Float home residents at Victoria's Fisherman's Wharf want to keep COVID-19 public dock closure

·3 min read
Gerry L'Esperance, left, Melanie Sibbitt, centre, and Kim Young say they hope to talk with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority about keeping the docks they live on at Fisherman's Wharf closed to public access. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC - image credit)
Gerry L'Esperance, left, Melanie Sibbitt, centre, and Kim Young say they hope to talk with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority about keeping the docks they live on at Fisherman's Wharf closed to public access. (Adam van der Zwan/CBC - image credit)

Residents of a popular floating village at Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria say the last year, after the docks their homes are moored at were closed to public access due to COVID-19, has been one of their most peaceful.

Now, as more people get their vaccinations and tourists start trickling in again, members of the Wharf community say they want the docks to stay closed.

"It's been wonderful," said Kim Young, a resident there since 2004. "We've been sort of seeing our neighbours more. We come outside more. We can sit on our dock [in privacy], because some of us don't have any other outdoor space."

During a normal year, Fisherman's Wharf is a popular tourist attraction, as thousands of visitors from all over the world stop by to browse its shops, eat at its restaurants and peruse the 33 brightly-decorated houses along three of its docks.

Adam van der Zwan/CBC
Adam van der Zwan/CBC

But Young says the community of around 40 people has seen far more tourists arrive the last few years, in part because the tourism industry has encouraged more visitors to come to the region.

She said unfettered public access to the docks has led to more invasions of privacy, some from tourists who don't understand that the "quirky" homes, which resemble many of the wharf's commercial businesses, are actually private residences.

'Get out of my house'

Melanie Sibbitt, the president of the neighbourhood association, said people can often be careless and belligerent with the residents.

"People open our doors ... and feel they have the right to walk across our docks and take photos from the other side," she explained.

Sibbitt said visitors often peer through residents' windows, and it's "very invasive."

"If somebody was peering in anybody else's windows [while] walking along the street, they'd be charged for [being a] peeping Tom. We're no different," she said, adding that she's been sworn at multiple times when she's confronted some of these people.

Adam van der Zwan/CBC
Adam van der Zwan/CBC

Resident Gerry L'Esperance said he'd like to see a security guard hired for the docks, after a woman walked into his house while he was doing construction work.

"I said, 'Would you please close the door?' and [she said] 'but I just want to ask you a couple more questions,'" L'Esperance recalled. "It was almost like I had to throw the hammer at her to get her out of my house!"

Sibbitt said curious visitors ask a lot of repetitive questions, like "does [the house] actually float?" which can be exhausting to answer after awhile.

Young added that those who move in know beforehand that it's a busy area but often don't expect it to be as overwhelming as it's become.

Balancing residents' privacy and commercial needs

A statement from the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority says its longer-term plans for the floating village are "still to be determined. We will continue to liaise with our float customers on plans for access to [the] docks," it said.

With B.C.'s Restart Plan now in Phase 3, the GVHA says the docks will stay closed "for the remainder of the summer."

Nearby, the Causeway Marina at Victoria's Inner Harbour, which is also owned by the GVHA and is home to a number of permanent residents living in houseboats, has been closed to public access.

Sibbitt said the wharf's community association has a good working relationship with the GVHA and wants to work together to "find a balance" between helping residents maintain their privacy, and ensuring the commercial operators at the wharf thrive — especially since many of them need to recover from the lack of customers during the pandemic.

She says a neighbourhood survey will soon collect the broader community's perspective, but she doesn't think anyone living there wants any visitors "walking down the docks in the throngs that they were."

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