British Columbia

Iconic Vancouver Island ferry service to end with just a few weeks' notice

The Lady Rose ferry service, which carries passengers and essential goods to the remote west coast community of Bamfield, will sail for the last time on Aug. 31.

Bamfield residents and business owners scrambling to find backup plans to move tourists and essential goods

The Frances Barkley, a ferry operated by Lady Rose Marine Services, sits at dock in Bamfield, B.C. The company says the ferry will stop running on Aug. 31, 2021. (Stephen Riley/Submitted )

A ferry that residents of the remote coastal village of Bamfield, B.C., call a lifeline is scheduled to sail for the last time at the end of August. 

Lady Rose Marine Services, which operates the ferry between the central Vancouver Island community of Port Alberni and Bamfield, announced on Facebook on Monday that its final sailing will be Aug. 31.

The ferry, which does not take cars, is used to transport tourists visiting local resorts and students researching at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre.

Community members and businesses also use it to bring in groceries, building supplies, and other goods ordered in Port Alberni. The ferry delivers mail and medical supplies to the far side of the community, which is inaccessible by road. 

The road that connects Bamfield to the rest of Vancouver Island is a dangerous one.

Work is now underway to improve the safety of Bamfield Main, the notorious logging road where two students from the University of Victoria died in a bus crash in 2019.

The village of Bamfield is located on the remote west coast of Vancouver Island.

Trevor Cootes, a councillor with the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, says the sudden closure of the ferry puts his nation in a tight spot. He said it's not just Huu-ay-aht community members and businesses that rely on the ferry.

"Our government itself, our infrastructure department that has a number of infrastructure projects going on, utilizes the ferry services for materials, supplies and equipment," Cootes said.

Part-time resident Phyllis Moretto remembers fondly the first time she took the ferry.

"The first trip that I made on the Lady Rose was in the early '80s, and I just went on a day trip and seen how beautiful it was," she said.

The post office in Bamfield, B.C., is only accessible by water. Right now, mail comes on a ferry operated by Lady Rose Marine Services. (Stephen Riley/Submitted )

But Moretto says it was because of COVID-19 that she realized what a lifeline the service is.

While isolating with a sore throat in the early days of the pandemic, she was able to have groceries delivered from Port Alberni. Since then, she's relied on the ferry not just for grocery delivery, but also prescriptions, house paint and other supplies. 

She credits the company for keeping the service running as long as it did, but says she's "devastated" by the news "because I know for many people down there, that is our lifeline."

Community and business leaders say they have begun talks to try to come up with an alternative transportation plan.

"It is not a simple and easy thing to fix," Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne said

She explained that it's tricky in part because of a shortage of qualified mariners, but that the province "will be at the table" in the search for a solution.