British Columbia

Ferry interruption clouds recovery of Haida Gwaii tourism this summer

The Haida Nation said in early June it will reopen the archipelago to non-essential travellers from off-island on July 1, but one of the two BC Ferries vessels that service the island is temporarily docked due to a mechanical failure.

The Northern Expedition is out of service due to an engine failure, according to BC Ferries

The Northern Expedition is temporarily out of service and may return in early August, says BC Ferries. (Kam Abbott/Flickr)

Bed and breakfast operator Susan Musgrave is hoping her business in Haida Gwaii, B.C., will get back to pre-pandemic levels once the archipelago opens to outside travellers this summer.

But the latest interruption of ferry service between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert has added a lot of uncertainty.

"It's frustrating for my potential guests," Musgrave said Monday to Carolina de Ryk, the host of CBC's Daybreak North.

On June 2, the Haida Nation announced it will lift all restrictions on non-essential travellers from outside of the islands on July 1, as long as at least 70 per cent of residents across the province are vaccinated with their first dose for COVID-19, a threshold that has now been met. 

But just one day later, BC Ferries announced in a written statement that the Northern Expedition —  which, together with the Northern Adventure, runs five round trips per week between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert — was temporarily removed from service due to a mechanical failure.

Haida Gwaii communities like Massett are planning to reopen to off-island, non-essential travellers on July 1. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

"BC Ferries determined the issue to be a main engine failure that will require extensive repairs," the statement said.

Until early August, the Northern Adventure will be the only BC Ferries vessel serving the route and will run only three round trips per week. The company said it will confirm the exact return date of the Northern Expedition by the end of June.

Musgrave owns and operates the five-room Copper Beech House in Massett on Kiis Gwaay (Graham Island). Since the provincial ban on non-essential travel to the islands last July, Musgrave has only kept two rooms open for essential workers and people who need a place to quarantine.

She's not sure yet how the ferry interruption will affect her business, but she is relieved she hasn't had to close. 

Bed and Breakfast owner Susan Musgrave says she isn't sure what the ferry shutdown will mean for her business this summer. (Kathleen Hinkel)

"[I'll be] all sitting, staring at the river," she said. "[I've been] limping along, but at least paying the bills… I've got a mortgage on the house, but I have managed to cover it just by having the two rooms and people for a week at a time or two weeks at a time."

North Coast Regional District director Evan Putterill — who also chairs BC Ferries's Ferry Advisory Committee for B.C.'s North and Central Coasts —  said the service interruption may make the recovery of Haida Gwaii tourism more difficult.

"If this were to happen in a busy tourism year, it could have devastating economic consequences," Putterill wrote on Facebook on June 9.

Susan Musgrave's Copper Beach House in Massett, B.C., is currently keeping just two of its five rooms open for essential workers and people who need a place to quarantine. (Copper Beach House)

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Winston Szeto

Digital journalist

Winston Szeto is a journalist with CBC News based in Kelowna, B.C. in the unceded territories of the Syilx. He writes stories about new immigrants and LGBTQ communities. He has contributed to CBC investigative journalism programs Marketplace and The Fifth Estate. Winston speaks Cantonese and Mandarin fluently and has a working knowledge of German and Japanese. He came to Canada in 2018 from Hong Kong, and is proud to be Canadian. Send him tips at

With files from Daybreak North and Matt Allen