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New owner says ‘business as usual’ after rescuing marine service to Bamfield

Greg Willmon said decision to purchase ailing Lady Rose Marine Services was easy
Greg Willmon, left, from Devon Transport Ltd. of Nanaimo meets with Mike Surrell to talk about the transfer of ownership of Lady Rose Marine Services to Willmon and his partner Barrie Rogers. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)

Marine travel between Port Alberni and Bamfield will continue as usual, says one of the new owners of Lady Rose Marine Services.

“There are no plans to make any changes to the operation,” said Greg Willmon, who was in Port Alberni last week to visit his new acquisition Lady Rose Marine Services operates the passenger and cargo vessel MV Frances Barkley and owns property on Port Alberni’s waterfront.

Willmon and Barrie Rogers, owners of Devon Transport Ltd. of Nanaimo, signed an agreement in principle to purchase the Port Alberni business one week after former owner Mike Surrell said he was going to shutter the business at the end of August. Surrell said the business has been hit hard due to COVID-19 restrictions over the past 17 months and it was no longer economically feasible to keep operating.

Willmon is no stranger to the marine service: his business has used Lady Rose Marine’s services “since the 1970s.” Willmon himself has property in Bamfield and has known Surrell ever since he purchased the business after Brook George passed away.

Lady Rose Marine Services has ferried passengers, freight and supplies to the west coast since 1946—the only ferry linking remote communities in the Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound.

When he heard that Surrell was thinking of closing the business, Willmon took action. “I thought this just can’t happen, with what it’s going to do to communities down Bamfield and the Inlet,” Willmon said. “It was a pretty easy decision.”

Willmon said despite having a land-based transportation business, he loves the ocean and spends a lot of time recreating on water. He called the purchase of Lady Rose Marine Services “a really exciting venture for me to get involved in.”

He said once he and Surrell started talking seriously about a sale “we had a handshake deal within an hour.” Both parties declined to discuss details.

Willmon said Surrell will stay on to run the business for at least a year. He doesn’t anticipate any changes. “Mike is the one with all the knowledge in keeping it running the way it was,” he said. “Other than COVID-19 and lack of passengers, everything I can see and witnessed first hand…Mike (Surrell) and Stacy in the office run a first-class business.”

Surrell has received calls from people all over the world wanting to share their memories of taking the Lady Rose or MV Frances Barkley down Alberni Inlet. “I had a gentleman from Hungary e-mail this morning,” he said last Tuesday.

“Feedback from people in Port Alberni and Bamfield, it’s refreshing to hear how pleased people are that this service is going to continue,” Willmon said.

“I’m really thrilled to hear the news,” Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne said while stopping by Harbour Quay to meet Willmon.

“I think it’s exactly what people were hoping to hear, is that service would remain uninterrupted. It’s incredibly important to keep people connected to goods and services and to each other.

“I’m really grateful that the new owners stepped up.”

The Frances Barkley is fully booked until Aug. 31, and September dates were filling up quickly as well, Surrell said. He is presently only permitted to have 50 people on board (COVID-19 restrictions), but hopes to be able to increase that to 50 percent of the vessel’s capacity “pretty quick.”

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RELATED: New owners rescue Lady Rose Marine Services

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Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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