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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.

The history of Shearwater, its evolution, financial risks and some of the significant obstacles are documented in the foregoing history. It should be noted that the Widsten family was never independently wealthy - Andrew Widsten, the founder, had six employees and gross revenue of $200,000 when Craig purchased the corporate assets from his father in 1967, current annual revenues are approaching $20 million. Financially, Shearwater Marine has been built through the reinvestment of profits, bank financing and personal sacrifice.

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.

Sequence of events over the past 50 years

1969 - Donated property to BC Hydro to install a regional government diesel generating plant.

1971 - Sold 8 acres of Shearwater property to Millbank Industries Ltd to construct the Central Native Fishermen's Coop cannery, which at one point employed 300 local seasonal workers.

1973 - Father, Andrew Widsten passed away

1984 - Sold property to School District #49 to build a new community school.

1994 - Leased property to establish an approved land fill site (garbage) for Shearwater and the Denny Island Community, no government assistance.

1995 - Mother, Jean Widsten passed away

1996 - Donated a portion of Shearwater’s waterfront and foreshore lease to BC Ferries to install a government ferry terminal to service the island.

2005 - Built new fire hall and purchased fire truck for Volunteer fire department.

2006 - Organized legal challenge with BC Hydro resulting in major rate reductions for the area and the abolition of Hydro’s province wide special contract rate.

2010 - Donated property to Denny Island community to construct a community/recreation centre.

2012 - Successfully drilled wells for water on Shearwater property striking clear artesian water thereby providing potable water for proposed subdivision and future development.

2015 - Installed approved septic system to service the Shearwater community and future subdivision and development plans.

2017 - Established the "Widsten Family Charitable Foundation" to recognize the decades of support for our enterprise and to provide meaningful donations to the local communities.

1970 - Developed a fibreglass manufacturing business building Canada's largest fibreglass fishing vessels at Shearwater in the former RCAF hanger. Although there was 70 % unemployment in the community, the federal government failed to provide any assistance whatsoever to this remote innovative ship manufacturing business – the production operation was relocated to Victoria where vessels were successfully produced for many years.

1971 - The federal government provided the local First Nation Community with a fully equipped shipyard/marine ways to compete directly with Shearwater’s operation.

1978 – Alan McEachren, lawyer with Russell and DuMoulin and CIBC assisted Shearwater to negotiate an out of court settlement with FBD.

1979 - Purchased the remaining twenty acres of key RCAF Shearwater waterfront property from the Francis Millerd Fishing Company.

1985 - Developed another fibreglass mold and constructed yacht “M/V Pacific Lure”

1992 - Refinanced Shearwater with lending company, Granville Saving Ltd.

1994 - Constructed concrete floats in shipyard and installed 1500 ft. of marina moorage

1995 - Refinanced the company with the Bank of Italy.

1996 - Purchased a 70 ton travel lift from Florida and installed at the Shearwater Marina.

1998 - Purchased the McKenzie River ramp barge "Arctic Kapvik" remove the jet drives and refitted it with conventional shaft drives and established a central coast freight service.

2003 - Installed a new large storage building and small sawmilling operation on Lot 1596.

2004 - Established a new head office and freight forwarding warehouse in Richmond.

2004 - Established waterfront barge terminal in Port Hardy in order to further develop the new coastal freight/fuel business with the power barge "Arctic Kapvik”.

2008 - Purchased 150' ramp barge "Radium"/ Tug "Gulf Rival" for expanding marine business.

2010 - Major upgrades and new cabin installed on the Arctic Kapvik renamed "Central Coaster".

2010 - Purchased 40 passenger water taxi "Clowhom Spirit" to start a central coast water taxi business, currently Shearwater has five water taxis operating in the area.

2013 - Created "United in History" day featuring the historic establishment of Bella Bella, honouring the Heiltsuk nation and new settlers to the region.

2013 - Donated property to establish a war memorial honouring all WW II veterans including those stationed at the Bella Bella RCAF base at Shearwater.

2015 - Major rebuild and repower of the "Central Coaster" lengthened to 150 feet for additional fuel and freight capacity, currently BC’s only certified self-propelled oil tanker.

2016 - Purchased assets of competing tug and barge company, Norm Jones Charters, including 1500 ton ramp barge and tug "Westcoaster" to meet the local demand for marine services.

1979 - Organized the founding of the Central Coast Chamber of Commerce.

1980 - Spearheaded the construction of the first airport on the outer Central Coast.

1999 - Refinanced the company with the Bank of Montreal.

2000 - Installed floating marine fuel station c/w with aviation fuels and helicopter pad.

2015 - Purchased new R44 helicopter for business and central coast charter work.

1972 - Applied for a liquor licence to build the first licensed premises in the area, a Cabaret.

1973 - Began expanding the cabaret into the first local hotel (24 rooms) with a loan from FBDB.

1974 – Federal government provided funding to the First Nation Community to construct a new hotel in the community directly impacting the economic viability of Shearwater’s hotel project.

1976 - FBDB placed Shearwater in receivership for outstanding hotel loan payments.

1977 - FBDB initiated foreclosure proceedings to sell all Shearwater assets.

1981- Gradual completion of Fishermen's Inn continued as funds were available.

1991- The Fishermen's Inn hotel, 24 rooms, restaurant, bar, lobby and lounge was completed.

1992 - Devastating Hotel fire destroyed the entire new hotel structure – a total loss.

1992 - CIBC called Shearwater’s bank loan and seized the hotel fire insurance proceeds.

1992 - Opened temporary restaurant in hangar building called "Fire Escape”.

1992 - Purchased 16 (12x54) modular camp units from Revelstoke, trucked to Bella Coola, barged to Shearwater and installed as a temporary hotel on the waterfront property.

1996 - Constructed a new licensed 60 seat restaurant, 125 seat pub and upstairs lounge on the waterfront Fishermen's Bar and Grill.

2004 - Relocated temporary modular hotel units to permanent two story Hotel location.

2004 - Create RV Park and Campground on upper lot 1600.

2005 - Built the waterfront Spirit Building to accommodate laundromat, retail store units and second storey condo units.

2011 - Purchased 24 room Big Time floating lodge c/w laundromat, kitchen dining room, bar and staff accommodation and placed it ashore for new sports fishing resort (Shearwater Lodge).

2014 - purchased and installed 8 new two bedroom modular homes for staff accommodation.

Please look for downloaded document on the extraordinary people that significantly contributed the greater Bella Bella community by clicking this link now:   http://shearwater.ca/media/documents/pdf/mural-whos-who.pdf

 

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