British Columbia

Houseboat company collapses into receivership, leaving customers scrambling to recoup thousands

Waterway Houseboats was swamped by flooding in 2012 and later won a $2 million settlement for damages, but owners say the money was well below what they'd hoped for and not enough to save their Sicamous, B.C., business.

$2M won in lawsuit after devastating 2012 flood wasn't enough to save business, Waterway Houseboats says

Waterway Houseboats, a stronghold for tourism in B.C.'s Sicamous area since 1968, announced it was going into receivership this week. The business struggled to recover financially after being ravaged by flooding in 2012. (Waterway Houseboats/Facebook)

Nearly seven years after being virtually wiped out by flooding, a houseboat company that flourished for decades along a lakefront in B.C.'s Shuswap region has gone into receivership.

Waterway Houseboats was a largely successful business on two acres of beachfront property near the sand beaches of Mara Lake, a few minutes' drive south of Sicamous, until disaster hit in 2012.

Flooding ravaged the area that June and owners never got back on their feet financially. The company's bank applied for receivership this week, one year after the company marked 50 years in business.

Now dozens of customers who spent thousands thinking they'd secured a relaxing summer vacation have been left figuring out whether they can get their money back — and, if they can, where to book instead.

Waterway Houseboats celebrated 50 years in business last year, operating on several hectares of land near Mara Lake. This year, it's gone into receivership. (Waterway Houseboats/Facebook)

"This was not a small expense, far grander than anything I've ever spent on a holiday for my family. It was a gift for their birthdays," said Kamloops' Caren Punton, who dished out $5,000 to plan a vacation for nearly two dozen family members this July.

"I've spent a few moments in tears," said Punton, who, like other Waterway customers, got the disappointing news by email on Monday night. 

Caren Punton said she spent about $5,000 to book her summer vacation with Waterway Houseboats before they went into receivership this week. (Caren Punton)

Catastrophic flooding

Creeks and rivers across the Shuswap area surged over their banks after heavy rain rolled through the area in June 2012. Waterway's property was overcome by murky water, loose timber and other debris, the deep mess powerful enough to rip sheds from the ground and overwhelm pickup trucks.

The houseboat company sued the province and the District of Sicamous for negligence two months after flood, blaming the devastation on forestry activity in the area. The owners were seeking $10 million in damages.

A B.C. Supreme Court justice awarded the company $2 million in damages in April. A statement from the owners posted this week said, "sadly," that amount wasn't enough to recoup their losses.

A lawsuit claims the Sicamous flooding in June was made worse by an uninspected and untended culvert that was the responsibility of the B.C. government. (CBC)

Customers who booked their Waterway trip by credit card, like Punton, are likely to get refunds in the wake of the receivership move. Others who secured their spot through other avenues — like instalments sent by e-transfer over the past few months — are facing losses.

"We're talking thousands of dollars invested," said Cody Ginis, who lives in Spruce Grove, Alta., and planned to vacation on the lake with his family.

"Plus, I've got a seven-year-old who, even last night when I was tucking him in, was really excited to go and now I'm breaking his heart."

The Shuswap region experienced extensive flooding after heavy rain rolled through the area in June 2012.

Sicamous Mayor Terry Rice said the loss will have a heavy effect on employees, boat owners and other small businesses in a local economy that relies heavily on summer tourism.

The owners of Waterway and the receiver did not respond to CBC's request for comment.

With files from Brady Strachan

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