Cameron Ocean Adventures: A Father's Unconventional Legacy

Cameron Ocean Adventures: A Father's Unconventional Legacy

5 minutes

"I'm surprised none of us died," says Ryan Cameron. He, his brother Caleb, and three other siblings were brought up aboard their family's salmon troller. At six years old, while his peers entered the school system, Ryan was entrusted with a razor-sharp fillet knife on the slippery decks and rough waters of the Pacific Northwest. Now, as he and Caleb own Cameron Ocean Adventures in Ucluelet, British Columbia, and are raising their own families, they recall the ups and downs of their unconventional childhood.  

Their father, Don, was a polarizing figure in their community who thrived in the chaos and danger of the fishing industry. He was admired as much as he was criticized, with many questioning his decision to bring his five children on the boat, exposing them to the perils of storms, running aground and collisions, while denying them a traditional childhood. This scrutiny only strengthened Don's resolve to follow his unorthodox path. 

Family on the troller


Their first fishing vessel, the NE Dunkin, a 33-foot classic double-ended troller, was a testament to Don's determination. Once sunken at the bottom of the Pacific, he salvaged and transported it to their home in Tofino, British Columbia. Meticulously restoring it with lumber from salvaged logs over five years, he brought his vision to life. Their second boat, a 44-foot freezer troller, also rebuilt by Don, enabled the family to spend a decade fishing northern British Columbian waters near Haida Gwaii. 


Cameron Family early years


Despite differing opinions about his life choices, everyone who knew Don held his skill and relentless work ethic in high regard. 

"Walking the dock as a kid, other fishermen would ask who I was," says Ryan. "I'd tell them, 'I'm Don's son.' Right away, their body language changed, demonstrating such respect towards our dad."  




Sockeye salmon can be finicky fish that spook easily; Don was known to hand-file their propeller before the start of the season to minimize the boat's water disruption. Once on the ocean, he would turn the electronics off and expertly guide them into a school. The family would sit in quiet anticipation, waiting for the stillness to be broken—ding, ding, ding! Instantly, they'd spring into action, each member performing their tasks under Don's guidance with precision and urgency. Any mistake—missing a piece of gear or a moment's delay—and the fish, and their payday, would be gone. The family's record is over 900 hand-pulled sockeye in one day.  


Troller full of salmon


In 1994, amidst hundreds of other boats, the Camerons achieved the monumental distinction of offloading the most fish for an ice salmon troller in British Columbia. When Don received a call about winning a trip to a golf resort for their efforts, he simply said he didn't play golf and hung up. 

As the prosperous days of the 1990s fishing industry waned, Ryan and his father embarked on restoring a 75-foot wooden ex-military vessel, which would become Don's last great project. Diagnosed with cancer, he grew too ill to complete the work, leaving Ryan to finish it. 

"Dad was the captain, not just of the ship, but of our lives," says Ryan. "When he passed, it was like, 'Who do we call now? Who has the wisdom, insight and capability to get through anything the way he did?'" 

Ryan and Caleb fishing

Photo courtesy of Kyler Vos 

With Groundswell Adventures, Ryan continued running the boat for a few years, offering coastal surf tours. Being at the helm evoked memories of his childhood in the troller wheelhouse, steering through the night while his father slept. Operating the vessel and being on the water allowed him to navigate grief where he felt closest to Don.  

"First thing in the morning, the sun hitting my face and feeling that salty breeze as I head out on the open ocean is the same energy as the best part of our father," he says.   

Now, the same age Don was when they fished together as a family and dads themselves, with four children ages two to seven between them, Ryan and Caleb are reflecting more deeply on their unique upbringing. They bathed in the ocean—or not—for months on end, accepted that accidental stab wounds were inevitable, and it was a fairly common event for one of them to fall overboard. When it happened, their dad, in a practiced fashion, would holler to their mom to watch the kids as he turned the boat around.  


Father and child reeling one in


"I remember being caught in some crazy storms too and rolling over so hard the side cabin windows went underwater," Ryan says.   

At the same time, Don's complete faith in his decisions for his family led to moments of incredible beauty. Whether it was humpback whales scratching themselves on the boat's hull, witnessing aurora borealis or caring for lost seabirds after a storm, they shared unforgettable moments.  

"Caleb and I played with a pod of white-sided dolphins for nearly 30 minutes, chasing them and them chasing us," says Ryan. "We stopped the boat, and they came alongside and let us touch them. The next morning, the dolphins found our boat and swam circles around it, slapping their tails on the hull and jumping out of the water. They wanted us to come and play again." 

Nootka Princess fishing


Ryan and Caleb now operate the 43-foot Nootka Princess, along with Captain Lynette and naturalist Rachel, for walk-on whale-watching and the custom 35-foot Tiara Pursuit for fishing adventures. Thriving in the same environment they were raised in; their career has enabled them to share the joys of their childhood with the next generation.  

 Although on more conventional life paths than their father, Ryan and Caleb continue the family legacy of adventure and resilience. Their children already have deep and grounding connections to the ocean and thrive in nature. They feel the same awe of whales swimming nearby and eagles swooping in close while also enjoying the naivety of not knowing any other way to exist. 



Kids holding their catch


"Everything we learned from our father, even lessons on how not to do things, is transferred into teaching our kids, just with a little more calculated risk and oversight," Ryan says. "We're not about to give any of them a sharp knife at six years old." 


Author: Danielle Baker

Photos courtesy of: Ryan & Caleb Cameron

Learn more about Cameron Ocean Adventures

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