Official No: 0198842
Place Built: Victoria, BC
Builder: Victoria Machinery Depot
Year Built: 1956
Overall Length: 37.49 m
Length: 35.97 m
Breadth: 9.94 m
Gross Tons: 174.98
Service Speed: 10 knots
There's a good chance that the vehicle you drive onto this ferry with will have a bigger engine than the ferry itself! The Mill Bay also stands out as both the smallest and oldest ferry in the BC Ferries fleet. Since 1956, the ferry has operated on the short crossing of Saanich Inlet between Mill Bay and Brentwood Bay. The route is sometimes advertised by BC Ferries as "The Island's Most Beautiful Shortcut" as it provides an alternative to the mountainous Malahat Highway into Victoria. The route is unique as well, as it is the oldest operating ferry trip on the coast. The ferry is also the slowest in the fleet, but one hardly notices during the scenic 20-minute trip across the inlet.
The Mill Bay has virtually no passenger amenities. There are washrooms, but they are not accessible to the disabled. Interestingly, they are located just behind the bridge. The small lounge is located beneath the car deck, beside the engine room and crews quarters.
The Mill Bay is powered by one 8 cylinder in-line Gardner engine producing 152 horsepower (less than many yachts and pleasure boats and many of the cars it carries!). The single propeller ferry backs into dock at Mill Bay and docks forward at Brentwood Bay. Since the Mill Bay is so small, the docks at each side are especially designed to accommodate the ferry, meaning no other BC Ferry can replace her when she is out for repairs or refit. The ferry has room for three lanes of traffic. Two are not height restricted, while the other lane runs under the bridge and superstructure of the vessel.
For emergency purposes, the Mill Bay has a two life rafts at the car deck level and a lifeboat that can be lowered from bridge level by radial davits.
The route the little ferry runs on is said to be "the oldest continuously operated salt water ferry service in British Columbia" (Brentwood - Mill Bay Ferry 80th Anniversary, pamphlet). Initially, the ferry provided an alternative to a dangerous gravel Malahat road into Victoria. In 1958, the road was improved and paved, but the ferry continued. Even today, the Malahat Highway can be closed because of accidents or weather and the ferry provides an important, and sometimes necessary, role in moving traffic. The boat is also popular with cyclists, which can connect between the relatively flat Saanich Peninsula and the Cowichan Valley without going over the mountain.
Four years before B.C. Ferries had even started ferry service on the coast, the Mill Bay was built at the Victoria Machinery Depot for Coast Ferries. The ferry was built specifically to run alongside and eventually replace the old ferry Brentwood (formerly Cascade) which had been on the Mill Bay - Brentwood Bay route since November 1924. For two years, the 54-year old Brentwood and the new Mill Bay operated side by side providing half-hour service from both sides across Saanich Inlet. In 1958 the Malahat Highway was completed and the Brentwood was retired, leaving the Mill Bay to operate the route alone for the next 48 years.
In 1969 BC Ferries purchased the two ferries and routes they operated on from Coast Ferries. This included Mill Bay on the Brentwood Bay - Mill Bay route and the North Island Princess on the north Island run. There were no changes to the ferry or the route with the new change in ownership. Interestingly, the Mill Bay had no radar, even many years after BC Ferries bought her.
The worst accident the Mill Bay had was on May 29th, 1989. The ferry ran aground as she approached the Mill Bay terminal during an early afternoon run. No one was injured in the incident, and the approximately 60 passengers disembarked the ferry by a ladder. A tug pulled the ferry off the rocks at around 2200 at high tide. Damage to the vessel was minimal. Later investigation found that the captain had either fallen asleep or lost consciousness as they neared Mill Bay.
The Mill Bay lost power in the middle of Saanich Inlet on July 5th 1989 when a problem arose with the fuel line. The line was repaired as the ferry drifted, and the ferry made it to dock under its own power.
A major campaign through the year 2000 managed to persuade the government to keep running the Mill Bay - Brentwood Bay route. Residents, businesses, and interest groups on both sides of the inlet took up the cause, writing letters, signing petitions, demonstrations and meeting with politicians. Early in 2001, the government and BC Ferries decided to continue the run for another 10 years and invest money in improving the ferry and terminals.
For two month during the summer of 2001, the Mill Bay was pulled from the run for a major refit. At the same time, the terminals at both Brentwood Bay and Mill Bay were upgraded. Work to the ferry and the terminals was at a cost of about $3.8 million.
The 80th anniversary of the Mill Bay route was celebrated on November 27, 2004 at Brentwood Bay and aboard the Mill Bay.
On February 1st 2005, three young men were dumped into Brentwood Bay when their canoe tipped over. Two of the men were picked up by crew from the Mill Bay and another by Brentwood Bay Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Origin of Name Mill Bay - Mill Bay is a small community of about 1,000 people on the west shore of Saanich Inlet. It is the last stop before the Island Highway (Trans Canada) enters the mountainous Malahat section before Victoria. A sawmill was built in the area in 1861and thus the community was appropriately named "Mill Bay" ("Mill Bay" - Encyclopedia of British Columbia).
For Further Reading
Armstrong, Ron. Mill Bay Ferry - The Oldest BC Route
BC Ferries. Brentwood - Mill Bay Ferry 80th Anniversary. Pamphlet, 2004
Bannerman, Gary and Patricia. The Ships of British Columbia. Surrey: Hancock House Publishers, 1985.