False Creek Ferries celebrates 40 years in business

False Creek Ferries is a civic treasure. Getting out on the water for a few minutes changes your day, allowing passengers to slow down and relax from the hubbub of everyday life.

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They don’t go very fast, don’t carry many people, and their journey is over before you know it.

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But for many Vancouverites and tourists, the False Creek ferries are a civic treasure. Getting out on the water for a few minutes changes your day, allowing passengers to slow down and relax from the hubbub of everyday life.

“It’s very calming,” said Jeremy Patterson, director of ferry operations. “You disconnect from your phone and focus on the environment.”

This year marks the 40e anniversary that George McInnis and his family took over the ferries. So on July 1, the False Creek Ferry fleet will be celebrating with a special “Ferry Ballet” in False Creek from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Synchronized maneuvers include classics like the “Flying V”, “Figure Eight” and “Circle of Death”.

Patterson explains the latter.

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“We make two concentric circles, one inside the other,” he said. “A clockwise turn, a counter-clockwise turn, with a series of ferries. Then we burst simultaneously – everyone makes a sudden turn, like a firework.

Ferries have been performing ferry ballets on special occasions for decades, usually right before the Celebration of Light fireworks display.

“A guy would kind of draw it on paper, come down and hand us a sheet,” he says.

“We look at it and we’d say ‘OK, I think I know what it means’ and we try it. We all have radios on the boats, so one person would say ‘OK, we’ll perform this maneuver in five-four-three-two-one” and then it happens.

The service began in the summer of 1981, when Brian Beesley and Laura Gibson ordered four small electric ferries and began taking people around False Creek for 50 cents.

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Unfortunately, they ran into financial trouble and McInnis purchased the fleet. In 1985 his former partner Jeff Pratt left to start a rival ferry, the Aquabus.

Today both companies operate fleets (False Creek Ferries has 17 boats, Aquabus has 14) in and around False Creek. But business has been tough during the pandemic.

“We were closed for three months,” Patterson said.

“Our business was down over 90%, and progress was slow from there. But we’re busier now than we’ve ever been.

In fact, False Creek Ferries just had its busiest May ever with around 120,000 passengers. The record would be around 250,000 in one month, in July or August.

Patterson started working for False Creek Ferries as a summer job in 1990. He tried other maritime gigs, but always ended up being drawn to McInnis, whose family still runs the business, many years after his death .

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Ferries carry passengers to and from Granville Island on Friday, June 24, 2022.
Ferries carry passengers to and from Granville Island on Friday, June 24, 2022. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

It is a unique work.

“I was driving the ferry when this gray whale came up the creek in 2010,” Patterson recalled.

“It was a bit strange. You don’t know what you are looking at. I saw him take a breath, he exhaled and there was a bit of a spout, but my mind didn’t quite process it as I watched him. While I’m thinking, it comes right at me, and I go right there.

He’s laughing.

“The gears were turning very slowly. Eventually I realized what it was, but by then it was going under the boat. I had no chance of taking evasive action or anything like that.

“Once the word got out, people were on the bridges, looking down and all the way to the seawall. He walked up the creek and the police and aquarium staff tried to escort him out of the creek. We had to stop the ferry service while this was happening. As soon as they left, he came back again.

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The electric ferries were quite small and have been removed. The False Creek fleet now includes two types of diesel-powered ferry, including a 20ft built in Port Hardy and designed by Jay Benford, “a fairly famous naval architect”.

The new Fleet Edition was built by West Bay Shipyard in Delta and is slightly larger (22 feet).

“It’s a little easier to get in and out, there’s a little more headroom,” he said. “A little more stable and more stable.”

Business slows down in the winter, when it’s mostly locals, but can reach 2,000 passengers per hour in the summer, when it’s 70% tourists. The ferries can carry 12 passengers each and tickets range from $3.50 for a one-way ticket to $16 for a day pass. You can also charter a ferry for a private trip, like Bono did when U2 were rehearsing in Vancouver a few years ago.

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“We have nine different stops,” he said. “Our westernmost stop is Kits Maritime Museum and in English Bay at Sunset Beach, (easternmost) up the creek to Science World.”

This prompts his standard joke: “Up the creek, no paddle required.”

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Ferries carry passengers to and from Granville Island on Friday, June 24, 2022.
Ferries carry passengers to and from Granville Island on Friday, June 24, 2022. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

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