07 Sep Coast Ferries
COAST FERRIES IS NOW PART OF HISTORY
Business is built on the strength and dedication of all the people involved. Business is also built from what a person knows and loves to do and it becomes their life. A family business passes down through the generations of parents and children and each moves in to make a difference. Yet each business must move with the economic times and find a way to move on when times are tough and when larger companies have larger supporters.
Oswald and Eva New started Coastal Towing in 1937. In the 1940’s, the company expanded from one tug to twelve vessels, and then started another venture called Andies Bay, which at the time was the largest booming ground in B.C. By the mid 40’s, Coastal Towing had expanded by acquiring the Brentwood, a car ferry that ran from Brentwood Bay to Mill Bay. So they now not only moved logs, but also added a ferry service under a new division called Coast Ferries.
In the 50’s, Coast Ferries started charting routes from Steveston to the Gulf Islands for car and passenger vessels smartly taking advantage of being the only service to do so in the Gulf Islands. By the late 50’s, moving with the demands of the times, Coast Ferries built and introduced a new car ferry, the Mill Bay that ran alongside the Brentwood.
With the times and demands of coastal transportation changing, Coast Ferries had to make some changes of its own. The Brentwood was converted to a freight vessel. They also said goodbye to Andies Bay and log towing activities and concentrated solely on the ferry and freight business.
With more people and more demand, Coast Ferries built a bigger car ferry called the Island Princess and put her on daily runs from Steveston to the Gulf Islands. A business is for the people and Coast Ferries is no exception. Every Monday, they ran children from the Youth of America organization from the old Union Steamship Company docks to a camp in Jervis Inlet.
In the early 60’s, Coast Ferries tried, with success, a run with the Island Princess between Powell River, Texada and Comox, but the BC Government had decided to do this on their own. So, the Island Princess moved to the north end of Vancouver Island between Kelsey Bay, Beaver Cove and Port McNeil where there were no car ferries and the connecting highway did not yet exist.
In 1969, the government decided to either buy out the northern ferry services or to force them out, so Coast Ferries sold the Island Princess and the Mill Bay. After that, Coast Ferries kept operating as a freight service. They expanded throughout the 1970’s into the central coast from Howe Sound to Bella Coola. They also started to ship salmon from Namu to Victoria but by the early 80’s that business had declined.
In the early 80’s, Coast Ferries started and established contracts with the government for the freight services to the Central Coast running weekly in the summer and bi-weekly the rest of the year. At this point Coast Ferries was servicing three dozen ports of call and shipping 10,000 tons of freight per year.
By the mid 80’s, Coast Ferries had run into some financial problems and went into an 18-month receivership. In court-sanctioned proposal, they paid off all their suppliers and then carried on with their one remaining vessel the Tyee Princess. They then went on to deal with choices for improving their services.
Along with their customers in the central coast communities, Coast Ferries persuaded the NDP government in 1992 to study the central coast transportation requirements. This included a Coast Ferries plan to provide a passenger vessel out of Port Hardy into the central coast and Bella Coola. The Tyee Princess would also run bi-weekly from Vancouver to the coast communities that needed freight services. The government again decided that it would carry out this plan and did so with the BC Ferry Corporation in the spring of 1996. Coast Ferries realized it could not operate with the loss of half of its business. They entered an arbitration process and closed their doors at the end of February 1997. During the arbitration the company won a settlement of $2.0 million or so. This was a significant conclusion not because of the dollar amount but because for the first time in Canada the settlement was based on fairness and not just laws.
As of the end of June 1997, Coast Ferries was no more.
“Now we must pause and decide what to do next.” – Bill New, President, Coast Ferries.
Written by K. E. Heaton