Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

5 things you (probably) didn't know about BC Ferries

Often the ire of locals, it's actually a pretty notable system compared to others worldwide.
One of BC Ferries newer vessels, the Salish Raven, doing its job.

Originating after a strike led the provincial government to make their own ferry company, BC Ferries has become iconic to life on Canada's west coast.

From providing an essential connection to the rest of the province for islanders to long cruises through the northern waters of the province's Pacific coast, it plays a role in thousands of people's lives.

How well it provides those services is sometimes up for debate.

Over the 60+ years it's operated, there's a variety of notable moments, from the tragic to the zany. Here are five facts that you (hopefully) haven't heard before.

1. By some metrics it's the largest fleet in the world

There are a few different ways to measure the biggest ferry fleet in the world, including by passengers and number of vessels. In both those categories BC Ferries is among the largest (usually top three) with pre-pandemic passenger totals cracking 22 million per year. While 36 vessels at any given time isn't a huge number, it's the size of those vessels that is impressive.

They hold the record in vehicle (or roll-on, roll-off) ferries. BC Ferries has 36 right now, more than anyone else. Our neighbours to the south are close, but Washington State Ferries only has 21 vessels. They do (usually) just beat us for passengers though.

You may expect somewhere like Greece or the Philippines to have bigger systems, but their systems are dominated by a few different companies, instead of one large one.

2. Indigenous people were kept on the car decks

In the first decade of operation, local First Nations people were not allowed above the main car deck on the ships.

3. The Queen of Victoria was involved in a fatal collision

Crashes between large ships are rare in B.C., but one of the most significant involved the Queen of Victoria. In 1970 the Soviet freighter Sergey Yesenin ran into the ferry in Active Pass, an area in which the freighter was not allowed.

The collision appears to have been quite dramatic, with aerial photos showing the freighter embedded in the side of the ferry. Three people were killed, including a seven-month-old child and his mother.

4. You used to be able to travel from Tsawwassen to Prince Rupert

For those wishing to explore B.C. a ferry directly to the province's northernmost major port would be a welcome trip. And it used to be a thing.

In the late 70s the Queen of Prince Rupert spent a season travelling between the two destinations. It left Tsawwassen at 8 a.m. on a Monday and floated into Prince Rupert at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday. Then it headed back south that night and docked in Tsawwassen at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday.

5. The PacifiCats are docked in Egypt (it appears)

They were called a few different things. Fest Ferries. PacifiCat-class ferries. An anchor around the government's neck.

Back in the 1990s, it was decided BC Ferries needed some new ships. The trio of ships that were ordered were catamarans; while they didn't have the carrying capacity of the Spirit-class ferries, the idea was they'd make the Vancouver Island-Vancouver crossing quicker (catamarans are not uncommon in other parts of the world). If they could do it faster, there would be more crossings.

Long, long story short, there were a few issues. One was the cost of the ferries ballooned (to an estimated $463 million in 2000, or about $730 million in today's dollars).

Another was the wash caused by the ferries, which meant they had to go slower and avoid certain routes, which meant they weren't much quicker.

The province ended up bailing on the ferries, just as the last of the three was finished. They ended up being sold to an American company in 2003. A paper from 2005 shows a committee considered retrofitting them "to support military vehicle payload."

However, that wasn't done and the ships were sold to a company now called ADM Shipyards from the United Arab Emirates. In photos online from a couple of years ago you can see the bow of one poking out at a dock at the Port of Alexandria.


BC Ferrys is one of the best local parody accounts around, and, on lucky occasions, interacts with people who think it's the official BC Ferries account.