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

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

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson column: A shift in perspective can sometimes change everything

Have you even been forced to wake up at 5:30 on a Saturday

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

North Cowichan’s committee of the whole have rejected staff’s recommendation to limit the use of fireworks to Halloween. (File photo)
North Cowichan rejects limiting fireworks to Halloween

Municipality decides staff recommendation would be unpopular

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

CVRD Area E director Alison Nicholson, right, hiked two hours to Waterfall Camp at the Fairy Creek watershed along with Comox town councillor Nicole Minion and Comox Valley Regional District director Daniel Arbour to meet with old-growth logging activists on Monday, June 7. (Submitted)
Cowichan Valley regional director visits Fairy Creek protest camps

‘They clearly communicated that they are committed to what they are doing’

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
‘Springsteen on Broadway’ clears way for AstraZeneca recipients to attend show

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

British Columbia’s premier says he’s received a second dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. (Twitter/John Horgan)
B.C. premier gets 2nd dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

John Horgan shared a photo of himself on social media Friday afternoon holding a completed vaccination card

A lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS
No winning ticket sold for Friday’s $70 million Lotto Max jackpot

The huge jackpot has remained unclaimed for several weeks now

Most Read