Sunrise to Sunset Traveling the British Columbia West Coast Water Highway

The Government of British Columbia and its fine west coast island citizens are in agreement that something has to change to sustain one of the most beautiful water highway systems in world. There is not agreement on how this system must change however. User fees are going up and usage is going down. With the expected total tariff revenue shortfall of about $40M by the of March 2016, there are proposed service cuts and tweaking of schedules which may save money but will likely not lead to increased traffic.  Several factors have led to this grim situation including a lengthy downturn in the economy, fares overreaching the balance point of cost to value in the traveler’s wallet and the government requiring that each route be self-sustaining while separating these ferry served waterways from the highway transportation system and its funding support. It is not a pretty picture. If this situation is not resolved The Local Ferry Committee concludes that “the final result will be the continued strangulation of island and coastal communities, the effects of which are already evident.” (Ferry Facts – MayneLiner Volume 24, Number 1, January 2014)

There seems to be only one way to really give you a good idea what this means and that is to take you with me on a trip from Mill Bay on Vancouver Island to Miners Bay on Mayne Island in January.

The Mill Bay sunrise with Mount Baker in the background is pleasant.

Mount Baker at Sunrise in Mill Bay by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 020

from under the arbutus tree on the Brentwood College campus where I am visiting the “O” family.

Mill Bay Sunrise under the Arbutus Tree by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 045

Boats rest quietly in the marina next door as another amazing day begins.

Sunrise Mill Bay January 2014 by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 024

I don’t have to leave until midday so we go off for a morning hike returning in time for a quick lunch before I head out. Mayne Island is only about 35 km directly across the water but I will drive an hour over the Malahat highway and up the Saanich Peninsula to the Swartz Bay terminal to catch the 2:15 pm  going to Saturna Island and then Mayne Island arriving about 4:10 pm. I allow three and a half hours for travel time. On a day like today this is a pleasure…

Mount Baker from Inside Passage by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 088

Ferry traffic can be spotted regularly as we set out from Swartz Bay.

BC Ferry Traffic Inside Passage by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 128

After passing island after island views, we approach Saturna Island almost an hour later and Mount Baker is still grandstanding on the horizon.

Almost to Saturna Island by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 391

Quality prints available HERE.

The sun is getting low in the sky when our small Mayne Queen ferry retraces its passage back between North Pender Island and Mayne Island.

January West Coast Late Afternoon Sky by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 508

The Queen of Nanaimo ferry is finding its way from Saltspring Island and Galiano Island gives a looming welcome on the right.

Galiano Island winter afterrnoon by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 496

I turn and look back towards Swartz Bay knowing that one of the large ferries taking passengers across the Strait of Georgia will likely be visible.

Late Afternoon in January by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 526

I wasn’t disappointed.

We dock about five minutes late and I meander home, waving at neighbour and friend Leanne Dyck from The Sweater Curse blog who is out for a walk as I go.

My sweet husband has a few groceries he wants to pick up before we go out for dinner.  We unload everything but my camera and head immediately for Miners bay. There is only a slight orange glow left in the sky as we pull up and part on the street facing the Miners Bay Trading Post.

Miners Bay Trading Post by Terrill Welch 2014_01_05 544

What can I say? It is good to be home. It is good to have ferry service and not have to hitch-hike on a passing tug boat, freighter, sea plane or sail boat. Yet, I wonder if it might come to that again in the maybe not so distant future. If it did, we would remember these days of 3.5 hour assured travel to go a distance of 35 km fondly. But would we move? Would we leave our island home with its water highway for the paved highways of the mainland?

Would you still think about coming to visit me if there was no ferry service?

© 2014 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.

Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch

From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to

26 thoughts on “Sunrise to Sunset Traveling the British Columbia West Coast Water Highway

  1. Terrill – Your beautiful photographs are in direct contrast with the grim realities taking place in the waterways around your beloved island. I’ve done a bit of reading based on what Leanne Dyck’s husband posted on her blog a while back, and what you posted on Facebook a while back as well. It’s heartbreaking, to say the least.

    You asked, “Would you still think about coming to visit me if there was no ferry service?”

    Because Len is a pilot, we’d still be able to get there. Gosh! Maybe that’s where we should move and Len should offer that as a service! (I suspect, however, there’s already many fingers in that particular pie)…

    • Yes, there are a few sea plane options Laurie but for regular island dweller travelers it is not idea due to cost and what one can transport. Still, it is an option and you would for sure be able to fly here by float plane. This is a mode of transportation that was the only one available for some communities I used to visit in northern British Columbia when I traveled for work. Most of these now have roads into them even if only passable during the winter.

    • I vote for you moving here, Laurie.
      I was going to wait politely and leave my comment at the end. But when I read of your speculation, Laurie, I pushed politeness aside.
      Thank you, Terrill, for the shout out–and for the beautiful photos. You made me fall in love with this wonderful place all over again.
      Would I visit you?
      Absolutely! : )

  2. We almost daily fight this battle here and we do not have such gorgeous pictures on our posters, The KOCH Brothers think they can put up 2 coal ports on Puget Sound even though the votes have rejected their plans for over 10 years – they even attack our children in school from nearly every angle. It is so scary to think what one spill would do. I know the LIVING BUILDING CHALLANGE folks are working hard on this issue – your pictures would be a boon to their information sharing. Stunning and so much part of home. NO Ferry! Oh that would never ever due for me – I love to ride the ferry And was actually thinking about coming your way as much by ferry as possible for my 65th birthday The ferry ride to Sausalito from SF was beautiful but way too short!!!
    Laurie have you ever flown into Seattle in the sunrise early morning? Mt. St Helen’s, Mt Adams, Mt Rainer, Mt Baker and sometimes even Hood all on display outside the window? I bet Terrill’s camera would really capture that experience of wonder too!?

    • Yes there is pressure to enlarge our coal port as well Patricia. The potential increase oil tanker traffic feels to be the greater risk but neither are embraced. I would be happy to share any of the images in this post pro-bono for any non-profit group fighting to address our joint coastal issues be it Canada or the United States. I am hopeful Patricia that the ferries will still be running on some schedule or another for your 65 birthday. I look forward to your visit! 🙂

  3. I have to admit I debated as to whether I should read your post or not knowing it was about the ferries and knowing that I would then spend the rest of the evening thinking about the situation.

    Just a few thoughts.

    Isn’t it unfair that inland ferries are free yet the ones to the Gulf Islands are not (ahem….it costs our family $137 going out to Pender from Tsawassen and $60 going back….that is a good chunk of change!).

    Doesn’t it just tick you off when you hear a government official say, while talking about the price of the ferries that “that’s the price you pay for living in paradise”.

    If they want more usage then maybe local government (CRD/Island Trust) shouldn’t implement a scenario that discourages tourism such as banning short term rentals. Lets face it, if there is no place to stay no one is going to visit, thus use the ferries. And then there is “Sustainable Islands” which should actually be called “WE ARE FAKING DOING SOMETHING FOR THE ISLANDS BUT DON’T REALLY GIVE A CRAP”. The whole “Sustainable Islands” thing is a farce out on Pender at least with them focusing on elderly housing that has to be purchased.For an elderly person to purchase in this project they would need to sell their home. The homes are over inflated in price and poorly maintained so no one is buying (at one point a few months ago there were 100+ homes on the market on Pender, an island with a full time population of 2500 people!) This project with Sustainable Islands is looking at land that they aren’t even sure has enough water for the vision of the build long term. By the time they get it off the ground a huge percentage of their intended population will be dead (last year approximately 60% of the population on the island was retirement age). How is investing in this demographic making the island sustainable? Rocket science. Then they have an “innovation centre” (can’t remember the full name as it is very long) which is again a “Sustainable Islands” initiative and they haven’t even put a sign up for it; rumour has it that it is at Hope Bay but clearly it is a “secret” as a year after its creation there is still no sign. I wonder how much in grants “Sustainable Islands” gets for doing…ummmm….nothing of value. Seriously, why don’t they aim at bringing in non-invasive industry, bring in families whose parents work from home remotely on computer, look at education opportunities like an agricultural college focusing on organics, link up with one of the universities in Vancouver or Victoria and bring in a masters program in business focusing on running business remotely. Bring people into the island, balance out your population, quit focusing only on retired people. A balanced population is good for everyone.

    If they want more people on the ferries they also need to tweak the times the ferries are running. I can only speak for Pender, however the ferry times make a commute to work in Victoria really not feasible if you want any quality of life. I know, we have considered it. There have been times when we have thought of looking at living on the island full time. The island has no jobs that could support a family. Victoria does, but we would have to leave our house at 7:00 am to catch the 7:45 am ferry, then we would have to catch the 6:30 pm ferry at Swartz getting to our house at around 7:50 pm. Being gone from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm for work makes the quality of life worse than that in Alberta (which is saying something! LOL!). However a 5:45pm ferry time could make all the difference, home in time for dinner, home to put your children to bed. On top of that you also have to factor in the cost. One person and one car is $49.95, however with the “Experience Pass” you only pay $33.50 for your daily commute on the ferry……….or $725 per month just for ferries just for the commute. But the happiness doesn’t stop there because with your spouse being gone for 13 hours a day we would also have to buy a second vehicle, insure it, register it, etc.. We have done the math and finding a job that paid well enough to cover all the costs of the commute, plus compensated you financially enough for the loss of quality of life, probably are few and far between. The ferries, if they want commuters need to also look at a commuter’s fee. Did you know the ferries do not even offer a special rate for university students. It is ridiculous. If the youth of the islands could commute to college and university at a decent price they wouldn’t necessarily leave the islands as adults, but they leave to go to school, they never come back, no new economic development is brought to the islands. Sounds like Newfoundland doesn’t it, but this is the price one pays for living in paradise.

    I know I keep mentioning “economic development” and many on the island seem to think it is a dirty word, but economic development is needed if the islands want to keep the basic amenities needed for a population. I am not suggesting open pit mining (please laugh!) but there are a lot of non-invasive industries; Canada has a large software and video game development industry, an industry like this is quiet, doesn’t hurt the environment, but brings employment and people to the island and this is what can keep the island ticking over.

    Now you know why I debated about opening the post. I have one or two opinions. I LOVE the islands (you can see this from my blog )but I fear that they could be slowly dying if things don’t change. The ferry situation is definitely a piece of the problem but other areas need fixing as well.

    • Well, I am so glad Deb that you not only decided to read the post but offer a thoughtful and inspiring comment. I agree, the issues on the islands are more complex than just the ferry system. Environmentally compatible economies that fit with island culture are needed and are possible. For example, my own work is predominantly sold on line to an international audience of art collectors. A few people on Mayne Island do commute to work in both Vancouver and Victoria but it is not easy as you so eloquently pointed out. Diversifying our populations in all manners would I believe lead us to stronger more resilient communities. In fact, the lack of diversity (age being one factor) is the single challenge I find most difficult about full-time island life.

      However, if we lose our ferry transportation or it becomes so expensive and piecemeal that it loses its viability, there will be little hope of addressing the other issues. Yet, what I hear in your comment Deb is a frustrated plea for all hands on deck, with sleeves rolled up, ready to go to work and resolve these issues. I agree. My post is an attempt to get our heads up and looking out on the horizon for opportunities. Thanks again Deb for your clarity and passion 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures Terrill. I lived in Vancouver for two years in the early 1990’s and was absolutely overwhelmed with the beauty of the mountains. I would sometimes have to pull over while driving just to sit there and soak up the mountain beauty. I now live part time in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic, so feel very blessed that I can still enjoy waking up to the sound and sight of the ocean. When not in Nova Scotia, I’m living in Qatar where my husband teaches. We are so very fortunate to live in Canada. From coast to coast it’s the most beautiful country.

  5. Terrill, a visit to your neck of the woods would favorably compare to passing through the gates of paradise. The photos in this post are typically magnificent, even if the new you convey is disheartening. I can’t imagine you having to leave the island. How tragic that would be. Needless to say I hope and pray all will be well in the end.

    Powerful post.

  6. This was such an enjoyable read, Terrill. The photos depict the reality of your life in a way that many of us can barely imagine. It’s hard to figure out a way through some of these challenges. As for coming to visit you without a ferry–I think those of us destined to meet will find a way. If it’s not as important to meet in the physical, then we’ll continue to ferry across the Internet.

    • Kathy the Internet has offered me access to so much I would never have been able to see or experience without. I remember the regular trips to the library hoping to find books that were not horribly out of date on subject and then when something new came in having to be on a wait list to get it. So if we only ever visit each other and our blogs over the internet that is fine with me 🙂

    • I am so glad you have enjoyed your visit Kimberly and possibly we shall have the pleasure of your company again soon. I must warn you though that I am off to Europe for three months at the beginning of April. My content here will shift to my travels for that time.

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