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History of Shearwater

The property on which the community of Shearwater is located was a former Second World War RCAF base which housed over 1000 men with aircraft that patrolled the vast coast of central British Columbia - keeping the country safe from the threat of a Japanese invasion. The community is located in the traditional territory of the Heilsuk First Nation who has dominated this area of the BC coast since time.

When peacetime returned, a major portion of the Bella Bella RCAF Station property was sold in 1947 to a visionary young man, Andrew Widsten, whose family were original Norwegian settlers to Bella Coola. As a former officer of the RCAF and savvy business man with an intimate knowledge of the area, Andrew recognized the potential of establishing a dedicated marine services business in this strategic location, serving the entire central coast of British Columbia. For the next 20 years Andrew developed the business and community delivering essential services to the area providing boat repairs, sawmill services and marine towing.

In 1967 Andrew and his wife, Jean, retired and the Shearwater assets were purchased by their son Craig, who over the next 50 years has guided and nurtured the growth of the family business and community. Craig shared his father’s vision and worked tirelessly to create a diversified full service marine centre including a tug and barge business, while further developing Shearwater’s unique appeal and strategic location into a destination resort community.

Craig Widsten is a true entrepreneur and risk taker and during the past 50 years has developed this remote coastal business/community through sheer determination, perseverance and optimism. He has engaged the company in many different pursuits, but each endeavour was always designed to strengthen the business while creating a comfortable, pleasant community for staff and their families. Shearwater's business model has been one of diversification, self-sufficiency and survival. During the past 50 years there has been no special support group, no safety net, no mentor and no government assistance. Craig has relied on a devoted wife, supportive children and grandchildren and assembled a dedicated staff over the years who have respected his determination, bought into the Shearwater vision and cared about the future of the company and community.

Today, the result is a thriving small town and successful, fully integrated business enterprise, marine service centre and preeminent tourist destination on the central coast between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert. The company has over 100 employees and is the largest independent employer in the Central Coast Region. The Shearwater marina and onshore facilities provide mariners and their vessels all the necessary services when transitioning the inside passage, including a full service shipyard and 70 ton travel lift. Shearwater is a regional service and supply centre, providing water taxi services, local freight service, fuel depot, hotel, restaurant, grocery store, hardware store, post office and numerous retail outlets.

Being a WW-II veteran and founder of Shearwater it was always Andrew Widsten’s ambition to establish a war memorial at Shearwater. Craig was able to fulfill his father’s wish by creating the “United in History” celebration on July 6, 2013, a major ceremony which included a 120 ft. mural and war memorial that recognized the history of the area and honoured all WW-II veterans, including a number of First Nation Vets from five surrounding communities. The celebration was attended by 500 people, many from the local communities, relatives, dignitaries, government officials, RCMP and an RCAF contingent from Comox. The development of these monuments was the result of a remarkable collaboration between the Heiltsuk nation of Bella Bella and the Shearwater Community of Denny Island. The Mural recognizes the timeless historic and cultural dominance of the Heiltsuk Nation and the unique relationship that evolved between the original people and the incoming settlers to the region. We at Shearwater value that special relationship that continues to exist today. This celebration was a proud legacy moment for Shearwater.

In recent years, Craig has stepped away from the day to day operations of the company to focus on major capital projects and to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors. In doing so, the company has hired a new CEO, Donny Mekilok a seasoned Marina Manager with years of experience in the industry to work with Pierre Theriault the current CFO and Craig’s daughter Tracy Macdonald. The new management team has a deep sense of service, loyalty and a shared vision for Shearwater’s future. Today the team has their hands full managing the continued growth of Shearwater as it’s guided into new areas of business including eco-tourism, land development and expanded services.

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