In 1985 the forerunner of the Ladysmith Maritime Society was formed.
It was called the Tall Ships Society and the plan was to build a Tall Ship in Ladysmith to be finished by the opening of the opening of Expo ’86. While a tremendous amount of work went into the effort is soon became obvious that the resources, both financial and human were not available and the effort was shifted to the preservation and restoration of heritage vessels.
One of the first orders of business was the restoration by volunteers of 300 feet of docks that were donated to the society. Volunteers and donations were the main currency for the society, especially in the early days.
Over the next five years the society acquired and refurbished the ‘Machine Shop’ and several other buildings and purchased the ‘Saravan’ for $500 through donated money. In 1991 the Society voted to change its name to the Ladysmith Maritime Society (LMS) and has been an integral part of the Ladysmith community ever since. The volunteers are still a key element to the success of LMS with more than 7,000 hours of volunteer time logged in 2018.
The Ladysmith Community Marina is much more than a place to moor boats, it is a community asset managed by the Maritime Society with a 30-year lease that expires in 2029. The lease is with the Town of Ladysmith in partnership with the Stz’uminus First Nation.
The LMS mandate includes: protecting and promoting maritime heritage, promoting tourism activity in the harbour, protecting and promoting public access to the waterfront and operating the Ladysmith Community Marina
The Maritime Society is responsible for promoting maritime heritage, preserving heritage boats, waterfront artifacts, the waterfront museum and providing educational opportunities for young and old. Much of this work is led by volunteer and past board member Shirley Blackstaff and supported by a team of volunteers who work in the museum and related buildings.
Blackstaff is also supported in her projects by the men in the ‘Car Shop’, named for when it was the location for working on rail cars. Without her there would be no Waterfront Museum, Sea Life Centre, or annual Sea Life Celebration. Blackstaff and her husband Harry were also instrumental in saving the Locomotive and Humdirgen log unloader as part of the heritage artifact preservation program.
The Maritime Society is responsible for promoting tourism activity in the harbour. Visitors come from all over B.C. and the United States. This year visitors increased by about 10 per cent over 2017 with about 6,000 visitor nights at the marina. About 43 per cent of them came from the U.S.
LMS is developing a reputation as the “Friendliest Marina on the Coast” and is usually booked well in advance.
The LMS mandate to protect and promote public access includes festivals, harbour tours, on dock dining and cafe experiences, music, special presentations and movies on the dock and participation in the Ladysmith Days Parade.
The first Maritime Heritage Festival was held in 1993 and after a rocky start became a regular event that attracts 30 heritage boats and hundreds of visitors. The annual Kids Pirate Day now attracts 2,000 to 3,000 children and adults to a full day of fun, food, fishing, games and of course Pirates.
The Harbour Tours hosted 250 individuals, several private charters and many more free tours during festivals.
The LMS mandate to operate the community marina has continued to be successful in serving local boaters. There are more than 3,000 feet of docks and more than 160 annual and seasonal customers. The spots are kept reasonable as it is a service to the community and so popular that there is a waiting list of 68 boats for a slip.There are also 12 liveaboard spaces.
2018 saw many changes on the board of directors as well as the departure of Rod Smith, the executive director for the past four years. The board spent many months looking for a replacement and recently hired Richard Wiefelspuett, a naval architect originally from Germany as the new executive director. Wiefelspuett has only been with LMS since November but is impressed.
“LMS is a vibrant, diverse, organisation that is not only focused on the waterfront, it is a true community marina.” he said. “I am deeply impressed with the volunteers who live the concept of a community marina.”
Dan Lutz the LMS president is pleased with the progress the marina made in 2018.
“We need to continue to build on the community feel and extend the welcome across the seasons and live up to the reputation of the friendliest marina on the coast,” he said. “We need a longer term vision to sustain LMS for the next 30 years and be a unique modern marina for the west coast.”