lester didn’t hand over on their cargo, and the tug’s radio crackled with sightings. They finally discovered one which had been swimming for a number of hours. The heifer was heaving with fatigue, so Lester tied a life jacket round its neck they usually towed it to the closest seaside.

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Two others had come ashore at West Bay Seashore in West Vancouver, which is the place Dolmage subsequent steered to search out the steers. When he arrived at round midnight, West Van police had been already on scene.

“The cops had simply pulled this soaking cow out of the water, when a North Shore Information reporter walked up and, out of the blue, took a flash picture proper within the cow’s face,” Dolmage mentioned. “Effectively, that spooked the cow, and it took off, thundering into somebody’s yard.”

Article on the incident from the North Shore News.
Article on the incident from the North Shore Information.

At 2 a.m., our residence cellphone rang. “Mr. Garth Lawrence? That is Sergeant Aikenhead of the West Vancouver Police. We’ve got two of your cows down on West Bay Seashore and we’re going to need to shoot them to keep away from additional potential property harm.”

Dad jumped off the bed. You’ll be able to think about his shock: he assumed that his cows had been safely to market. As an alternative they had been operating by individuals’s yards just a few blocks away from our residence. Dad managed to persuade the police to as an alternative name a veterinarian to tranquilize the cows, which they reluctantly agreed to. Dolmage was nonetheless on the scene.

“Whereas we had been ready for the vet, we lastly managed to catch the cows and calm them down. A cop had his arm round one cow’s neck and was stroking it when, I child you not, the North Shore Information photographer snuck up once more and took one other flash picture. This time that cow took off operating down the seaside with the cop nonetheless hanging on to its neck. The police had been livid with that man.”

The vet and my dad arrived at West Bay within the early morning hours. The vet efficiently tranquilized the rampaging cows, however one 1,500-pounder dropped close to the tide line, and nobody may budge the bovine. Dad realized the one method to get it off the seaside can be with one other barge, hopefully earlier than the tide got here in.

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By the point Captain Rick Byrne arrived from Gulf of Georgia towing, Dad and a number of other WVPD members had been waist-deep within the rising tide, holding the sleeping cow’s head above water so it wouldn’t drown. With a sheet of plywood slid underneath the cow, they in some way managed to load it aboard.

Additional down the seaside, Bellevue Avenue resident Barbara Brink, the founder and former CEO of Science World and member of the Order of Canada, woke as much as the sound of canine barking. “I seemed out my bed room window and there was a cow standing on the seaside. It was a misty morning, so it seemed like a surreal English portray,” Brink recollected. “I rubbed my eyes and puzzled if I had eaten one thing hallucinogenic the evening earlier than.”

Of the 9 cows that went overboard that evening, seven had been rescued. One was noticed by a Coast Guard cutter the next afternoon, nonetheless swimming, a full 16 hours after the herd had jumped ship. It was safely towed in to Sandy Cove in West Vancouver. Two cows drowned, their our bodies finally washing up on Bowen Island and Horseshoe Bay. The story made worldwide information.

Dolmage acquired a radical teasing, too. “Oh yeah, I heard about it. ‘MOO DAY, MOO DAY’ and all that. At four a.m., once I was lastly heading in, one other man radioed me and requested, ‘Have been these union cows!?’ There was a whole lot of labour hassle again then, so I replied, ‘They should have been, as a result of they walked off!’”

From the front page of the Province newspaper, Sept. 30. 1976.
From the entrance web page of the Province newspaper, Sept. 30. 1976.

There’s a 40th anniversary get together for the Gambier Island Sea Ranch this Saturday, July 21. You could be positive they’ll be re-telling the cows-overboard story, with perhaps slightly additional bull thrown in for good measure. For all concerned, it’s actually confirmed to be a particularly memorable mooment.


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