BC Ferries plans to upgrade its seasonal Port Hardy-to-Bella Coola service in 2018, as part of a push to promote tourism to B.C.'s Central Coast.
The weekly summer run from Vancouver Island to the region now known as the Great Bear Rainforest was cancelled in 2014, when the Queen of Chilliwack was retired. It was replaced with stops in Bella Bella by the two North Coast ferries. The smaller, open-decked MV Nimpkish, running four times a week from Bella Bella to Bella Coola, was added, a change that provoked an uproar among tourism operators.
Tourism businesses promote a circle route from Vancouver Island to Bella Coola, inland to Williams Lake and back to Vancouver. They said the bare-bones vessel was too small and inadequate for the long sailing.
Premier Christy Clark announced the change in Vancouver Tuesday, on the eve of the B.C. government's annual meeting with aboriginal leaders from around the province.
BC Ferries is looking for a new vessel that will provide a "high-end" service that will appeal to European tourists with the right capacity for the route, Clark said.
"We want to have it up and running for the 2018 summer tourism season, so to all the aboriginal and non-aboriginal businesses on the coast, get out there and start selling your tickets, because we know you start doing that in advance," Clark said.
Bella Bella is among the stops planned by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visit B.C. later this month, in what the B.C. government hopes will be a major boost to international awareness of the Central Coast as a destination.
Chief Wally Weber of the Nuxalk community in Bella Coola said his community plans a $1.5 million restaurant and 10 mini-longhouses for vacation rentals along the Bella Coola River.
The Queen of Chilliwack took as long as 20 hours to make the sailing, which included a stop in Bella Bella on some runs. It was losing an estimate $7 million a year as the ship sailed far below capacity.
Bella Bella was added as a stop on the longer Inside Passage route from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert when the Nimpkish was put on the run to Bella Coola.