Locals gathered at the Bella Coola Valley Inn last weekend for an evening of food, ferry talk, and fun to show their support for the ongoing efforts to bring back a viable ferry service on Route 40 – also known as the Discovery Coast Passage.
The abrupt cancellation of the route last fall came as a devastating blow to tourism businesses, both locally and across the province, as the government ‘replaced’ the long-serving Queen of Chilliwack with the smallest vessel in the fleet – the 16-car Nimpkish.
Bella Coola Valley Tourism representative Ernest Hall read from a long list of comments from recent passengers on the trip. While all praised the crew and the scenery, the most used description of the Nimpkish was ‘disappointing.’ As the ferry lacks all but the most basic services and is devoid of any comfortable seating or decent food, most travelers were very hesitant to recommend it to others.
Save the Discovery Coast Committee Chair Petrus Rykes was quick to point out that this is not just a comfort issue, but a safety one as well. “The Nimpkish is designed for inter-island travel, not the longest fjord in the world,” he explained. “There is a real safety concern there and if something happens the results could be devastating.”
Right now, the tourism industry is feeling the brunt of the devastation, and not just in Bella Coola. “The effects are being felt across the province, not just here,” said co-organizer and Tweedsmuir Park Lodge owner, Beat Steiner. “The feeling is that if the government can just cancel a service that serves so many tourism operators here, what’s stopping them from doing similar things elsewhere?”
Steiner, who has been campaigning hard as part of the volunteer-run Save the Discovery Coast Ferry Committee with Chair Petrus Rykes and several others, says he believes continued pressure will result in a reinstated service, but the key is to keep that pressure on.
“I have no doubt that the service will be restored,” Steiner told the crowd. “But that is a ways off, and the damages are only starting to be felt now.”
While the government continues to hold to the fact that Route 40 was a money-loser and needed to be cut, cracks are beginning to show. Cariboo-Chilcotin Liberal MLA Donna Barnett has publicly spoken out against her own government in opposition to the cut, publicly stating last year that the route should keep running at least in 2014.
It is beyond 2014, however, that the Committee has set its sights. “If the Nimpkish was full every sailing, it would still only equal a third to what was coming in on the Chilliwack,” said Rykes. “This is a cumulative effect for our communities, and we need to keep working to restore a better service.”
The Committee has hired a lobby organization, Broadview Strategy Group, who has been working on their behalf to write press releases, get the word out through social media, and keep attention focused on the issue. The proceeds from last weekend’s dinner and Silent Auction are going directly towards the campaign.
“It’s really important that we keep the pressure on, especially through to the next election, because that just might be where it really starts to show,” said Rykes. “We maybe small in number, but we’re all feisty and we are not giving up.”
If you are interested in learning more about the issue or donating to the cause, visit www.savethediscoverycoastferry.ca