Our Tofino Neighbours: John and Jen of The Whale Centre

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Shawna Gardham
By Shawna Gardham, Public & Media Relations Manager
Newsletters11 June 2020


While owning a business may wear others thin (especially when working with your partner), after 23+ years at The Whale Centre, Jennifer Steven and John Forde have continued to deepen their appreciation for what they do and where they do it.

Located in downtown Tofino, The Whale Centre offers an array of wildlife tours—whale, bear and bird watching—where guests from all over the world view their first whale or first black bear, or zip out for a day at Hot Springs Cove. While John is a knowledgeable guide on the water, Jennifer runs the office and operations, both are incredible wildlife photographers (check out their social media channels!) and involved community members. John is a captain with the Tofino Volunteer Fire Department, and both John and Jennifer sit on the board for Strawberry Island Marine Research Society.

The type of work The Whale Centre does—sharing the spectacular natural beauty of Clayoquot Sound while enabling the protection of the wildlife who live here—is a very different economy than 40 years ago. Jennifer, Tofino born and raised, recalls when fishing and logging ran the town. “When we travelled and people would ask me where I was from, I would tell them ‘Tofino’ and they would say, ‘No idea where that is.’” John’s family was of the few regular visitors who visited our remote community before War in the Woods (1993), and, having grown up every summer on Chesterman Beach, he has called it home for over half his life.

John Forde Bear Cub Rescue
John rescues bear cub
Orca Leaping
Orca leaping in Tofino

Now Tofino is world-renowned for offering incredible experiences in rugged coastal wilderness, and John and Jennifer are advocates for sharing it with guests in a way that inspires a deep appreciation for it, one that keeps it intact for future generations. Alongside their work, this power duo volunteers with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to document Orca sightings in Clayoquot Sound (last year they had an encounter with the Southern Resident Killer Whales J pod and documented a brand new calf!), aid in wildlife rescues and—with so much time spent on the water—John has been involved with many whale entanglement rescues.

John Whale Entaglement
John works on rescuing whale entangled in ropes

Working outside is one thing, but it’s where this family recreates, too. John and Jennifer will often get up early and, after checking the weather, jump on the boat to find the bears or wolves on the low tide, and they’ll unwind by going out for a family surf with their daughters, Phoebe and Ruby, or a SUP on the inlet on a calm afternoon. Tofino’s easy access to nature is only second to the community they have here. Raising two strong girls who love swimming and being on the boat, and who are surrounded by so many supportive friends and mentors is what they are most proud of. “In a day and age where we can spend every waking hour pursuing our work goals, it’s awesome to know so many great people that enjoy spending time with their kids,” John says.

Thank you, John and Jennifer, for the great work you do, both on and off the water. It is this kind of wonderful dedication to our community and environment that makes the people in Tofino so inspiring—something that even our visitors can feel! Be sure to visit John and Jennifer at The Whale Centre, as well as their gift shop, SALT, on your next stop here.

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