MV Nimpkish has replaced a larger vessel for part of the Discovery Coast circle tour run.

B.C. VIEWS: Bleak summer for coastal ferry remake

Tourism businesses hurting despite Todd Stone's sunny view of Discovery Coast ferry downgrade

VICTORIA – There was an uproar in the B.C. legislature this spring when Transportation Minister Todd Stone went ahead with $19 million in cuts to low-usage coastal ferry routes.

The plan had been laid out in detail before last year’s election. It targeted sailings where ridership was in the low teens or even single digits. On some sailings the Transport Canada-mandated crew outnumbered the passengers.

Despite the cries of doom, most of the sailing reductions have been managed – with one glaring exception. The Discovery Coast Circle Tour route saw its ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola replaced, using the smallest vessel in the BC Ferries fleet, the open-decked Nimpkish.

This move wasn’t a direct response to low usage, a chronic issue with some of the minor route sailings along the coast. It was to avoid ordering a replacement for the Queen of Chilliwack, which sailed directly between Port Hardy and Bella Coola.

This summer the first leg was consolidated with the Northern Expedition, the vessel that replaced the doomed Queen of the North on the Inside Passage run up to Prince Rupert. At Bella Bella, after a layover of a couple of hours, the Nimpkish took over with space for 16 standard vehicles on its deck and a midnight arrival time in Bella Coola.

The direct route had been mainly used by European tourists, who sailed from the Lower Mainland to Victoria, drove the length of the Island, ferried to Bella Coola and drove through the rugged Chilcotin to Williams Lake and back down south to complete the circle tour.

The new route incorporated stops in remote outposts Ocean Falls and Shearwater, making it even longer. Warnings came early.

“That’s where 90 per cent of the [BC Ferries] money is being lost, on the milk runs, and that’s the part they are keeping,” Petrus Rykes, a tourism operator at Anahim Lake for 40 years, said in March. “The part they’ve cancelled was at 70 per cent capacity, the second highest of all the fleet routes.”

Reports of a bad slump have come to pass. The changes meant bookings couldn’t be made until April, too late for most international travelers.

A survey by Bella Coola Valley Tourism in mid-summer found most operators losing business, from 10 to 90 per cent. A bus tour of Canadian seniors heading west from Williams Lake was terminated after 14 years. One tourism operator on Highway 20 is considering closing down.

Stone and his family took the new route themselves in early August, with the minister offering sunny reports on his blog.

Stone summed up his experience this way:

“At the end of the day, my assessment is that the Nimpkish is a good tourism product if tourists are made fully aware as to the type of service it provides. If correct expectations are set, I believe the Nimpkish can be marketed as a valuable tourism component of the Discovery Coast Circle Tour.

“The decision to do this rests squarely on the shoulders of the tourism industry and tourism operators who need to decide whether or not they want this service to work, to grow and to be viable in order to capture a share of the thousands of international tourists looking for exactly the kind of adventure the Nimpkish provides.”

Got that, Discovery Coast tourism folks? If this milk run doesn’t work next year, it will be your fault. Heck, the Nimpkish has free snacks and drinks for your 10-hour voyage, much of it in the dark.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Just Posted

Love the Revelstoke market? Visit the other 145 across the province

There’s a new online guide and each market has a different flavour

Revelstoke RCMP respond to three accidents and a fallen hiker

Aug. 23 was a busy day for first responders

Opening delayed for new campground at Mt. Revelstoke National Park

Construction of the campground was announced in 2016 and it was expected to open this year

Madchild brings demons of drug abuse to Okanagan

Swollen Members rapper takes Status stage

Repair work to begin on lakeshore paths in Summerland

Paths were damaged during spring flooding in 2017 and 2018

One sent to hospital following Balmoral Road/Highway 1 collision

Violation ticket issued in second crash at Balmoral intersection in two weeks

Chase RCMP request public’s help to find missing man

Travis Allen Sauls was last seen in Chase on July 14

Smash and grab at Okanagan pot shop

Cash register and products stolen from Starbuds store in Lake Country

Cause of North Okanagan house fire still under investigation

Mom rescued sleeping baby from Thursday’s blaze

Speculation tax forces sale of Greater Victoria’s iconic ‘Tulip House’

Bob and Jan Fleming selling their retirement home famous for its thousands of tulips

LETTER: Repair work overdue at lakeside path

Condition of walkway is a disgrace for Summerland

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Most Read