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A Pioneering Spirit: Deborah Murray

“Looking back, maybe we were crazy going off into the wilderness but I was excited and eager to begin this new adventure with our family.” 

Packing everything she could carry, Deborah Murray and her two young boys flew to Sullivan Bay, where Craig Murray was waiting with a skiff to take them to Nimmo Bay for the first time…

Deborah, a mother of three, fearlessly raised her family and started a business with her husband on British Columbia’s coast, in the Great Bear Rainforest. Not only did it take hard work and determination, but it also took a vision and the love of a family. Deborah is a pioneer with a courageous spirit that sparked well before she arrived at Nimmo Bay. 

Deborah Davis was born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Canada’s Atlantic coast. Her yearning to explore the world started at a young age. In 1971, at the age of 19, she set off on a European adventure, penniless, working her way through six countries, touring on a two-stroke MZ motorbike. Finding work in France during the busy grape harvest, she recalls that “they fed you wine for breakfast!” This was where the police caught up with her, not because she had done anything wrong, but because she hadn’t phoned home in 7 months and her parents were worried about her! From hospital kitchens to farms, being hoisted up 20-feet in a bucket truck to trim hops in England or mucking out pens on a pig farm in Denmark, Deborah’s stories from her European tour paint a picture of a determined, hard-working trailblazer with a thirst to experience the wider world. 

In 1973, back home in Canada, she attended the University of Guelph for two years, earning a diploma in agriculture and trying her best to settle down. However, life had other plans for Deborah and the call of the open road was strong. In 1976, Deborah and her friend, Joanna, hitchhiked their way out west, eventually finding themselves in the small harbour town of Port McNeill, on the north-east side of Vancouver Island. Upon their arrival in the town, they came across the Dalewood Hotel with a flyer pinned to the door, “Waitresses Wanted, Board Provided.” They quickly took the jobs, knowing they would at least have a place to sleep for the night. 

On Deborah’s first morning at the Dalewood, she served Craig Murray a cup coffee and really, as they say, the rest is history! She was the new girl in town and Craig liked what he saw, as he says, “that was the best cup of coffee in my life.” One day, shortly after, Deborah was washing dishes at work and Craig walked in, announced that he was quitting his job and was going to start a business. Oh, and that Deborah was going to marry him. Deborah said “ok,” moved aboard Craig’s sailboat, quit her restaurant job and started working for the local logging company, strapping logs onto the trucks; it was tough work, but it paid well. 

The arrival of their two boys, first Fraser and then Clifton, reinforced the importance of family and wanting to keep the family together. Craig’s idea of a fishing resort was taking form. In 1980, nine months after Clifton was born, Deborah spent the summer at Blue Fjord Lodge in Hakai Pass, learning about the lodge industry and the tricks of the trade. That same summer, Craig discovered Nimmo Bay for the first time. It had just what he was looking for, a swift-running stream with a waterfall. He had also located the float house that would eventually become the lodge. 

That fall, Deborah went back to work at the log sort but she was having problems finding good daycare with Craig living at Nimmo Bay. One day, over the marine radio, Deborah declared that “one of us has to quit our job.” Craig replied, “you’re right and it won’t be me.” 

And just like that, in 1981, Deborah found herself in a tiny float house with no electricity, surrounded by open water and roaming wildlife. Kerosene lanterns, a small wood stove and persistent, thieving martens quickly became her reality. Craig and Deborah were broke and unemployed, yet excited to see what this chapter had in store for their young family.  

The next big project was to get the small hydroelectric system in place and running. Both Deborah and Craig had agreed that the lodge had to fit into the ecosystem and that it would run on green power. This was no small feat for the Murrays and everyone had their nose to the grindstone. First, a dam had to be built above the waterfall and concrete thrust blocks poured. Deborah would trek up the mountain with a bag of cement on her shoulder, a shotgun on her back, and a baby on her chest. With a pickaxe and shovel, she dug the tailrace, a three-foot-deep, two-foot-wide ditch. The whole family was up on the hill those days, the children were protected from the wind and rain under a plastic tarp, eating cookies and building frog forts. It wasn’t until the following year that Deborah christened the new hydro system by starting her wringer washing machine for the first time. The light bulbs flashed on and the sound of clean power was finally heard at Nimmo Bay.

In the beginning, as bookings slowly trickled in, it became evident that one of them would need to find a job. Craig, resourceful as he is, came home one day and announced that he had found one, for Deborah! Hopetown Village, on Watson Island, was looking for a teacher to teach provincial correspondence courses to the local children. Deborah took the job and travelled back and forth daily, 15 minutes on a good day, longer on foggy days, with Fraser aboard the 16-foot Hourston Glascraft speedboat. 

Deborah cooked and cleaned for their guests and her family. Georgia, the youngest of the Murray children born in 1985, would often be strapped on Deborah’s back as she worked away in the kitchen or picked berries for dessert. Deborah tells of a tradition she started during the season in which she would take a running dive off the dock and into the ocean after every guest meal – “the perfect remedy for cooling down,” she explains. Deborah is a fabulous cook, smoking her own fish and meat, crafting delicious meals in the middle of nowhere. They lived off the bounty of the sea, with fresh salmon, crabs, prawns, and clams. Adding her special touch, Deborah was the front-runner for Nimmo Bay’s leading reputation in coastal cuisine. “We had many things to do before all the comforts and some of the essentials were in place, but our first guests loved it,” recalls Deborah and says that “it was our attitude that won them over.”

It was hard work at Nimmo Bay, however, Craig and Deborah still made time to enjoy fishing and exploring with their children, catching crabs and prawns, always appreciating the beauty of the wilderness they now called home. One day, she was tending to her garden and noticed three black bears on the back deck. Brave as she was, Deborah took a broom and shooed them off the deck and back into the forest. “You just did what had to be done,” she says. Deborah fondly reminisces about days she would canoe up Big Nimmo with Fraser, Clifton, and Georgia, enjoying a picnic and picking huckleberries. If the children started to fidget or misbehave, she would just tap them on the head with the paddle, reminding them to not tip the boat! 

Deborah instilled in her children that “the way you do anything is the way you do everything” and she certainly practiced what she preached during those early days. Craig and Deborah boldly decided to make their pioneering lifestyle a reality, raising a family and growing a business in the wilderness. Deborah would have done just about anything to keep her family safe and the lodge afloat. With her wild heart and warrior of the woods attitude, she found herself in a place no one had ever been before – building the foundation of Nimmo Bay one dream at a time. 

Words: Caitlin Hedley
Photos: Murray Family Archives and Jeremy Koreski

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