Fifty Years of Cortes Island Ferry Service

Fifty Years of Cortes Island Ferry Service

Population figures on Cortes Island picked up after the 16-car ferry, Cortes Queen, began its regular run to and from Quadra Island in 1969 and electric power arrived in 1970. Along with the early settlers and their descendants, more recent “settlers,” people of all ages and backgrounds, came here in search of a more independent and casual lifestyle free from many of the troubling complexities of modern existence.

The ferry is still one of the hottest and controversial topics among many Cortes Island residents.

Campbell River/Upper Islander

The paragraphs below are the articles from the Campbell River/Upper Islander newspaper published on November 26, 1969. Images from the newspaper show the first day of the Cortes Island ferry service, Saturday, November 22, 1969.

Cortes Island Museum Archives – The first page of the Campbell River/Upper Islander newspaper with news about the Cortes Island ferry.

Cortes is no longer the forgotten island


by the Gardners

“Here she comes! Isn’t she beautiful!”


“I never thought I’d see the day!”

“Oh, what a thrilling sight!”

Such were some of the comments Saturday of bystanders and welcoming island residents as the new Cortes Queen rounded the bend — locally called “Thank God Point” — into Whaletown Harbor.

Overhead, an Island Airlines plane circled the ferry twice in a salute to the new arrival.

Under cloudy skies, and with a nippy southeast breeze rolling the waters between Heriot Bay and Whaletown, the new skipper, Capt. Robert Burns, eased the vessel into its berth in as smooth a docking as one could wish.

Island residents, parked on both sides of the newly-constructed road, assembled at the ferry to greet M.V. Cortes Queen and its first shipload of passengers and vehicles.



Elmer Ellingsen presents a Mary Weiler painting to Don Campbell as Dan’s wife, Jean, smiles her pleasure with the artistry depicted.
Pipers lead procession onto Cortes Queen for first sailing between Heriot Bay and Cortes Island.

Pipe band leads procession

Dressed in their kilts of Granger-Stewart and MacBeth plaids, and smartly marching to the rolling beat of drums, the legion pipe band, under the leadership of Pipe Major Ted Ferguson, let the procession off the ferry and up the ramp to the ceremonial area.

Local resident, Elmer Ellingsen, one of the hardest workers and strongest supporters for the acquisition of this mode of transport, greeted the pipe band, the dignitaries, and the guests as they disembarked. Jean Campbell, wife of MLA Dan Campbell, then cut the ceremonial ribbon held by students Sarah Weiler, Janice Maclean, Philip Bergman and Jeff Hogan from Whaletown School and Betty Ann Hansen, Marlene Guthrie, Frances Guthrie, Johnny Brown, Boddy Hayes, and Jeff O’Donnell, from Manson’s Landing School, and then Mrs. Campbell dedicated this ferry to the Cortes Island residents.

George Freeman’s vintage car, now belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Alf Milsted of Coal Harbor, returned to the island once again after being barged long ago.

This 1928 Ford was the first vehicle off the new ferry, and let the ensuing motorcade to Manson’s Landing Hall.

The Community Hall, decorated with Japanese lanterns streamers, paper-mache flowers, and balloons, featured a large water-colour mural of the new ferry and the new ship as painted by Ken Slater and Lex Bournazel. Two smaller murals, showing transport to and from the island, were titles “as it was” (a tug pulling a barge-load of cars) and “as it was before it was” (depicting a man and his spouse in a rowboat).

Dignitaries and honoured guests were formally seated at tables decorated with cut flowers. Beautiful corsages for each lady were placed by the dinner plates, these being furnished by the several florists’ shops in Campbell River.

Elmer Ellingsen then officially welcomed the seated guests and audience on behalf of the Cortes Island Ratepayers. A toast was proposed by Regional Director George Griffin to Cortes Island’s new “bride”, the Cortes Queen who was born in Vancouver and christened by Mrs. Estelle Rose, April 23, 1960, as the Quadra Queen.

Formal presentation by M.C. Elmer Ellingsen included a Mary Weiler painting to the Hon. Dan Campbell for his tireless and unending work to acquire our new ferry; a Ken Slater wooden carved soaring seagull to Bill Law in appreciation for his thoughtfulness, initiative, and persistence towards acquisition of our Cortes Queen; and an Art Shearman painting, to first mate Fil Slater, representing Capt. Robert Burns at the luncheon, which will be hung in the passenger lounge aboard ship.

Don Elmore, from the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce, presented a polished bronze three-bladed propeller to Elmer Ellingsen. This presentation was on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, and with the best wishes of the mayor and council.

Adele Lewis, wife of Owen Lewis, Chief-in-Council of Cage Mudge Village, summed it all up by saying, “Congratulations! Enjoy this ferry as much as we did when it came to us.”

And we shall!

Quadra Queen 1’s first captain, Tom Hall, left, poses with John Oswald, captain of the new Quadra vessel.
New Cortes Queen leaves Heriot Bay for the first time on historical day.
First car to debark on Cortes Island after initial ferry run is Alf Milsted’s 1928 Ford, previously owned by George Freeman of Cortes.
Stout supporter and tireless worker for the Cortes Queen’s acquisition, Elmer Ellingsen waves to the ferry’s first passengers as they near the end of their journey from Heriot Bay.

Some resent ferry

by Tony Simnett

When the Cortes Queen made its inaugural sailing from Heriot Bay to Cortes Island in Choppy waters Saturday cheers were mixed with voices of resentment.

The cheers were for progress because most of the 400 residents of the picturesque island believe the new and only public transportation link will enable the island to prosper.

But there are those who resent the ferry. They feel it will cause an infringement on their privacy.

The resenters, however, won’t be singled out.

“We’re against it very much because it’s an infringement on the kind of quiet life we chose,” one man said. “None of us will speak out against it publicly because we have to live with these people.”

But the believers were happy.

“The place will move ahead rapidly now,” George Gardner, the island’s high school principal said.

“Cortes will no longer be known as the forgotten island.”

Comox Mayor and Strathcona-Comox Regional District chairman Ron Ellis said the ferry link is another step of progress in the development of northern Vancouver Island.

Cortes Island Museum Archives

More images related to the Cortes Island ferry service early days come from the Cortes Island Museum and Archives. Visit our Museum’s mini-exhibit during November and December 2019 for a reflection on the early days of the Cortes Island ferry service.

Cortes Island Museum Archives – The back page of the Cortes Island ferry postcard from 1971.
Cortes Island Museum Archives – Front page of the Cortes Island ferry postcard from 1971.


Cortes Island Museum Archives – Fifty Years of Cortes Island Ferry – Propeller Plague.
Cortes Island Museum Archives – Schedule of Events and Invitation to the Cortes Island Ferry Celebration on Cortes Island.

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