PORT McNEILL—With a backdrop of the stunning scenery of Broughton Strait, the newest bulk freight carrier in the Canadian Shipping Lines International fleet was welcomed to the North Island with a blessing by First Nations chiefs and elders last Wednesday.
The Rt. Honourable Paul E. Martin, the first of the CSL’s new Trillium Class of Panamax ships, had just completed its first loading at the Orca Sand and Gravel quarry ship loader just west of Port McNeill.
The Orca quarry is operated by Polaris Minerals Corp. of Vancouver in a unique partnership with the Kwakiutl and ‘Namgis First Nations, negotiated by Polaris founder Marco Romero prior to the quarry’s opening in 2007.
“The blessing of ship, being a new ship hauling our products, was something Marco asked if we would consider doing,” ‘Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer said. “We said that would be an appropriate blessing to hold onboard, believing that ceremony will protect the ship and its crew and be good for our partnership.”
Cranmer and fellow ‘Namgis elder Bruce Alfred were joined by five members of the Kwakiutl band, including Chief Calvin Hunt, Chief Peter Knox, Chief George Hunt and members Mervyn Child and Tom Child.
The seven clambered aboard the Niad Explorer water taxi for the short trip to the ship. They were joined by a who’s who of dignitaries including executives from Polaris and from CSL, Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney and local artist Jeanne Alley, who has been commissioned by Port Hardy-based shipping agent Hoqwesa Holdings Ltd. to create a painting of the ship’s maiden call to Port McNeill.
Once alongside the 225-metre, 72,000-tonne ship, participants exited the water taxi off its bow ramp to the deck of the tug Numas Warrior, and from there climbed a staircase lowered off the big carrier’s starboard side.
They then made their way the length of the deck to the aft superstructure and climbed seven floors to join Captain Vladyslav Tarasov and other officers on the roof for the open-air blessing high above the water’s surface.
The Rt. Hon. Paul E. Martin is a self-unloading carrier dedicated to the transport of construction aggregates, including the sand and gravel produced at the Orca quarry.
It is named for Paul E. Martin, Canada’s 21st Prime Minister and former owner of the CSL group. The ship is the first of the three planned Trillium-class additions in CSL’s ambitious fleet upgrade program.
Ken Palko, VP of Operations at Polaris, said it is fitting the ship is named for Martin, who with his son David founded the Capital for Aboriginal Prosperity and Entrepreneurship Fund to help establish and grow successful Aboriginal businesses.
“We’re quite happy it’s the Right Honourable Paul E. Martin, considering the family’s relationship with first nations,” said Palko. “It’s one of the nice tie-ins with Polaris, since the Martin family started this fund recognizing there was ground to be made up with first nations.”
The partnership between Polaris and the two local bands, which included training and jobs for first nations members, was a ground-breaking achievement at the time it was drafted.
As such, it has since become a precedent-setting model providing guidance for the drafting of other such agreements in Canada.
“It was the first instance of industry partnering with first nations,” said Palko. “Since then I’ve been contacted by a couple of companies put to task with creating partnerships with first nations. But they tell us ‘They want an Orca deal; can you tell us what’s involved with that?’”
The partnership with Polaris may have helped to kick-start additional economic development projects by the ‘Namgis First Nation, which include construction of a land-based, closed-containment fish farm south of Port McNeill and a partnership with Brookfield Power Corp. in a run-of-river hydro project on the Kokish River upstream from Beaver Cove.
“Things are going really well,” said Cranmer, who recently toured the closed-containment fish farm with a group of international aquaculture professionals who were attending a conference on Vancouver Island. “These are exciting times.”