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

Tal Bachman, Lance Lapointe head to Duncan Brew Pub with Hometown Hockey

The event includes prizes and a silent auction, with all proceeds going to support KidSport Cowichan

Column: Connie Kaldor, Robbie Burns and more headed to Cowichan

Last minute notice of two great acts at the Duncan Showroom tonight

PHOTO GALLERY: Who’s playing? Lake Cowichan kids love hockey

all of Lake Cowichan’s hockey teams are getting ready for the association’s… Continue reading

Lake Cowichan hockey jamboree ready to take the ice

All six age groups will play games at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena over the course of the day

B.C. cougar kitten rescued after mother struck by vehicle

Conservation Officers find home for young kitten found dehydrated and frostbitten near Williams Lake

Plan your Hometown Hockey weekend

Find your favourites on the Hometown Hockey schedule

Hometown Hockey: Cowichan Capitals events

On Jan. 20 there will be special features during the game for Hometown Hockey

VIDEO: Storm watching at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Some local surf beaches near Tofino have even beenclosed due the the large swell forecast.

Animal protection group urges B.C. vet association to ban cat declawing

Nova Scotia was the first Canadian province to ban declawing

Barenaked Ladies, Steven Page, to be inducted into Canadian Music Hall of Fame

Canadian band to get top honours at 2018 JUNO Awards

B.C. out of the running for Amazon’s next headquarters

Toronto is the only Canadian city left in the running despite the province backing Metro Vancouver’s bid for new Amazon headquarters

B.C. hockey player nominated for Hobey Baker Award

Myles Powell is a forward at Rochester Institute of Technology

Post interest rate hike debt tips

What to do about your debt and mortgages after the interest rate hike

Most Read