Didn’t intend on making a second entry today, but circumstances dictate otherwise. Another part of my Childhood died today. Or at least, was prematurely retired from service. BC Ferries: Queen of Nanaimo, longtime champion and Workhorse of the Southern Gulf Islands run just HAD to have one final mechanical breakdown, just a few WEEKS before her scheduled retirement. Her Propeller Pitch shaft gave out around 11AM this morning & she was pulled out of service around 2pm. After a quick consultation with Management, it was agreed the cost of a repair far outweighed the logistics of of simply retiring the ship now & letting her replacement vessel, The newly launched Salish Eagle, which is already in service to replace her.
So ends 52 years of service. God, I just went through this with the Queen of Burnaby a few months ago. Now I gotta go through this AGAIN? Yes. I’ve lost another piece of my Childhood with the stroke of a pen. But let’s be honest here: She REALLY was gone (to ME, anyways) after she returned from her DISASTROUS refit of 2005. When they “Coastalized” her & stripped away any and ALL of her unique Identity & conformed her to the current cold, impersonal & efficient design that all BC Ferries now share. The interior design of all BC Ferries ships is SO Cookie-Cutter now that the ONLY way you can tell what ship you’re on, is to go up & SEE the name of the vessel on the Nameplate. Each ship, even of EVERY class looks pretty much exactly like any other BC ferry in any other class of ship. Believe it or not, there was a time where you could just look at the CARPET & you could guess which ship you were on.
But, let’s cut the ferries some slack. BC Ferries is a Business. Their purpose is to deliver the best, safest service to the public at as little cost as possible. This is not unique to BC Ferries, it’s just good business sense. If anyone is at fault, it’s me. I had the misfortune of being introduced to the ferries in the early 1970’s. a time of Economic growth for BC. Former BC Premier; William, Andrew, Cecil (Wacky) Bennett had just created BC Ferries a decade ago with a promise & a determination to deliver the best service possible. Period. There was no mention, or even feeling of economic parameters. His vision, along with then BC Ferries President; Monty Aldous was to provide the province with the best ships anywhere. And deliver he did! When MV Sidney & MV Tsawwassen entered service on June 15, 1960 the world had never seen such magnificent ships. These 2 ships would set the benchmark for the company & ships which would define BC Ferries.
When Queen of Nanaimo entered service in 1965,
she was the last of the original “Seven Sisters” of the fleet. These ships all would be the backbone of service to the major routes along British Columbia’s coast & the statement to all passengers that they were travelling on World-class ships. All throughout the 1960’s & 70’s these ships would become part of the familiar landscape of BC’s Coastal waterways. The smooth, sleek design of Seattle Naval Architect, Phillip F. Spaulding and his Vancouver partner, Art McLaren’s ships would become synonymous with British Columbia’s Coastal scenery. I can’t tell you the number of times, as a child I would thrill to being out at Horseshoe Bay with my parents, hearing that familiar 3-tone horn reverberating through the sound & then seeing a sleek Queen of New Westminster, or Queen of Burnaby quietly round the point as she made her way to dock at Horseshoe Bay.
The first time (I was initially going to do this as a separate entry) I recall travelling on the Queen of Nanaimo was the summer of 1976. It was a Daytrip, & we caught the Nanny over to Nanaimo & decided to compare ferry systems, so we took Canadian Pacific’s Princess of Vancouver back to Vancouver from Downtown Nanaimo. There was NO comparison. The P.O.V. was a cold feeling ship. The interior layout was completely disorganized with one lounge leading to a Car deck that wasn’t even on the main deck.
There didn’t appear to be ANY kind of Newsstand, or Gift Shop. I can’t even remember if there was even any kind of cafeteria on board. Yes, I remember just wanting to get back home as quickly as possible. Shame really for such a lovely looking ship. From the outside anyway. But even on this short Daytime excursion the Nanny left an impression on me.
The next chance I would get to ride on her wouldn’t be till 1982, when I was old enough to travel on my own. By now, she had become the primary ship on the Southern Gulf Islands run, where she would serve the rest of her days. But this excited young man had just stepped off the MV Mayne Queen in a brilliant strategy to return to Tsawwassen from whence I started out on the Vancouver to Victoria run. I had studied the schedule and found it would be possible to catch the Queen of Nanaimo if I took the 3pm sailing from Swartz Bay on the MV Mayne Queen, which would eventually make a stopover at Mayne Island, where one could then transfer over to the Gulf Islands ferry to Tsawwassen. It would be an hours wait or so, but I didn’t care. I would get to be on the Queen of Nanaimo! I still remember that feeling…seeing her emerge from across the strait…slowly approaching Village Bay getting closer & closer…the feeling of excited anticipation, waiting for her traffic to clear out…FINALLY! The Deckhand gives the All Clear & I RACED on board! I was so fast to the Cafeteria, you couldn’t even catch me if you tried. I stuffed that old Sea burger in my mouth & gorged on so many fries… it was one of those: “Take me now Lord” moments.
I even remember roaming the decks after I was done in the Cafeteria as we slowly pulled out of Village Bay, the smell of that classic BC Ferries Formaldehyde mixed with Diesel Oil smell. Discovering the Arcade Games on board & of course; The Newsstand. The HEART of every BC Ferries Major vessel.
The Nanny was one of 3 ships unique from the other 4 Seven Sisters, called the “Burnaby Class” named after the Queen of Burnaby. The first ship in her class to be built & thus, all following would be part of the same class of vessel. The other 4 vessels of the Seven Sisters were all currently serving on the Tsawwassen to Victoria run. THESE ships were called: The Victoria, or “V” class ships. The “V” class ships had all just recently been through a major refit, resulting in an extra car deck being inserted lengthwise onto each ship. This would allow for extra passenger & vehicle accommodation to attend the needs of the busy Tsawwassen – Victoria route. Of course, along with the refit came significant re-design of the interior lounges, which meant major change to their familiar interior layout of the 70’s.
What made the Burnaby-class vessels special to me was they were no longer considered to be Major Ships by 1981. They were now reclassified as: “Intermediate Vessels” meaning they were more readily deploy-able & therefore more versatile. Another quality of these ships was their old post mid 1970’s Stretching interior design would remain intact throughout the rest of the 1980’s as none of them were a major vessel anymore. In fact, at one point in 1984, the Queen of New Westminster was deemed to be surplus & was taken out of service, even out of Stand-by & was tied up for more than a YEAR at Ogden Point in Victoria. Even her Navigational equipment, like her Radar had been stripped and removed. Fortunately Expo 86 would see her return to service, if even only in a backup role. But the Nanny and her 2 sisters would be stuck in the 70’s in terms of their decor all through the 1980’s. The number of times I would take a Day-cruise to Saltspring Island & back to Tsawwassen throughout the 80’s is something I can’t even begin to speculate. Each time, enjoying the novelty of travelling on a Time-trip ship from the past.
The last time I remember travelling on the Nanny when she was still completely with her retro 70’s interior would have been around 1998. In 2000, she had a God-awful paint job done on her interior, turning everything a bright, bright, almost white Pink color. I couldn’t BELIEVE somebody actually APPROVED this. But I seem to remember talking to a Crew Member on this trip & him telling me they would be retiring the ship in about a decade. That her days were numbered. That was 17 YEARS ago! Little did I know when I did my evening trip in 2004 this woulds be the last time I would be on her in the form as I remember. Despite the awful paint job. I DID take ONE trip on her post her 2005 refit. I can’t even remember what year it was. I just know she wasn’t my ship anymore. As I walked around the ship all I could think was: “What did you do to my ship?” I had truly lost her. I had no connection with her anymore.
Cut to today. July 29, 2017. That day that the Crewman warned me of way back in 2000 seemed so far away. Yet here we are. It’s happened. While it may not have ended the way she wanted it to end, it is; nevertheless over.
So, once again it is with a heavy heart I say goodbye to another old friend of the seas, and of my Childhood. With glass raised in my right hand, and fingers trembling, trying to type with my left, I salute you Nanny. Thank you for a Lifetime of memories!