The ferry connecting the Saanich Peninsula with Sidney Spit, a popular tourism destination for locals as well as visitors across Canada and around the globe, resumed service on July 20, which was also the first day when campers can stay overnight.
Parks Canada announced the resumption of the Sidney Spit Ferry and opening of the Sidney Spit Campground in Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Wednesday afternoon. Would-be visitors have been able to book their camping spots since July 16.
The resumption of the ferry service is also the debut of the ferry’s new operator, Sidney Whale Watching, which purchased the contract earlier.
Meghan LeBlanc, Sidney Whale Watching’s operations manager, said the company is excited to finally lift anchor.
“We are really excited that we are finally able to get this up and running and get people,” she said. “I know people have been dying to get over to Sidney Island and we know people have been really waiting to have this happen.”
The change in ownership is not the only one familiar users of the service will notice.
The ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to modifications of the vessel. “We would normally hold 41, but we have reconfigured the seating on the ferry so that people are not so cramped together,” said LeBlanc. “Because of that [social distancing], we have taken out a few seats to keep more space.”
In keeping with Transport Canada requirements, face masks will be required for boarding, and all visitors to Gulf Islands National Park Reserve should bring a clean trip kit including hand sanitizer and a tablecloth for those using a picnic table.
The vessel will also depart from a new location — the Sidney Whale Watching dock between Beacon Pier and Sidney Pier, as opposed to the previous location at the end of Beacon Wharf.
The Indigenous-owned business has also made some changes to improve convenience and avoid lineups.
“Everything, including tickets, is going to be online, but they can come to our office and we’ll book it,” said LeBlanc. Reservations are also possible over the phone and individuals can book now.
See the company’s website for more information, including the vessel’s schedule.
July 20 also marked the opening all remaining backcountry camping in the park reserve: Arbutus Point, Princess Bay and Shell Beach Campgrounds on Portland Island; Isle-de-Lis Campground (Rum Island); D’Arcy Island Campground; James Bay Campground, Prevost Island; and Cabbage Island Campground.
The opening of the park and start of the Sidney Spit Ferry also promise to boost local tourism.
“Parks Canada is pleased that the Sidney Spit Ferry will continue to launch from downtown Sidney as visitors to this part of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve often enjoy pairing their trip to the Spit with a visit to local shops and establishments,” said Marcia Morash, superintendent of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, in statement to the Peninsula News Review. “As we welcome visitors back to the park reserve, we hope that Sidney businesses also see many of these same faces.”