The Saanich Peninsula’s marine industry can sometimes go unnoticed in all of the activity surrounding the Victoria airport and the Swartz Bay ferry terminal.
There are, however, a variety of marinas and their ancillary businesses that survive by keeping recreational and commercial customers afloat.
It was at one such location — Canoe Cover Marina and Boatyard — where a large crowd of business people and politicians began the eighth annual Saanich Peninsula chamber of Commerce Tour of Industry.
The Tour is an annual highlight of some of the industrial businesses operating in Central Saanich, North Saanich and Sidney. It’s an opportunity for decision-makers to learn what goes on behind some often closed doors — and for the people behind them to bend a few ears in the process.
At Canoe Cove, General Manager Don Prittie says they operate on 44 acres currently, and are in the process of working with the District of North Saanich on expansion plans.
The marina is surrounded by forested land, tucked away by property that is zoned for homes and for commercial spaces.
Canoe Cove Wharfinger Duane Kennett says they are looking to expand their boatyard and are talking with District staff about which direction they will be able to go. The tour was a chance for them to show some North Saanich municipal councillors the lay of the land.
Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard leases space on the property to various long-term business tenants. And Prittie added they are probably the second or third-largest taxpayer to the District.
“The space has been around here for probably 100 years,” he said, “and today there are 19 affiliated business here, employing 125 to 130 people. We are marketing the place as a one-stop shop.”
Kennett added the boatyard itself is home to around 400 vessels of varying sizes and uses, although most are recreational vessels. The marina is also currently undergoing a renovation of its docks.
In addition to a 75-tonne mobile lift machine — able to draw vessels out of the water and into the boatyard, Kennett added the yard itself includes a water catchment basin. It’s purpose it to collect any pollutants that might be shed during work on any of the vessels ashore.
It’s all part of their plan of having both the marina itself and its tenants part of a co-operative community of sorts.
“Canoe Cove was once a closed community,” Kennett said. “When I arrived 10 years ago, we changed the model and began to open it up, to increase access to each others’ business services.
“Everyone today is getting along in the same box.”
Anthony Utley, a managing partner and one of the founders of Raven Marine Service, says a challenge his business and others like it face, is the lack of qualified workers.
To overcome that issue, he said Canoe Cove played a role in establishing and supporting the Quadrant Marine Institute, which offers a technical training program that turns out around 30 apprentices each year. Utley said the starting wage for most new marine techs is $15 per hour — while the top ones make around $100,000 a year.
“It’s a busy industry in B.C.,” he said. “And we’re looking to grow our own workforce through education and apprenticeship to supply the demand for marine techs.”
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On Friday: The Tour of Industry drops in on the growing Empire Hydrogen Energy Systems Inc.