Turning vision into innovative reality

We wanted to flip that (idea) around to show something neat with an educational, entertainment and tourism side.” – Bill Morrison, (past) President, Ucluelet Aquarium

Bill Morrison doesn’t understand why he’s being interviewed.

Bill Morrison
Bill Morrison

Part of his confusion is humility, the other part a lurking sense that his voice today is somehow diluted. Having stepped down as the Ucluelet Aquarium’s President (incidentally the month before COVID’s March lockdown), preceded by his earlier decision to step away from his other volunteer engagements, means that today Bill is skeptical of his relevance as a regional community builder.

Innovative idea
The truth is, past or present, Bill will remain a key player in developing one of Vancouver Island’s most unique and attractive tourism assets. And if you’ve ever set foot inside the 3000 square foot, fish-shaped, indigo blue facility overlooking the water in Ucluelet, you’ll understand why.

“The whole idea was a reaction to large scale aquariums and galleries where the only person that talks to you is in the gift shop,” says Bill, who first came out ‘to visit a friend in Tofino from Ottawa in 1987 and never left’. “We wanted to flip that (idea) around to show something neat with an educational, entertainment and tourism side.”

Collaboration and timing
Bill is quick to point out, however, that fleshing out this “neat” idea was his friend Philip Brueker’s early vision and making it into a reality was a truly collaborative effort. Bringing in a rotation of specimens from the local waters and having guides interpret for visitors, who could directly interact with the animals before watching their release at season’s end, was indeed a unique concept. The idea of building a system integrating the Aquarium with the local marine ecosystem (as freshwater from the harbour flows through the tanks providing the specimens with all of the fresh nutrients found in the wild) was truly innovative.

“I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and had the very narrow set of communication skills and connections within the community that complemented a large set of other skills within our (volunteer) team,” says Bill, who has a Masters in Biology, previously worked in fisheries and has “been in a few folk bands”.

But good timing or not, the development of the aquarium in 2012 coincided with the development of other factors that were also enhancing Ucluelet’s position as a visitor destination. Word traveled fast and far that an innovative and immersive sea life facility had opened in a small community on Vancouver Island’s west coast.

Spurring offshoots
“The success of the Ucluelet aquarium led to the development of facilities in Campbell River, Sechelt, Port Alberni and Newfoundland,” says Bill. “This idea went viral, and the aquarium later proved to be an international pioneer when (in the Spring of 2019) we hosted a conference with representatives coming from facilities in Scotland and Washington.”

And while two springs ago seems like a lifetime now, Bill has faith that the Aquarium, version 2.0, will come through the pandemic remaining true to its original intent and philosophy. Meanwhile, after serving 16 years as President, he admits his involvement is now “zero”. His interest in “helping people achieve their goals” continues, albeit in a different format.

Life after the Aquarium
Since 1996, Bill has been teaching with North Island College (NIC) and currently teaches online education, adult basic education and first year mathematics. When he’s not working with students that span from Canada’s west coast to India and China, Bill can be found doing either one of his newfound activities: sailing or gardening.

And if you want to hear the pride rise in Bill’s voice, you may just ask about his daughters, both of whom are working to complete degrees at UNBC and UBC in Medicine and Geology.

Community builders are, in fact, about helping build better environments for tomorrow – those that can benefit their own families and generations to come.


Bill is the former President of the Ucluelet Aquarium Society (2004-2020) and is currently an instructor at North Island College.


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