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

Strong winds to hit B.C.’s south coast

Western regions may see winds of up to 80 km/hr

Superintendent search begins as Allen prepares to leave SD79 after four years

He’s brought change and a world-view to delivering education in the Cowichan Valley, colleagues say

Caps end road trip with loss to West Kelowna

Cowichan goes 2-1 on Interior jaunt

Former Cowichan Capital helping create BCHL Alumni Association

Shayne Taker a driving force behind new initiative

Some types of cauliflower, lettuce recalled over E. coli fears

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced recall because of possible contamination.

‘Recall fatigue’: Canadians may avoid certain foods over holidays

In the winter, Canada’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables tends to come from very specific areas.

Coming up in Cowichan: Celebrate the second floor with the HUB

Celebrate the second floor this weekend at HUB at Cowichan Station Dec.… Continue reading

Sea King helicopters make formal retirement flight Monday

Monday flight pattern includes Duncan, Nanaimo, Parksville and Qualicum

Ryan Reynolds to narrate movie about B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest

Vancouver-born actor known for Deadpool movies will voice film to be released Feb. 15, 2019

Airline passengers could get up to $2,400 for delays, damaged bags: Canadian agency

Canadian Transportation Agency is releasing draft regulations for public feedback

Top of mind: ‘Justice’ is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year

Merriam-Webster has chosen “justice” as its 2018 word of the year, driven by the churning news cycle and President Trump’s Twitter feed.

‘Spider-Verse’ swings to the top; ‘Mortal Engines’ tanks

“Spider-Verse” has been very well-received among critics, and audiences in exit surveys gave it a rare A+ CinemaScore.

Canadians spent almost $64,000 on goods and services in 2017

Households in B.C. each spent $71,001 with housing costs contributing to higher average

Most Read