A longtime member of the Canadian Princess’ fleet has moved on from delighting local and visiting fishers and embarked on a new career of providing awe-inspiring wildlife experiences.
The Oak Bay Marine Group shut down the Canadian Princess Resort’s marine operations earlier this year and recently sold the resort’s onshore accommodation. This meant selling off the Princess’ fleet of fishing vessels and local wildlife tour operator Jamie’s Whaling Station was stoked to score one.
Jamie’s has purchased the Chinook Princess and the company’s director of operations Corene Inouye told the Westerly News the vessel will operate out of Ucluelet and replace the Lady Selkirk, which moved over to the company’s Tofino operation in March.
“We’ve been spending the last several weeks modifying her to suit our safety standards,” Inouye said. “Our maintenance team was amazing. It’s taken a lot of effort to get her to where we would like her to be.”
She said the covered cruiser has capacity for 22 wildlife fans and will deliver about three tours per day until the season ends in October.
Inouye declined to divulge the price Jamie’s paid for the Chinook Princess but said the company was delighted to keep the vessel in Ucluelet and hire some of the vessel’s former Canadian Princess crew.
Jamie’s has been enjoying a solid season since kicking off this year’s adventures in March and Inouye said she’s excited to see what’s in store.
“We’re very excited about the season ahead,” she said. “Everything in terms of sightings and visitors has all been amazing so far and we hope that it will continue.”
She added local whales are doing their part to keep visitors happy.
“We’ve had lots of whales in both Tofino and Ucluelet; a lot of orca sightings along with the usual gray whales and the odd humpback whale,” she said.
She said positive experiences create repeat customers and she has been thrilled to see an increasing number of tourists developing a loyalty to the West Coast.
“There’s definitely a growing demographic of return visitors,” she said. “They love it so much they make the effort to come out here again.”
Evidence of this Coastal devotion can be found in how tightly guests hold onto their sightings guarantee tickets, offered for free to any guest of a Jamie’s whale or bear tour who did not see the animal they toured for.
“When people bring back their boarding passes that go back 20 or more years, that’s pretty impressive,” Inouye said. “People have hung onto these paper boarding passes and come out with us again.”
She said a diverse wildlife population, featuring eye-catching favourites like whales, bears, sea otters, wolves and shorebirds, helps keep the West Coast experience fresh.
“There’s just such an abundance here of things to see. You never know what you’re going to come across and people like the excitement of that,” she said.
“It’s pretty pristine. Especially when you compare it to a lot of other places on this planet and we’re still, to some degree, off the beaten path…When people come here they feel relaxed and rejuvenated and away from it all.”
She added it is important to introduce visitors to the West Coast’s natural beauty and help them connect to the local environment.
“Jamie [Bray] and our crew are very passionate about sharing the wonder of this area. There’s opportunities for education and an appreciation for wildlife in general,” she said.
“It’s giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature…It’s a unique place that we have here.”
She added Jamie’s isn’t just for tourists as locals love the ocean as well and the company offers a standby policy that lets them ride for free.
“We see a lot of locals all the time and, as soon as they find out that they can go for free, they’re all over it,” she said adding many of these locals began their West Coast experience as visitors.
“A lot of them come here as tourists, just to visit and see the area and experience it, and then that’s how people end up deciding they want to come back. Whether they work here seasonally, or they come back to start their families because this is where they want to be, a lot of people start out coming to visit.”
In an effort to help keep the wildlife backdrops its guests enjoy healthy and vibrant, Jamie’s collects a $3 donation from every guest that is then donated to a local non-profit organization.
“We will take those donations and donate them to local research, rescue and education non-profit initiatives,” Inouye said.
“It’s a way of giving back and, I think, our patrons appreciate it as well.”
She said Jamie’s began the donation program in 1996 and has raised close to $1 million so far.
She added supporting local organizations is key because the Coast’s healthy ecosystem is what keeps tourists coming back.
“It goes back to supporting local community, people that live here, people that are passionate about this area and people that want to do good for the environment here and keep this place as protected as possible so that generations in the future can continue to enjoy it,” she said.
“Impacting the children that live here is important too because that gets them interested and, who knows? Maybe they’ll end up working for Jamie’s in the next 10-20 years as well and share their passion, their knowledge and their interests in wildlife and nature.”
Jamie’s employs about 50 staff between Ucluelet and Tofino each season.