Ucluelet will lose an iconic local landmark next week.
The Canadian Princess will be towed out of town, leaving over 40 years of service as a popular fishing resort and lounge in her wake.
The vessel's operations were shut down prior to this summer's season and the Oak Bay Marine Group sold the adjacent land-based resort in May.
“I can announce today that, weather permitting, the vessel will be removed on the 30th of September,” said Oak Bay Marine Group's director of operations and asset management Jeff McKay during a farewell ceremony held on Tuesday. “We thank you all for your support over the years.”
Locals were in a sombre mood as they packed into the Princess' parking lot around 1 p.m. where desserts were served and free souvenirs, like t-shirts, sweaters and hats were given out.
“This is certainly a bittersweet day for everyone at the Oak Bay Marine Group and I think really it's a historic day for the town of Ucluelet as well,” said Oak Bay Marine Group's chief operating officer Brook Castelsky. “I'm sure many of you know the rich history of this magnificent ship here that's been moored in the harbour since 1979.”
He explained the vessel was built in Ontario in 1932 and named the William J. Stewart after the
revered Canadian Dominion hydrographer. She was based in Victoria and used to map British Columbia's waters.
“With her magnificent white hull, I think she was certainly one of the most recognizable ships on the pacific coast,” Castelsky said.
In 1979, Bob Wright purchased the vessel, renamed her the Canadian Princess and towed her to Ucluelet where she was given new life as one of the community's first major tourism drivers.
“Bob Wright had an incredible vision for this vessel He purchased her and refurbished her as a floating fishing resort,” Castelsky said “His dream for this resort was to make fishing affordable for everyone. He knew that not everyone could afford to pay thousands of dollars to access those high-end remote fishing resorts...He loved to fish and he truly wanted people to get out on the water.”
He said the Canadian Princess was “really was near and dear” to Wright's heart and thanked the Princess' past staff, guests and the community in general for supporting Wright's vision.
“The letters and comments we received from our guests, consistently reflected the dedication of our crew that worked here. They inspired and fulfilled the dreams of tens of thousands of people from around the world with their hospitality their warmth and their humour,” Castelsky said.
“Although we're really sad here to be leaving Ucluelet after 37 magical years, the stories and the memories will live on long, long, into the future.”
Ucluelet Mayor Dianne St. Jacques said the Princess employed thousands of Ucluelet locals during it's long tenure, including herself when she found a job there around 1980.
“My husband was a faller and he was on strike in the woods and we needed to work so I came here and it was the best job that I probably ever had in those days. It was so much fun,” St. Jacques said. “It was a hubbub of activity and anybody who wanted to work could work. So, we're so appreciative of everything the Canadian Princess and Bob Wright has done for us over the years.”
She added the Princess played a key role in attracting tourists to Ucluelet.
“The ship, when it came in, changed the face of tourism in Ucluelet for sure and really gave us a focus for many years,” she said. “This was the centre of things when it came to tourism activity.”
She expressed remorse over the ship's departure but encouraged Ucluelet to look forward.
“It's a very sad day for us today but we are grateful and we thank Bob up in heaven for his vision and everything he put into it,” she said. “It's been a terrific ride since 1979 and we are sad to say goodbye. But, we look forward to the future.”
During the ceremony, pieces of the vessel were donated to the Ucluelet and Area Historical Society to preserve the Princess' local history.
The society was presented with a picture of W.J. Stewart, a brass wheel, pressure gauges from the ship's steam engines, log books dating back to the ship's first voyage, and a compass binnacle.
“The history of this area is an important story to tell,” McKay said.
The Princess' land-based property was sold to Nanaimo couple Bob and Sue Se in May and their daughter Michelle Se has taken over as the new general manager.
McKay presented the new owners with a compass from the vessel.
“We found it quite fitting,” he said of the gift. “We hope you find your way with the business here and we wish you much success for the year's to come.”
Michelle thanked Ucluelet for its warm welcome and assured exciting things are underway for the property, including a new moorage once the Canadian Princess is removed.
“We have many plans to really improve the property...We're going to really put our TLC into it, bringing in new amenities as well as new decor and furnishings,” she said.
“Even though it is very bittersweet to see this amazing landmark leave, it's also very exciting for us and we hope the community is also very excited because we're going to build many great chapters to come. We're looking forward to being part of this community.”
She said her family has been in the hotel business for over 20 years and is excited about Ucluelet.
“It's an industry that we're very passionate about and that we work very hard in and we're very thankful to be welcomed into this charming community,” she said. “We also wanted to really give our thanks to everyone in the community for making us feel so welcome...It's really made the transition for us into the community so easy.”
McKay told the Westerly News after the ceremony Oak Bay Marine Group felt it was important to host the farewell event.
“Being here for over 40 years and employing nearly everyone in the community, I think it's important to say goodbye and to give everyone a chance to say goodbye and to see the vessel one last time,” he said.