North Island Princess
Official No: 0310431
Place Built: Vancouver, BC
Builder: Allied Builders Ltd.
Year Built: 1958
Year Rebuilt: 1971
Length: 61.04 m
Breadth: 17.37 m
Gross Tons: 841
Service Speed: 10 knots
One of BC Ferries' larger minor vessels, the North Island Princess operates on the Powell River (Westview) - Texada Island (Blubber Bay) route. The ferry is also one of the oldest ferries in the fleet, second to the Mill Bay. She is the first catamaran ferry to operate on the coast, and the only one in the BC Ferries fleet since the ill-fated PacifiCat ferries were sold. The North Island Princess is a cat, but not a fast cat. She has the distinction of being one of the slowest ferries in the fleet as well. But with her raised bow and double hull, she is and always has been a reliable ferry and able to handle rough seas and stormy weather.
Today If you were to take a trip to Texada Island 25 years ago, you would have taken the same ferry as you would today. The North Island Princess has been on the Texada Island route since 1979, starting while still part of the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways fleet. The ferry is based out of Blubber Bay, on the north end of Texada Island, and makes ten round trips a day to the mill-town of Powell River.
The North Island Princess has one passenger lounge located high above the car deck. On board are a vending machine, elevator, and washrooms. Passengers have access to three levels of outside deck: above the lower side car lanes, on the lounge level, and behind the bridge.
History Two years before B.C. Ferries had even started ferry service on the coast, the Island Princess was launched in 1958 from Allied Builders Ltd. in Vancouver. Commissioned by Coast Ferries, the then single hulled ferry was built for service to Vancouver Island communities north of Kelsey Bay, the
furthest extent of the Island Highway at the time.
The ferry connected Kelsey Bay with towns like Sointula, Port McNeill, Port Hardy, and even Port Alice on the west side of the Island. Along with a capacity for 20 cars, the Island Princess was built with 4 staterooms considering the long voyages she would be taking. While the ferry predominantly served in the north, according to Frank Clapp, Coast Ferries ran her on an experimental run between Powell River, Comox, and Texada Island for a short time in 1961 (Clapp, 60).
The Island Princess served the North Island for 11 years under Coast Ferries (which also operated the Mill Bay in Saanich Inlet) , before the company was bought by B.C Ferries in 1969. Two issues: the ferry's small size and its inability to handle large trucks, propelled B.C. Ferries to take drastic action two years later. In 1971 Island Princess was taken out of the water at Burrard Drydock in North Vancouver and cut into four pieces (length wise and breadth wise). Additional deck was inserted to both lengthen and widen the ferry over a new catamaran double-hull. At the same time the ferry received new engines and expanded passenger accommodations.
Another change to the ferry occurred in 1974 when the Island Princess was renamed the North Island Princess. The ship was renamed at the prompting of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (better known as P&O) based in London who had just bought a cruise ship (named Island Princess and famous on T.V. as the "Love Boat") from the American Princess Cruises. Because the name Island Princess was already on the British registry, P&O petitioned B.C. Ferries to have the little ferry's name changed instead. This was agreed to only after P&O agreed to donate some artefacts and a model of the Arcadia to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.
Three years after the name change, the ferry and route were transferred from B.C. Ferries to the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways. The Ministry continued operating the North Island Princess on its northern route until the Island Highway was completed between Sayward (Kelsey Bay) and Port McNeill in 1979. On February 28th, 1979, the ferry made its last trip to Vancouver Island's northern communities and was reassigned to the Powell River - Texada Island route.
During her first 20 years of her service on the coast, the Princess was instrumental in opening up the North Island to business, people, and cars.
The North Island Princess continued on the Texada Island run, even after the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways coastal division was taken over by B.C. Ferries in 1985. For over 27 years now, the North Island Princess has been the main boat to Texada Island.
Origin of Name North Island Princess - The North Island generally refers to the north half of Vancouver Island, north of Campbell River. It is very sparsely populated and much of it is inaccessible except by boat or plane. The main industries on the North Island are lumber and fishing.
For Further Reading
Clapp, Frank. Ministry of Transportation and Highways: Inland and Coastal Ferries. Victoria: Province of British Columbia, 1981. Also 1978 and 1991 editions.