Originally published in The Daily News (Prince Rupert), Tuesday, March 6, page 2
Authored by Daily News staff

There’s no doubt that coastal people love to hate the ferry system — but they also wouldn’t give it up for the world, says a researcher from Royal Roads University.

“In a consumer society we become attached to things that we own — but we don’t own these things, and often we actually complain about them,” said Professor Phillip Vannini, who was in Prince Rupert last week collecting stories from ferry-goers for a book he’s working on. “Yet so many of us are so close to (the ferries).

“I want to know why we get so attached to these rust buckets.”

As with so many others, Vannini’s fondness for ferries comes from a personal story. His wife is from Nanaimo and he spent a lot of time commuting from Washington State to see her.

“I would catch a ferry probably every other weekend to go to Vancouver Island, and for me, over time, it really felt like the gateway to my new life,” he said. “I became married, I move to Vancouver Island and like many people do, I became personally attached to these boats.

“These vessels have become carriers of great symbol and cultural significance for people.”
While he’s spent the last year travelling to coastal communities to hear people’s stories, he has a special interest in the Queen of the North and its sinking and the vessel will have an entire chapter devoted to it.

“I’m not at all interested in what happened, that’s for the National Transportation Safety Board. What I’m interested in is why and how we were so attached — why there was such an emotional outpour when that boat went down,” said Vannini. “When the Queen of the North sank, along with the economic issues, there was also a shaking of confidence and a loss of safety but it was accompanied a positive thing through the ‘code of the sea’ when people from Hartley Bay came to help.

“In a way, it was very symbolic of what it means to live in a marine society. We ultimately compete for marine resources, tourist dollars, whatever but we also stick up for each other when its needed.”

Since visiting Rupert last week, he says he’s heard songs, talked with people about Queen of the North-inspired art work, childhood remembrances of sailing aboard the ferry and a general dissatisfaction directed toward the province for not having hauled the ship back up.

“There’s all these emotional expressions for what is really just a piece of floating metal,” he said. “The Queen of the North hasn’t disappeared, we know where it is, and there’s almost this great sense of shame that we haven’t recovered it, as if it hasn’t received it’s proper burial.

“There’s a lot of understanding that comes from a technology that fails … it gives way to rituals or an understanding of things that are hidden down under. They become more obvious, more relevant because they’re no longer taken for granted.”