Al Meadows, a former commercial fisherman operating on the west coast of Vancouver Island, was hired by SSI Sea Products to develop and carry forward a superior method for the purchase of roe herring from commercial fishermen. This project operated during the months of March and April. Al accessed a Budget hoist truck and travelled to the various government docks near the fishing grounds purchasing directly from the commercial fishermen on account for SSI. This resulted in a shorter turn around for both packers and fishermen, an improvement on their previous experience. The concept was sound but could be improved.
Following the success in the previous years, a navy surplus, landing craft was located in Ootsa Lake, North of Smithers, B.C. and trucked to Vancouver. The vessel was re-named the Marine Link I. With the acquisition of this vessel, Al was able to go directly to the fishing grounds and purchase from the fishermen without the fishermen having to come to the dock.
The decision was made to increase the capacity of the Marine Link I. The vessel was lengthened and widened to 34’ by 55’. The vessel carrying capacity was increased to 18 tons, however, the vessel was still only employed two months per year, March and April during roe-herring season.
Tim Campbell joined Marine Link and later became a shareholder. Tim had been working as a deck hand, cod fishing and on deep sea ships. The Marine Link I was at that time based out of Sydney. Tim wanted to pursue the marine cargo business with the vessel and the decision was made to move the Marine Link I north to Cortes Island, near Campbell River. It was felt, and subsequently proven that markets for marine cargo were strong in the northern parts of the south-central coast.
1979 – 1986
During this period, the vessel continued to work as a collector of roe-herring during March and April each year. Over the balance of the year, marine cargo rose from two to three days per week to full time. During this period Al Meadows continued to commercial fish.
The business had grown to the point where further expansion was considered justified. Al sold his commercial fishing vessel with the proceeds used as owner’s equity for the construction of the Marine Link II, This was a purpose built landing craft, vessel of 80 tons. Operations were moved from Cortes Island to Tyee Spit on the outskirts of Campbell River. Marine Link became a true, 12-month per year operation.
Demand for services had grown to the point where significant additional capacity was required. By this point in time, Al Meadows felt that the growing eco tour industry held the possibility of a successful tourism arm for Marine Link. The vessels had always operated in waters that are included among the best cruising grounds in the world. To that end, the company wanted to locate a vessel that would allow for this possibility.
The former seismic survey vessel, the 70-ton Aurora Explorer, located near Fort McMurray, Alberta, was purchased. The Aurora Explorer was brought to the coast by way of the Athabasca and Slave rivers, the Arctic Ocean, and the Bering Sea.
1992 – 1994
The Aurora Explorer worked in concert with the Marine Link II concentrating on freight. During this period, marine architects were hired and plans developed to upgrade the Aurora Explorer to Transport Canada standards for the carriage of berthed passengers.
Winter – The Aurora Explorer was retrofitted to Transport Canada standards to provide for up to eight passengers. Marine Link Tours started as a division of Marine Link.
Certification was achieved in 1994 and Marine Link Tours started passenger service the same year offering a number of cruise routes ranging from two days to seven, covering the full south/central coast.
Both passenger demand from Marine Link Tours and freight demand had increased and the Aurora Explorer was again retrofitted. The vessel was lengthened by 45’ to 135’and widened by 10’ to 50’ overall. This increased freight capacity to 250 tons. During this retrofit, another cabin deck was added which allowed for expansion to 12 passengers, the maximum allowed by Transport Canada under the existing certification
Marine Link’s area of operations covers the full south coast from the Fraser River in the South to the North end of Vancouver Island with frequent trips north of Vancouver Island to Klemtu, Bella Bella and occasional trips to the Queen Charlottes.
Growth of the company as measured by its freight and passenger capacity is summarized as follows:
|Marine Link I||Marine Link II||Aurora Explorer||AG Ford||Total|
Figure 1. – Marine Link Freight & Passenger Capacity