Residents stranded, store shelves empty after BC Ferries halted service to Haida Gwaii due to staffing shortages


BC Ferries halted service between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii after a number of employees tested positive for COVID-19, preventing passengers and cargo from moving between the mainland and the archipelago off the north coast of British Columbia.

Haida Gwaii Northern Adventure Sailings Between Prince Rupert and Skidegate have been canceled from Sunday to the beginning of Friday April 29.

Departures from Bella Bella on the Central Coast and Port Hardy on the northeast tip of Vancouver Island were also affected.

BC Ferries announced plans to operate freight runs from Prince Rupert to Haida Gwaii, home to more than 4,000 people, to transport essential supplies Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

The company said it is also working to charter the following flights between Prince Rupert and Skidegate for passengers on a first-come, first-served basis on Wednesday:

  • Departs from Prince Rupert: 10:50 a.m.
    Arrival at Skidegate: 11:15 a.m.
  • Depart Skidegate: 11:35 a.m.
    Arrival in Prince Rupert: noon
  • Departs Prince Rupert: 1:10 p.m.
    Arrival at Skidegate: 1:35 p.m.

“Every effort will be made to give priority to passengers who had already been booked for travel related to medical reasons,” a statement said.

John Camp and his wife are in Prince Rupert trying to get home to Masset, a fishing village in Haida Gwaii. Camp’s wife suffered a serious ankle injury on Easter Sunday and had to be evacuated to Prince George, British Columbia.

After undergoing surgery, they tried to board a ferry on Sunday evening, but the crossing was cancelled. Since then, they have been staying at a hotel in Prince Rupert.

Camp said he was generally happy with BC Ferries’ service, but wondered why he wasn’t better prepared for the possibility of COVID-related staffing shortages.

“It hits us really hard because it looks like the company really had no back-up plan and from our perspective they still don’t have a plan on how they’re going to handle this situation,” a- he declared.

Camp said they still don’t know how they will get home, but have booked a seaplane for Friday morning. If they fly, they don’t know when their vehicle, which carries the equipment needed for their recovery, will return home.

They’ve incurred about $2,000 in expenses so far, Camp said.

BC Ferries said affected passengers should keep their receipts and contact customer relations to be considered for compensation.

Empty shelves in stores

Maureen Bailey, who lives in the village of Port Clements on Haida Gwaii, said canceled crossings on Sunday and Monday led to store shelves emptying with groceries stuck in Prince Rupert.

“It becomes precarious because you wait to see with the cargo trucks coming in … if that fresh food is okay or if it’s spoiled,” she said.

Bailey said living in a remote community often means having to plan your errands in advance.

Empty shelves at a co-op in Masset, British Columbia, Kris Olsen, mayor of the village of Queen Charlotte, says the canceled departures underscore the need for a dedicated barge to transport goods in an emergency. (Jen Bailey)

“But that said, when you don’t know until the last minute that a ferry isn’t running, you start to look closely at the contents of your fridge and realize, you know what, there are things I have to reduce eating or drinking for this week, be it milk or essential things,” she said.

Kris Olsen, Mayor of the Village of Queen Charlotte, said the canceled crossings underscore the need for a dedicated ferry to Haida Gwaii, as well as the need for a dedicated barge to transport cargo in an emergency.

Olsen said the cancellations have resulted in “extreme” backlogs.

“We have elders on the mainland for medical care [treatment]we have people coming back with newborn babies,” he said.

“There are so many people who are trapped on the mainland and trapped here in Haida Gwaii because of this.”