On Dec. 1, 1961, the B.C. government announced it had taken over Black Ball Ferries, an American company that had runs from Horseshoe Bay to Gibsons and Nanaimo.
“The government will pay $6.7 million for all Black Ball’s assets,” Bill Fletcher reported in The Vancouver Sun. “This is made up of $4.6 million for five ships and $2.1 million for seven terminals and land.”
The purchase of Black Ball was the final stage in the creation of B.C. Ferries.
Social Credit Premier W.A.C. Bennett had announced the government ferry service on July 17, 1958, when Black Ball’s workers went on strike. Workers at Canadian Pacific’s ferries were also on strike at the time, which meant there was no ferry service to Vancouver Island.
The Sun estimated 20,000 people had been “stranded” on Vancouver Island by the striking ferry workers.
“With both major passenger and car ferries tied by strike action, tourist officials here are predicting the flow of visitors to the Island will slow to a trickle,” said The Sun.
In his announcement, Bennett said the government would build two ships and have a ferry service operating between Swartz Bay and “a point near Point Roberts” within a year.
“The government of B.C. is determined that in the future ferry connections between Vancouver Island and the mainland shall not be subject either to the whim of union policy nor the indifference of federal agencies,” said Bennett.
He referenced the federal government because it had the authority over Canadian Pacific, which was obliged to link the mainland to Vancouver Island by its 1881 agreement to build a railway to the west coast.
The feds responded by drafting a law to end the CPR ferry strike. But the CPR ferries didn’t start running until July 28, which meant they had been on strike for nine weeks.
The province had already gone to court and got an injunction to get the Black Ball ferries running on July 22.
Bennett initially claimed the startup costs for B.C. Ferries would be only $3 million. But on April 9, 1959, Highways Minister Phil Gaglardi disclosed the cost had doubled.
“We’ll have to build a 5,000-foot causeway at Tsawwassen Beach which, together with the terminal, will cost between $2 million and $3 million,” said Gaglardi. “But Tsawwassen will shorten the ferry trip by approximately 12 miles.”
The province had looked into building the mainland ferry terminal at White Rock and Steveston, which would have been cheaper. But a panel concluded that building in Tsawwassen would save the ferries $300,000 per year in operating costs, so it got the terminal.
The government was also building the Deas Island Tunnel at the time, which gave easier access to Tsawwassen. The Deas tunnel cost $16.6 million, and was opened by Queen Elizabeth on July 16, 1959.
On Sept. 12, 1959, The Sun’s Fletcher reported that 1.2 million tons of “rock, stock and gravel” was being imported from Sandy Point, Wash. to build the causeway and a “man-made island” for the Tsawwassen terminal. The terminal island would feature a parking lot for 400 cars.
Sun photographer Bill Dennett was also a pilot, and on Nov. 19, 1959, took to the skies to photograph the construction. Dennett shot from high above the water looking east toward land, and the causeway and terminal look miniscule in the midst of the Strait of Georgia.
Dennett also photographed the first B.C. ferry, the Tsawwassen, when it was unveiled at Burrard Dry Dock in Vancouver on Nov. 30, 1959. Socred MLA Buda Brown christened the ship by heaving a champagne bottle at the bow. It took three tries before the bottle broke.
The Tsawwassen had a capacity of 106 cars and 474 passengers, and had a “service speed” of 18 knots. A sister ship, the Sydney, was built on Vancouver Island.
The first run of the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay was on June 15, 1960, 23 months after W.A.C. Bennett announced the creation of the ferry service. The first ferry carried 26 cars, a bus with 22 passengers, and 13 foot passengers.
Today, B.C. Ferries has a fleet of 35 vessels, and carries 22 million passengers and 8.7 million vehicles annually. Black Ball still operates a ferry between downtown Victoria and Port Angeles, Wash., but it’s down to one ship, the Coho.
Note from WSOE.Org : This content has been auto-generated from a syndicated feed.