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The Story of False Creek’s Original Ferry Fleet

When False Creek Ferries hit the water in 1982, there were no parks or high-rise apartments lining the shores. The area was an industrial hub in decline, on the cusp of urban renewal.  After nearly 40 years of operation, we have grown up just like False Creek has around us.

Though many were initially skeptical of the viability of a ferry across False Creek, a jaunty fleet of four small electric ferries was procured, and docking rights were obtained on Granville Island and a marina on the north shore.  The early days were lean, but eventually permission was granted for the construction of a dock behind the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, connecting Granville Island with the densely populated West End neighbourhood. Ferry service in False Creek was here to stay.

After a couple of years, it had become apparent that the original open-air electric boats were ill-suited for year-round commuter service, and a new design was commissioned from marine architect Jay Benford. Spirit of False Creek 1, the first of what was soon to become a burgeoning fleet, entered service in 1983. Service expanded to the Maritime Museum & Stamps Landing that year, and four more of our now iconic Spirit-class ferries were built to meet passenger demand.

When the World’s Fair came to Vancouver in 1986, the little blue ferries were ready.   The old Canadian Pacific Railway freight yards on the north shore of False Creek were transformed into the expo fairground, bringing thousands of people into the area.  The False Creek Ferries moved fairgoers quickly and efficiently, and became a staple of the EXPO 86 experience.

Expansion steadily continued.   Following EXPO 86, the fairgrounds were dismantled, and condominium development in Yaletown commenced in earnest.  Between the new development, and a plethora of summertime festivals, the ferries were faced with more passengers than they could handle.  As the 1990’s progressed, three new 20-passenger “Balfry Class” ferries built by Bob Lyon of California were added to the fleet to help meet the demand.  When service to the new Yaletown ferry dock was introduced, a fourth Balfry class ferry was added to the fleet.

With the 2010 Winter Olympics on the horizon, three open-air sightseeing ferries were added to the fleet, and service to a new dock at David Lam Park commenced. During the Olympics, the ferries moved the crowds with great success, just as they did 24 years earlier during EXPO 86.

Demand for ferry service in False Creek shows no sign of slowing down.  The fleet has continued to grow, with another five conventional ferries being added to the fleet by 2018.  With recent developments in battery storage technology, False Creek Ferries has begun to explore the possibility of returning to the electric propulsion that the company started out with in 1982. 

False Creek Ferries has proudly remained true to its origins as a family-run business, three generations strong, with deep roots in the community.  With the former Olympic Village now a thriving new residential area, False Creek’s transformation is nearly complete. Touches of the past remain for those who look, though; a park named after a barrel factory, a reclaimed industrial building, or a little blue ferry chugging along, just as they have for the past forty years.

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