Next week will mark the anniversary of the torrential flooding that hit BC, severely damaging highways across the province, including the Malahat section of the Trans-Canada Highway.
When this happened, Victoria was essentially cut off from the rest of the island. Commuters could not travel via the highway.
Throughout this time, BC Ferries was the only back-and-forth option commuters had. The name of that ferry was the Klitsa.
The Klitsa assumed the role of Vancouver Island’s emergency lifeline. Her staff, BC Ferries land-based crew and the community in which she served came together in a beautiful way for the three days the highway was fully closed.
On November 15th, 2021, the Klitsa began its day like any other. A 7:30 a.m. departure from Brentwood Bay bound for Mill Bay started its routine.
Meanwhile, conditions soured for the Saanich inlet and the Malahat’s localized destruction began. Heavy rain from an atmospheric river poured mercilessly on the Trans-Canada Highway, overwhelming commuters and putting the driver’s safety in danger. This is when the Klitsa saw an increase in its normal traffic.
“It didn’t take long to figure out what’s going on,” says Ryan East, Captain of the Klitsa. “Whenever there is an incident on the Malahat our lineups get big, real fast.”
⚠️ JUST IN: Malahat closed in both directions at Finlayson Arm Road due to extreme flooding in the area.
West Shore RCMP are advising motorists to stay off the roads if possible.
— Victoria Buzz (@victoriabuzzes) November 15, 2021
The crew of the Klitsa tightened up breaks in order to add sailings, additional crew were summoned and the vessel provided sailings throughout the night.
Communities around the two terminals led with empathy to all the stranded passengers on their streets. On both sides, residents provided sandwiches, fruit, snacks and drinks for the waiting customers.
Members of the community would walk the long lines of would-be passengers to check-in and make sure everyone had what they needed.
The next day, the Klitsa resumed its regular schedule, not knowing the extent of the Malahat’s damage and lineup.
Soon enough there were more than 250 vehicles on either side of the ferry’s route. This would mean a 15 sailing wait for those at the back of the queue.
Once again, the 50 year old Klitsa would be put to the test.
“During this time we gave priority loading to Ambulances and medical personnel,” said East.
“Emergency crews dealing with the floods in the northern portion of the Island also moved to the front of the line.”
Captain East and the Klitsa’s crew were able to add four sailings to the end of the shift. Eventually, they punched out around 2 a.m. This was the fist break the vessel and her crew saw in more than 40 hours.
On November 17th, once again the crew added four sailings to their already busy and strenuous schedule. This would be the last day they had to put in a tremendous amount of extra effort and overtime.
A year later, that storm is now considered one of the most damaging storms in BC.
The Klitsa and her crew kept an island broken by this storm connected, and for that they will always be a part of Vancouver Island’s history.