What Victoria's Inner Harbour Needs — and Why

A new seaplane terminal, a yacht marina development and a land swap between the City of Victoria and the Province is changing Victoria’s harbour, fuelling optimism that the harbour is finally getting the facelift it needs.

Victoria’s harbour is often referred to as the jewel of the city, but one many people have long said needs major polishing to help it reach its potential. This year, two major construction developments, along with the Johnson Street Bridge replacement and the City’s David Foster Harbour Pathway, are set to change the face of the harbour as we know it.
By Air
Harbour Air Seaplanes is constructing a new terminal in the harbour with partners West Coast Air of Vancouver and the U.S. company Kenmore Air at an estimated cost of $4 million. The terminal, at 950 Wharf, will feature a one-and-a-half storey 5,200-square-foot floating terminal, as well as improvements to existing docks. It will accommodate planes from all three companies.
“It’s been all positive,” says Randy Wright, executive vice president of the Harbour Air Group, referencing the community reaction to the development, which has had a public hearing. “The bridge will get completed, there’s the Janion [micro-lofts] building, ourselves, the David Foster Pathway … It’s quite exciting for the community.”
Phase one of the terminal development, which involved construction of 300 feet of docks for 12 planes, was completed in July of 2013. Phase two involves the construction of the new terminal (led by project manager Deane Strongitharm of Victoria’s CitySpaces) to be completed in spring 2016. “I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world,” says Wright.
By Sea
Construction is also underway for the $22-million Victoria International Marina along the north shore of the harbour, just east of Spinnakers Brewpub. The yacht marina was given the go-ahead by Victoria City Council in September 2011 (being such a large project, public opinion has been divided) and will have two buildings with a cafe, a restaurant and the marina itself. The project will feature a 900-metre concrete breakwater with slips for 29 yachts (from 65 feet to 150 feet) to park.
Victoria International Marina CEO Robert Evans says the marina, slated for completion in December 2015, will most likely bring in lots of business to Victoria.
“We expect there will be an increase in the amount of visitor boats for sure,” says Evans. “Plus, there will be non-resident ownership on some slips.” “I think we’re interested observers, much like others, in seeing how that development progresses,” says Curtis Grad, who was still CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority at the time of this interview. “It’s outside of our direct area of ownership or influence. To some degree, the new marina will be competition for some of the facilities that the Harbour Authority provides in terms of large moorage, but I think competition and capacity are only good things for the market, so we encourage competition and wish them all the success.”
Former Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin says these projects are an example of the continuing investment Victoria is seeing, particularly around the harbour. “These multi-million dollar investments reflect a growing confidence in Victoria’s economy … and job market,” says Fortin. “Projects like the float plane terminal illustrate the role Victoria’s harbour plays as a transportation gateway to the city and Island.”
By Design
Meanwhile, Ian Maxwell, president of the Ralmax Group, which owns or leases much of the upper harbour’s industrial and marine-zoned land, says that right now the only developing his company is involved in is still on paper. But the end goal of all his planning will be a new look for some of the industrial harbour properties.
“We’d like to demolish some of the old buildings, and we’d like to build a new United Engineering building and a new machine shop. Harjim Industrial is down there, Island Plate and Steel is down there, we’re down there, United [Engineering] is down there; we’re going to combine all of our outlets in one building. Then we’ll finish off the initial phase of Point Hope — finishing off the railway and the spur lines, etc. The next phase that we hope we’ll get to build on my watch is a graving dock, but those other things have to be done first.”
Harmony in the Harbour?
In the June/July 2013 issue of Douglas, we explored the lack of a unified vision for Victoria’s harbour and the complicated web of ownership. Since then, one of the owners, the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC), was dissolved. The PCC was a Crown agency with stewardship of many provincially owned properties in the Capital Region. Its dissolution eliminated a main player in the crowded harbour-ownership scene and was one of the two most significant events relating to harbour ownership in the past year.
The other was the big land swap involving the Point Hope Shipyards that took place between the City of Victoria, the Province and the Ralmax Group. The swap was, as Grad says, “The single biggest change in the landscape in many, many years.”
The City’s ownership of the Point Hope Shipyard lands was traded between the City and the Province for other pieces of provincial land, including part of Ship Point, Crystal Gardens, and three parks. The Province then immediately sold the Point Hope property to Ralmax.
“That shipyard’s been there for well over 100 years, and this deal certainly secures its position for many more decades to come,” says Grad. “The two levels of government worked cooperatively to enable us to move forward and generate a whole pile of economic development as they did,” says Maxwell. “We didn’t expect help; they just came and put it together and helped us out. I think they did something quite amazing. I’d like to be part of encouraging them to keep their dialogue open when things like that happen.”
“Sometimes,” Maxwell adds, “we have success in spite of ourselves.” And all of that is welcome news for those who have long advocated for Victoria’s harbour to achieve it’s world-class potential.