60 years since the start of BC Ferries

WatchIt was 60 years ago today that a vital, reliable link between the mainland and Victoria was born. BC Ferries began operating its Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route. Plenty has changed over the decades, but even a pandemic can't shut it down.

Monday marked the 60th anniversary of BC Ferries, and just like over a half a century ago ,the day was a bit grey.

“It was a day like today, cloudy, rainy a little bit cold,” said Lorne Hammond from the Royal BC Museum.

“It wasn’t a sunny June but it was a big moment for British Columbia and Vancouver Island.”

Back on June 15, 1960, the first route from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay had its inaugural sailing.

Newspaper clippings tout the under two-hour journey and multiple sailings. The route emerged after the Island became stranded briefly in 1958.

There was a strike for more pay by Canadian Pacific who had ferry routes. They were joined by Black Ball workers, who also operated routes linking Vancouver Island to the mainland.

Premier W. A. C. Bennett and his cabinet tried using the Civil Defence Act to take possession of Black Ball but they had no success, so instead he created what would become BC Ferries.

“We were dependent on a private ferry service, and there was a two-month strike and it was a real hit to the tourist economy that year,” said Hammond.

“The decision was made that British Columbia would have its own ferry service.”

Travel was a little different back then, a bit reminiscent of the golden age of flying. Photo’s show W. A. C. Bennett enjoying the Dogwood carpeting near a newsstand. You could even get one of the nine luxury staterooms.

Later the Crown corporation would expand to destinations across the coast, and eventually turn into an independently managed, publicly owned company.

“We’ve been providing service up and down the coast for millions of people for many years,” said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

But the ferries have defiantly faced their fair share of criticism, whether it be about rising fares or projects like the fast ferries, which fell through.

But they do provide an essential link between the Island and the mainland, helping keep essentials like tourism going.

“It’s an economic linchpin,” said Hammond.

“There are really two milestones for tourism, one was in 1923 when the first car ferries came from Seattle, then there was this event in 1960.”

It’s been 60 years of sailing, with a few bumps along the way.

The latest is a drop in traffic due to COVID-19, but if history has proved anything it’s that BC Ferries will continue to weather the storm.

Julian KolsutJulian Kolsut

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