Taking another look at tourism in Prince Rupert


There has been a recent upsurge in material being published in the Northern View on the subject of Tourism – even though the headlines may suggest other topics:- “Restoring Cruise Industry”, “Understanding Visitor Spending…”, as examples.


There has been a recent upsurge in material being published in the  Northern View on the subject of Tourism – even though the headlines may suggest other topics:- “Restoring Cruise Industry”, “Understanding Visitor Spending…”, as examples.

After reading these articles I observe that although many lofty statements are made, their “after images”, so to speak, leave me with the feeling that nearly all seem to believe tourists are like turkeys – to be plucked at every opportunity.

It is my belief that this is no way to view tourists. We must first improve our city, its hinterland, and its heritage so that we, and our children have a common sense of community, identity and history, and find that it is an enjoyable place for all of us to live. Then we can welcome visitors as guests in our collective home. There are a number of such ongoing activities of which Civic Pride, the Sunken Gardens Project, the North Pacific Canary, and Pike Island are conspicuous examples.

I have never worked in the “Tourist Industry”, but I grew up in it. In the late 1920’s my parents in total wilderness – no hydro, no phone, no running water, no neighbours for a mile, identified the site for a tourist destination. It opened as a full holiday resort in 1939/40. It continues to this day – always full and has never advertised. Hospitality was its guiding theme. I left to join the army (serving my first year in Prince Rupert), and never returned, except as a visitor. For the last thirty odd years My wife and I lived in the Mediterranean Region and visited Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Turkey (with allegedly more Roman ruins than in Italy, to say nothing of its Christian sites). It was in this region that we saw many of the historical and cultural sites left by some six thousand years of organized society. In Turkey we also encountered that sense of hospitality and community that we found in Prince Rupert when we returned some seven years ago.

As we slowly became aware of the current realities of Prince Rupert and of its struggles to raise general public awareness of the need to reverse the trend of economic decline by developing alternatives to commercial fishing, logging, and pulp and paper production. There was some discussion about tourism, but little action. Now, talk is widespread about the tourist industry, a term that may be somewhat ill defined.

It seems to me that “Visitors” can fall into several categories, each with its particular needs.

– returning formal residents

– business visitors

– natural resource visitors

– curious/casual visitors

The first two categories include “Homecoming Events”, sports and cultural events, and conventions in which normal “touristic” activities are peripheral (but important) to the main objective. The needs of which seem to be reasonably met.

The third category includes sports fishing; whale, grizzly, eagle watching; hunting; back packing; transit traveler in which Prince Rupert provides a sort of logistic base. A little more of the classic “tourist” demands than could be expected from the first two categories seem to be reasonably serviced by local businesses and community, any expansion may have to be generated by more targeted marketing.

The fourth category is probably the most complex in its composition and will require the greatest effort from all the citizens of Prince Rupert. It includes the “free time” activities of members of the first three categories plus individuals arriving by any means and staying from a few hours to several days. It includes passengers of tour buses and cruise ships – potentially mass tourism. In the planning for the expansion of this category there is a need for a set of candid answers to the questions “why would any person in this category want to visit Prince Rupert?”

In response, we have some excellent facilities:-

– The Museum of Northern BC

– Pike Island

– North Pacific Cannery

– The Sunken Gardens

– Cow Bay

– The Container Terminal

Any expansion of visits to these sites will depend on increasing public awareness of their existence and the capacity of local transportation businesses, although several are best visited by a walk. The sites seem to be quite reasonably served by site specific community groups which support them.

We also have a plethora of social agencies, such as, Civic Pride, Garden Club, Friendship House, etc. These groups are not directly involved in “tourism” per se., but make a significant contribution to the development and strengthening of the sense of community that is such an important component of the hospitality that permeates good tourism.

However, there is one sector of our collective history or heritage which has yet to be addressed and which would be of immense interest to short term visitors, particularly to cruise ship visitors, most of whom seem to be American. Many of their parents, or by now, grandparents, either were stationed (as I was) or passed through here en route to the Asian war theatre.

Aboriginal heritage is admirably covered by the Museum and Pike Island. It could be developed by organizing visits to more site specific points of interest.

The City’s early history – the railway, fishing, logging and its post 1945 evolution are covered by the Cannery, some excellent publications, and by a walk.

What I was surprised to find, shortly after I arrived, was how little evidence there was left of Prince Rupert’s contribution to the Pacific Conflict of 1939 – 1945. In particular, the Coast and Harbour defence installations at Barrett and Frederick Points about which there has been thundering silence from any of the public bodies which pontificate about tourism these


I have made some enquiries into the causes of this “black hole” and have found that considerable public interest in “The Forts” continues – many individuals make hikes through the Barrett Gun Sites to this day. Groups have marked out various components, someone set up a campsite, complete with fire pit and rain protection, in front of the former Battery Observation Post. Shortly before my arrival, a City supported group published a report outlining an action plan to increase public access to Barrett Fort. The property on which it is sited is now owned by the Government of Canada and is under administrative control of the Prince Rupert Port Authority.

It was during my effort to find the consequences of this report that I became aware there was practically no result – not even a production of the minutes of the final meeting.

The principle objective of this article has been to discuss “tourism” in its broadest terms, to outline the relationship between “hospitality” and “tourism” and to identify any major barriers to the development of both. The description of how a small group of citizens has tried to deal with these will (hopefully) appear in a further


David O. Hill

Prince Rupert