The Government of British Columbia and BC Ferries are committing to a seasonal direct ferry service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola to support Aboriginal tourism and the mid-coast economy, Premier Christy Clark announced today.
This service will begin by the 2018 summer tourism season. A search is underway for an appropriate used vessel to make that happen.
“British Columbia’s strong, diverse and growing economy gives us the ability to invest in unique tourism opportunities along the mid-coast,” Premier Clark said. “By introducing the right ferry service, using the right vessel, we can take advantage of the increasing numbers of international visitors who come here to experience one of the world’s jewels – the Great Bear Rainforest.”
“We’ve been working with the Mid-Coast Working Group on how best to serve visitors to the mid-coast, given the pending retirement of the MV Nimpkish,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone. “This new service will provide access for visitors to the unique and unparalleled beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest, now protected by the Province, and create additional interest in tourism along the mid-coast and through the Cariboo-Chilcotin for years to come.”
The introduction of a new service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola requires the Province and BC Ferries to amend the Coastal Ferry Services Contract, which outlines the coastal ferry service levels. As this work happens, the government will work with BC Ferries, the Aboriginal Tourism Association of B.C. (AtBC) and its partners in the Mid-Coast BC Ferry Working Group to determine how to best serve the tourism sector and communities of the mid-coast.
“This new service will encourage the development of new cultural and eco-tourism options in the region, which will help create jobs and build our economy,” said Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett. “Equally as important as the new ferry service is the path taken to get here. The collaboration between the Cariboo-Chilcotin tourism industry and First Nations should be held as a model for cooperation.”
A total of 4.9 million international visitors came to B.C. in 2015, an increase of 7.9% over the previous year. In B.C.’s tourism industry, Aboriginal tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors, with more than 300 Aboriginal tourism businesses in operation.
"British Columbia continues to see record-breaking tourism numbers. One of the reasons for that is the growth of Aboriginal tourism with visitors looking to experience First Nations culture and traditions,” said Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour Shirley Bond. “I want to thank the partners for rolling up their sleeves and working hard to create a strategy that will build on the success of current Aboriginal tourism initiatives and inspire even more tourists to make a choice to #exploreBC.”
Those who travel via BC Ferries through Bella Coola come to explore the natural beauty of coastal British Columbia and the Cariboo-Chilcotin. One of the biggest draws on the central coast is the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest piece of intact coastal temperate rainforest in the world. In February 2016, the Government of B.C. announced full protection of 85% of the area’s forests.
Since early 2014, Mid-Coast Working Group members have been analyzing and reviewing marine transportation options that would support the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal tourism industry on the central coast, as well as meet local transport needs. Mid-Coast Working Group members met with government on numerous occasions to present its analysis. The groundwork done by contributing members of the working group was instrumental in developing this workable, sustainable option.
“This is a significant achievement today and the work of ATAC as part of the Mid-Coast Working Group is one of the best examples of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal tourism industry partnerships in the country,” said co-chair for the Mid-Coast Working Group and Aboriginal Tourism Association of Canada (ATAC) president and CEO Keith Henry. “Aboriginal tourism along B.C.’s coast is yet to realize its full potential and today marks an important step in our work to build new experiences and market this incredible destination to the world.”
“Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism is proud to align with such a diverse group of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal partners on this journey to build a new vision for the Great Bear Rainforest,” said co-chair for the Mid-Coast Working Group and Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association past chair and BC Hotel Association director Pat Corbett. “Today’s announcement reflects the power of partnership, and will lead to job creation and economic development in a vital part of rural British Columbia.”
The province is also investing $198,750 in B.C. Air Access Program funding for the Bella Bella Airport. This funding will help the Bella Bella Airport construct a terminal building, which will improve comfort and convenience for visitors to the region. The Bella Bella Airport Authority will provide the remainder of the funding for the $480,000 project. The Bella Bella Airport provides scheduled passenger services by Pacific Coastal Airlines to Campbell River, Comox, Port Hardy and Vancouver (South Terminal).
Complementing the new ferry service and Bella Bella airport investment are improvements to highway access in the region. A $6.2-million project to rehabilitate a large stretch of Highway 20 outside of Bella Coola, as well as a section outside of Anahim Lake, has recently been completed. This investment on Highway 20, which connects the Interior of B.C. with Bella Coola, provides a safer journey and will accommodate local pedestrians and cyclists along parts of the route.
While the vessel and its capacity have not yet been determined, BC Ferries will ensure it offers the comfort and amenities visitors might expect for this length of voyage. Presently, the MV Nimpkish, with a 16-vehicle capacity, provides a connector service between Bella Coola and Bella Bella. The MV Nimpkish is due to be retired in 2019.