For festival-goers of Prince Rupert’s Seafest — a June festival celebrating the northern B.C. port city’s waterfront and as a gateway to the Pacific — there will be very little sea to see this year.
Every year, the festival hosts the Quick and Daring — a kayak race and rescue drill competition — from the city’s only rocky beach by Lightering Dock in Rotary Waterfront Park.
Last October, however, CN Rail — which owns the waterfront land — blocked access to the beach because it said the beach was contaminated and not safe for public use.
The situation has left festival organizer Bev Kilberry scrambling to find an alternative route to the sea.
“We’ve been [using the beach for] 38 years. Even before Seafest, I imagine that beach was utilized by people just walking around down there anyway,” she said.
For this year, the festival has managed to set up another launch near Lightering Dock.
“We’ve managed to make it work except we’ve gone from 60 to 70 feet [18 to 21 metres] of beach access to a 20 foot [6 metre] dock,” she said.
“It’s going to be cramped — not just for the participants, it’s also for the spectators. It’s going to be a juggling act for people to try and find the best location to watch things without impeding any other events that are going on because we have other things going on at the same time.”
Listen to Bev Kilberry on CBC’s Daybreak North:
‘The last beach’
Although Prince Rupert is on an island, the city has very little beach and water access outside of a formal marina.
According to Mayor Lee Brain, there’s been a variety of fencing off of waterfront areas in the port city due to security concerns of having people on the water during port operations.
“This has been the last beach in our community where residents could dip their toes in, and we’re an island community,” he said.
He says the city has been negotiating with the company for years over the beach — and added the city is willing to do the remediation work necessary to transform the space. The mayor and Kilberry didn’t know the source of the contamination.
“We’re still working with CN Environmental to find out exactly what the cause of the contamination is but … it’s not about that,” Brain said.
“We’re willing to do the work to find the partners and help develop that beach into a public access beach … This is a win for CN and a win for the community.”
CN declined the opportunity for an interview but shared the following statement with CBC News.
“We understand the concerns residents have and their desire to access this property. We have been in communication with the Mayor on this issue over the past few weeks and remain open to further discussing our concerns about the public’s health and safety at this site.”
Still a ‘seaside community’
While the lack of water access could pose an existential crisis for a festival titled Seafest, Kilberry, the festival organizer, says the city is still very much a seaside community.
“Are we a community where you can go out and dip your toe into the ocean? Short of falling in, no,” she said.
“[But] we still have fantastic views. We are a seaside community for people who do have the luxury of having a boat and going out and launching their kayaks and going out that way.”
Prince Rupert’s Seafest takes place on Friday, June 9 to Sunday, June 11.