Off the Boat

Bamfield Marine Station, British Columbia, ca. Summer 2009, photo taken by Tao Eastham

Six years ago I had the fortune of working as a Museum Assistant for Bamfield Museum and Archives on Vancouver Island. Bamfield is a beautiful remote town on the Pacific coast and was a cable station in the early twentieth century, receiving telegraphs from Hawaii during the First and Second World Wars. Now it is the home of a highly regarded marine research station. I loved every moment of my time there, except for difficulty of getting food there.

Bamfield 15

West Bamfield, British Columbia, ca. Summer 2009, photo taken by Tanya Nielsen

The town has a population of around 500 people and the general store has little for supplies. This means that the only ways to get food are to drive on a less than stable dirt road to the neighboring town, or to place an online order for food to be shipped in via ferry.

This town has a long history of food being brought in by ferry. In my work building the archive I became knowledgeable of the transportation and supply ships that serviced the area. I discovered histories and folklore surrounding the ships, like the Princess Maquinna. She was part of the railway line for the early half of the twentieth century and though she was considered to be a smaller cruise ship, she brought supplies, mail, and trade to the towns in the area.

Once a year she would take the younger children on a voyage around the bay and the staff would serve them ice cream as a treat. The first time I heard this put the phrase ‘going out for ice cream’ into perspective. My memories of going out for ice cream when I was younger were as a bribe from my father for being good while mom was out. The children on the coast couldn’t walk or drive to an ice cream shop; they had one chance a year to have this kind of experience.


MV Lady Rose Coming in to Port, Pacific Rim, Vancouver Island, B.C., (undated), Courtesy of Bamfield Museum and Archives & Bamfield Historical Society

Even during my time at Bamfield, there was a connection to ships, food, and community. I was there for a large debate with the local communities over the retirement of the MV Lady Rose, a ferry that had been servicing the area since 1960.

She travelled to Bamfield three times a week, bringing food orders, mail, and people. Many people wanted to raise money to restore her to her former glory and have her continue to service the area but the cost was too expensive. I didn’t get to travel on the Lady Rose; the Frances Barkley had taken over her route by this time.

“How did you get to Bamfield?” The locals would ask anyone who was new in town. “It’s a shame you didn’t get to come in on the Lady Rose, she was so beautiful…”

I left Bamfield on the Frances Barkley, and a year later I was on the Argentia heading to Newfoundland. It’s difficult to think about how rural communities rely on ferries to bring them the things that they need; however, I have been in a grocery store in St. John’s and heard people talking about how the store hasn’t received its shipment yet. Even though I live in a city, we still rely on that ship coming in to port.

The need may not seem as great in the twenty-first century and the advances of air travel, but there are still some things that cannot be brought in by plane, islands still need ships to bring in cargo. When the weather turns bad, we have to make do without.

Thanks to the Bamfield Historical Society for permission to use the MV Lady Rose Coming in to Port photograph, and to Tao Eastham for the use of Bamfield Marine Station.

© Tanya Nielsen (,  2016


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