The Charlottes are the most isolated part of the BC Ferries system, says researcher
Published in the Queen Charlotte Observer, 2007

Haida Gwaii has little in common with the rest of the communities served by BC Ferries, says a university professor who is researching the ferry system.

Phillip Vannini was here earlier this month, arriving aboard the Queen of Prince Rupert and spending a couple of days talking to islanders about their experiences on the ferry.

The Royal Roads professor said he was completely surprised to hear that passengers sometimes spend two or three days on the ferry, waiting for storms to pass, before they arrive at their destination.

“People find they get on the boat, go to sleep, wake up, and they’re still in port,” he said.

Islanders take this kind of delay as part of our way of life, but residents of the Lower Mainland would have a fit if that happened to the ferry connecting Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

“People complain down south if the boat is late 10 minutes,” he said.

Our ferry service is less frequent, slower and less predictable than other ferry routes in the province, Dr. Vannini said. His theory is that this means people living on Haida Gwaii experience an even slower “island time” than residents of the Gulf Islands or Vancouver Island.

“Of all the places BC Ferries serves, this is the most isolated,” he said. “There is a definite unique rhythm to the island.”

Another of his theories is that the ferry serves as a sort of “town square” for islanders: a place where you run into random friends, relatives and acquaintances and can strike up casual conversations with anyone.

Dr. Vannini said he was surprised to learn that many of the people he spoke to here don’t actually take the ferry to Prince Rupert all that often, perhaps once or twice a year. Because of the distance, people don’t use the ferry to commute to work as many do on other BC islands.

The islanders he talked to were very self-reliant, he said. They didn’t expect to be able to buy anything they needed in a store, and counted on hunting, fishing, recycling and reusing.

Dr. Vannini is also interested in people’s reactions to the Queen of the North sinking, and found islanders quite emotional about the loss.

People talked about how the islands were inconvenienced by less ferry service and fewer tourists last summer, but they also spoke of their grief.

“It’s almost like a human loss,” he said. “I’m collecting a lot of stories about people’s attachment to the boat.”

Dr. Vannini will be joining a group of ferry fans this week on the Queen of Prince Rupert, marking the anniversary of the sinking by traveling from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. They will be holding a small ceremony as the ship passes Gil Island, he said.

Meanwhile, he’s planning to write a book about BC Ferries, once he has toured every route. When he spoke to the Observer earlier this month he thought it would be a great experience to get stuck on the ferry for a while, and his wish came true on his return to Prince Rupert. He sent us an email letting us know that he got stuck on the QPR for more than 24 hours, and that it was a great opportunity to talk to even more islanders.