The paint on the once-revered MV Lady Rose is peeling and her hull is rusting as she sits along a private dock in Tofino in May 2015. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Alberni man wants to resurrect iconic MV Lady Rose

Sailor Mike Wright sees tourism potential in rusting ship

The iconic MV Lady Rose could be making a return to the Alberni Valley after six long years.

Boater Mike Wright presented a plan to the Port Alberni Maritime Heritage Society on Wednesday, Sept. 13 to bring the vessel back to Port Alberni as a floating museum and focal point for tourism.

Originally christened “Lady Sylvia,” the MV Lady Rose was built in Scotland and first launched in 1937. She was the first single-propeller diesel vessel ever to traverse the Atlantic under her own power. The vessel spent 70 years ferrying passengers and supplies from Port Alberni to Bamfield and Ucluelet, but had her route taken over by the MV Frances Barkley in 2007.

The boat has been sitting tied to a dock in Tofino since its last voyage down the Alberni Inlet in March of 2011. Current owner Jamie Bray planned to turn her into a floating restaurant in front of Jamie’s Whaling Station, but Bray instead purchased the Rainforest Inn in late 2011. Since that time, the Lady Rose has seen significant rusting and wear. It no longer looks like the ship that used to run the Barkley Sound.

“It’s pretty disappointing,” Wright admitted. “But when you do a good clean-up, things start to look better.”

Wright is offering to pay for some of the costs to bring the Lady Rose back to the Valley, and he is committed to a two-year business plan, but he is looking for some indication of support for the community.

“Community support is needed,” he said on Wednesday. “I don’t believe in going to the city for money.”

Wright suggested that a dry land berth might be the best option for the vessel, which is no longer in any condition to travel. “There’s a little cove behind the Port Boat House,” he said.

This is where the Port Alberni Port Authority has tentatively decided to install an oil spill-response base if Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project goes through, but Wright said he has received a letter of interest from PAPA.

Federal and provincial funding could be available for the Lady Rose as a heritage piece. Volunteer support would also be key. A Lady Rose Foundation could be started to turn it into something that pays for itself, and guided tours, corporate meetings and weddings on board could generate revenue.

Overall, Wright believes that the Lady Rose is an iconic piece of history that deserves more than to rust in the waters in Tofino.

Wright said he saw the Lady Rose during a recent trip to the west coast, and asked Bray how people in Port Alberni could get a hold of it. Bray offered to donate it.

“He wants to see it come here, too,” said Wright.

Wright’s enthusiasm was commended, but members of the heritage society brought up a number of concerns regarding asbestos content on the ship and the cost of having the vessel restored.

Alberni Valley Museum manager Jamie Morton said, “It’s a real problem getting volunteers involved. The McLean Mill Society is having this problem, too.”

Members of the heritage society pitched other possibilities for the Lady Rose, including a plan to beach the boat on Hohm Island, and another idea to make the vessel seaworthy again and send it back to Scotland in a documented process. But Wright was firm in his belief that he wants the ship to be “accessible” to the public.

The society agreed to consider Wright’s plan and get back to him with their decision. In the meantime, Wright will do more research into feasibility and put some work into cleaning the vessel.

Wright said he felt fairly optimistic following his conversation with the heritage society.

“I think it was intelligent, careful and positive,” said Wright. “A lot of it is about attitude.”

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com