Meghan LeBlanc, operations manager, and Mike Child, owner and operator of Sidney Whale Watching, stand on board the 50-foot long catamaran normally shuttling several times daily between downtown Sidney and Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Child purchased the contract to operate the ferry in March. But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced him to dock. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

Sidney Spit ferry remains docked

COVID-19 has curtailed shuttle service between Sidney and Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

The new owner of the shuttle service between Sidney and the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve says it is not clear yet when the service will start against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That is the big question everybody is working on at the moment,” said Mike Child, owner and operator of Sidney Whale Watching. The company assumed the contract to run the shuttle in March. “We don’t have a definite answer at this point,” he said. “I’m pretty optimistic that we will get some kind of season. Again, I don’t know when, but barring any drastic changes, we are pretty hopeful that we will be running.”

The company is currently working closely with Parks Canada, Transport Canada, and provincial health officials, he added. “Hopefully, in the next week or two, we will have a start date that we will announce,” he said. “But at the moment we don’t have a definitive start date, because of the pandemic and just all the uncertainty that surrounds it.”

Historically, the service to the park reserve runs from the middle of May to early September, with a 50-foot catamaran shuttling several times daily between downtown Sidney and a landing dock at the park. The vessel can carry up to 41 passengers and a small crew.

Child said in an ideal world he would like to start the service as soon as possible after receiving the necessary approvals. “We are hitting summer now and I know there is a demand for people to get out to the park. It is a beautiful way to spend a summer day,” he said. “We are getting all of our ducks in a row now. So as soon as we get the green light, we will be ready to rock.”

Laura Judson, public relations and communications officer, said Parks Canada cannot yet confirm when the passenger ferry service to Sidney Island will be running again. “But we look forward to the resumption of this well-loved service when it is safe to do so,” she said. “The operation of the passenger ferry depends on several factors, including Transport Canada regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

RELATED: Prime Minister paddles at Sidney Spit during B.C. trip

RELATED: Short trip to car-free Sidney Spit offers camping, beaches, hikes

RELATED: Endangered plant thrives after Sidney Spit restoration

The federal government plans to lift its ban on marine vessels with a capacity of more than 12 passengers on June 30, officially handing over health and safety clearance to the provincial government. In early April, the federal government prohibited all commercial marine vessels with a capacity of more than 12 passengers from offering non-essential services, such as tourism or recreation.

That ban obviously impacted the ferry service and Child said he has already been working with provincial officials. “We are kind of working on a health and safety plan and trying to arrange the seating on the vessel itself for social distancing as best possible,” he said.

It is not clear yet how many passengers would be allowed on the boat. “Anything under 70 per cent generally with a passenger vessel doesn’t make financial sense, so we are hopeful that we can keep a higher capacity, obviously with the necessary safety standards,” he said.

Alpine Group previously operated the service and it is not clear why the company divested itself of the vessel and the service. Several calls for comment have remained unanswered.

Child did not want to disclose his company’s investment in the service. “Boats are expensive, docks are expensive,” he said. “I will say though that starting a new business or taking on a new business and then having the pandemic hit, both on the whale watching end of things and as well as this ferry, it has been a huge financial burden.”

Like the ferry service, Child’s whale-watching business remains docked. In a non-pandemic year, it would have been open since March and experts are warning that the industry will take a significant hit.

This said, Child feels excited to offer the service, which will complement the whale-watching business. “We are pleased this local business is prepared to provide this important service that is a highlight for many visitors who travel to Sidney Spit,” said Judsom.

If the timing of the ferry service resuming remains uncertain, the park itself has been offering limited visitor services since June 1.

“The day use area on Sidney Spit in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve is currently open but the pit toilets and campsites are not available,” said Judson. “All front-country and back-country camping facilities remain closed until at least June 21, 2020, while Parks Canada assesses whether and how these services might resume,” said Parks Canada in an earlier release.

All potential visitors are asked to check ahead before travelling to the park to see what is open.


Like us on Facebook and follow @wolfgang_depner

wolfgang.depner@peninsulanewsreview.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Norm Scott, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch no. 91 in Lanford, pins the first poppy to launch the annual Poppy Campaign on George Baker, who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1953 to 1989. Baker said it was an honour to be chosen for something so significant for veterans everywhere. (Rick Stiebel/News Staff)
Poppy campaign launches in Langford with pinning ceremony

The poppy campaign is officially underway with the first of the pins… Continue reading

Cat owners are being warned to keep their pets indoors after a threatening note was found posted in a North Saanich neighbourhood. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
ROAM warns Peninsula cat owners after threatening note posted in neighbourhood

Note writer doesn’t want cats pooping in their yard, threatens to trap them

Police are looking to identify suspects in an Oct. 10 report of mischief in at a construction site in the 2800-block of Peatt Road in Langford. (West Shore RCMP handout)
West Shore RCMP seeks suspects after trio spray paints Langford construction site

Three individuals caught on camera hopping a fence on Peatt Road

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read