BOOK REVIEW: Ferry Tales – Mobility, Place and Time on Canada’s West Coast

Author: Phillip Vannini
Publisher: Routledge, January 2012 
Stars: 5/5

Review by Webmaster Laurie McConnell

Review of Phillip Vannini's Ferry Tales book

I’m not a university professor, grad student or otherwise embalmed in the macrobiotic fluids of academia. I’m just a web designer, writer, and portal publisher in one of BC’s many ferry-dependent communities – in my case, the Sunshine Coast. I can’t even say ‘the Sunshine Coast’ without tacking on, ’40 minutes by car & passenger ferry from West Vancouver, and no, we’re not an island. And you only pay one way for your ferry trip!’

Phillip Vannini has taken an entire way of life, with its infinite variations based on geography, boat schedules, weather patterns, economics, isolation, proximities, prejudices, xenophobias, rhythms and elements of the indescribable… and described them with a poetic deftness and perception that frequently takes my breath away, they are so apt and nail-on-the-head depictions. Living in a place where ferries are just ingrained creates a unique way of living and interacting with individuals, communities and the environment that demands a certain kind of mindset to make it doable for ‘locals’, i.e. those of us who live in these places year round. Phillip understands this, and celebrates it, and becomes one of us, literally and figuratively.

As someone who has to sell myself over and over on the pluses of ferry dependency, I wholeheartedly admire Phillip for taking every ferry on the BC Coast not just once, but often many times on multiple occasions, at all times of year and in all weathers. I simply can’t imagine the waits in interminable ferry lineups (some routes have such rare sailings that one can wait almost entire days, and take 4 days for a round trip!), though the author does a great job of characterizing the whimsy and flavour of different lineups depending on where you are and when.

This astonishing piece of writing pulls together statistics, anecdotes, schedules, fares, sea shanties, ethnography, casual observations, and hundreds – if not thousands – of interviews both scheduled and impromptu to give the best characterization of ferry-dependent communities and the people who live in them, as well as the systems that serve them, ever created for the BC Coast. Phillips’ style is not that of just the exacting researcher, but the conduit for all of the Coastal storytellers, echoing our feisty personalities, our colloquialisms, our fiercely independent voices with such accuracy I can almost pick out the folks from my neck of the woods in passing. All in a casual, conversational, loosely organized pattern with a flow much like our own lives that run on that most amazing of clocks, ‘BC Ferry Times’.

I agree with one reviewer that this is a book to savor. It is not a quick read – despite the conversational storytelling style, this book is packed with data, concepts, philosophies, and insights that benefit from piecemeal readings followed by reflection or spirited discussion. This would make a great book for Book Clubs anywhere who want to understand a completely different way of life experienced around the world by people living flung on to the shores of islands, inlets, fjords, bays, and some of the wildest and most isolated stretches of geography to be found in the world.

I have been enjoying my copy almost daily for a couple of months, and have not even ventured into the online content, an astounding multi-media accomplishment.

Get it, signed if you can, and keep it – it’s a book to pass down to your children, especially, if like me, you’re a Coaster (or Islander, or Fjordian…)

Ferry Tales Web Site


Author: Laurie McConnell

Geek-loving, tie-dyed creative time artisan and general rabble rouser. Passionate conduit of Sunshine Coast stories, myths and fables. Founder of Bigpacific Creative Web Design & Digital Strategy (formerly Bad Dog Design) with 17 years of continuous operation.

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