The History of the British Columbia Vintage Vessel Registry

by John MacFarlane 2017


The burgee flown by member vessels of the British Columbia Vintage Vessel Registry. (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection. )

Floating Heritage

As vessels age, there is a natural attrition to the inventory that results from the reluctance of owners to sink money into reconstructions or refits. Vessels are discarded because scrapping entails less risk and less bother than simply re-building anew. Yet reconstructing, updating, and repairing a vessel can extend its useful life by several decades.

Sentimental people sometimes regret the passing of a vessel from the scene and try to extend its life – sometimes as a museum exhibit. The emotional appeal of some vessels can generate some critical mass among the public who wish that someone (other than themselves) should invest the time and money necessary to do the preservation or conservation.

The conservation of vessels is best carried out by their owners – people who have a vested interest in their longevity. A grassroots movement that exemplifies the benefits of extending the lives of vessels is the best way to keep them afloat. Over reliance on government programs or statutes is less likely to stimulate the longevity of our heritage fleet.

The British Columbia Vintage Vessel Registry

In January 1990, I established the British Columbia Vintage Vessel Registry (VVR) at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (MMBC). This registry was intended to catalogue the older vessels which made up the province’s floating heritage. It was envisioned as an ongoing inventory.

Its objectives were:

  • 1. To gather individuals and representatives of organizations and agencies interested in floating heritage;
  • 2. To present the concept and process of identifying and registering heritage vessels in British Columbia;
  • 3. To create an awareness and appreciation of traditional vessel designs in British Columbia;
  • 4. To foster the creation of a grassroots movement to preserve and conserve significant vessels on the British Columbia coast; and,
  • 5. To initiate the gathering and recording of individual vessel histories.

The Register, at the time, was almost unique in its approach and function. By embracing working vessels and commercial vessels it removed the snobbish approaches of the wooden boat and classic yacht markets. The Register was a more democratic approach and provided a level playing field for owners who were trying to preserve old BC vessels.

The VVR Burgee

The burgee was given to the owner of each vessel designated as a British Columbia Vintage Vessel to be displayed on board. This was supposed to be a method of spreading the word about the VVR. There are still a few of these burgees being flown but most did not stand the rigors of environment and time.

Published Register

As the program existed before public access to the internet was prevalent there was a need to share the information about the vessels through hard copy print catalogues. An annual summary, complete with photographs, was published and sold at a nominal cost to interested fans of old boats.

VVR Annual Report

An example of the hard copy annual report of the histories of the vessels designated that year as British Columbia Vintage Vessels. (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection. )

Individual Files

A file of documentation and photographs for each vessel was established and kept as part of the MMBC’s commitment to documenting floating heritage. The intent was that the owners and the Museum would continue to document the life of these vessels until the end of life of each one.

After about 4 years the Museum was unable or unwilling to continue the Registry and it ceased operation. The record of the work of this program is supposed to be housed in the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. Whatever remains is the record of the only inventory and heritage designation program in British Columbia for floating heritage.

Today (2017) the most complete record of all of British Columbia’s floating heritage is the online database of The Nauticapedia records and freely shares the histories and images of 49,000 vessel names. The database is searchable and continuously being updated.

The original goals of the Register are still worth pursuing. There is no institution or group that fully embraces and promotes them. There is still a need to preserve, protect and share hard copy and digital images of the vessels. This is a function for archives and museums – and there is a need for potential users to be able to find and view them online. This continues to be a challenge.

Newspaper article

Newspaper article from the Victoria Times Colonist (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection. )

There was a surprisingly significant public interest in the Bristish Columbia Vintage Vessel Registry. Many newspapers and magazine carried full length articles about it. The Victoria Times Colonist newspaper was the keenest of them all and they showred publicity on the Museum and the Registry.

Newspaper article

Newspaper article from the Victoria Times Colonist (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection. )

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) The History of the British Columbia Vintage Vessel Registry. 2017.

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Site News: March2nd, 2019

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