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Descanso Bay terminal

Terminal Development Plan for Gabriola Island (Descanso Bay)


The Descanso Bay Terminal Development Plan was approved in March 2019. The purpose of this Terminal Development Plan is to set out the long-term vision for the future of this important terminal by providing the framework for the phased implementation of strategies and actions over the next 25 years. This will enable BC Ferries to develop terminals in a cost effective, organized and efficient way.

The Terminal Development Plan involved planning, conceptual design options and the development of an implementation schedule and budget estimates for future terminal upgrades. After careful consideration of the issues identified by comments received from the community engagement, internal Working Group and stakeholders, the design options were refined into a preferred option that meets terminal design requirements. It addresses some of the key issues within the terminal area, improves accessibility and enhances the travel experience of ferry users. The preferred option can be viewed in the Terminal Development Plan.
PDF 11,144 KB | 68 pages

Engaging with the Community

Official Community Plan and Zoning Amendment Application
In April 2019, BC Ferries submitted an Official Community Plan (OCP) and a Zoning Amendment application to the Islands Trust. It is expected that the applications will take 18-24 months to process by the Islands Trust. A copy of the application and the latest update on the application can be viewed here on the Islands Trust website.

BC Ferries hosted an information session on February 26 at Nanaimo Harbour terminal and on February 27 on Gabriola Island where we presented further information on the application and the new Island Class vessels which are scheduled to go into service in 2022.

View the information presented and summaries of what we heard at the events here:
PDF 16,621 KB | 18 pages

Previous engagement efforts

Spring 2018
In spring 2018, we engaged with the community and key stakeholders to gather feedback, suggestions and ideas that will help shape the future improvements at Gabriola Island terminal. This included a community information session and an online survey. Learn more about the concepts, key issues and opportunities for Gabriola Island.
Following the public information session, our team reviewed and compiled the feedback we received from the community and stakeholder discussions into an Engagement Summary. View the Engagement Summary Infographic. View the Engagement Summary Report.
PDF 1,575 KB | 27 pages
February 2019
One key consideration that has been identified is that in order to implement the project the terminal, along with any extension of the water lot, require a Zoning and Official Community Plan (OCP) Bylaw amendment application to be submitted and adopted by the Islands Trust to ensure compliance with Municipal Bylaws. This is required prior to the commencement of any development at the terminal.

We informed the community the project will involve constructing a new berth to replace the current berth and modifying/expanding the uplands area, which includes the waiting room and car parking area.

We gathered further on the ideas of:
  • More dedicated vehicle queuing lanes
  • Improved traffic flow, pick-up/drop-off area and expanded short-term parking area
  • Improved customer amenities including a new passenger waiting room

On February 19, 2019, we hosted an information session to describe the proposals and hear from the community before making an application to Islands Trust. View the information shared and what we heard.
PDF 11,609 KB | 13 pages

Next Steps

The OCP and Zoning amendment application is in progress with the Islands Trust and we are awaiting further information on the application before proceeding.

Project Manager's Updates

PDF 329 KB | 1 page
PDF 171 KB | 1 page

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why is BC Ferries planning improvements to the Gabriola terminal?
A. We recognize there are several key issues that need to be addressed at the Gabriola terminal, including:
  • The foot passenger and washroom buildings are at the end of their service life
  • Improved safety and congestion concerns related to the queuing of traffic along North Road and Taylor Bay Road
  • The marine infrastructure is reaching the end of its life and needs replacing in the near future. Replacement is required in order to provide reliable service for the Quinsam and the two new Island Class vessels that will serve this route starting in 2021. More information on the two new vessels can be found here.
Q. Why is BC Ferries rezoning the Gabriola Island ferry terminal and what is involved?
A. The ferry terminal at Descanso Bay (Gabriola Island) is currently split zoned under the Islands Trust Gabriola Zoning Bylaw as follows;
  • The water lot is zoned Water Commercial 3 – Marine Transportation (WC3). The ferry terminal is listed as a permitted use in this WC3 zone.
  • The leased upland portion where the waiting room/holding lanes and parking lot are located is currently zoned Large Rural Residential (LRR). In this area a ferry terminal is not a permitted use. This area needs a zoning bylaw amendment to be submitted and adopted before construction can commence.
The Gabriola Island Official Community Plan (OCP) also split designates the terminal as follows:
  • The water lot is designated as Marine
  • Upland portion is designated as Resource and Small Rural Residential
Given that Islands Trust staff cannot support a zoning Bylaw amendment which is not in accordance with the OCP, an application to amend the OCP is therefore also required and must be adopted before the zoning amendment application.

Therefore, in order to implement the project, the upland area along with any extension of the water lot requires a Zoning and OCP Bylaw amendment application to be submitted and adopted by the Islands Trust to ensure compliance with these Municipal Bylaws prior to the commencement of development.

Q. What is the timeline for a revitalized terminal at Gabriola?
A. We are in the process of developing a long-term plan that will guide the phased development of the terminal over the next 25 years. This plan is known as a Terminal Development Plan (TDP) and is developed with extensive community engagement and input. Once the TDP is complete, the OCP and rezoning amendment applications will be submitted to the Islands Trust. These applications are expected to take 18-24 months to complete. Pending successful OCP and rezoning amendments, construction is planned for the 2021 – 2022 timeframe.

Q. Do the terminal rezoning and OCP amendments affect the implementation of the two new vessels on the route?
A. No, these amendments do not affect the introduction of the new vessels. The Gabriola Terminal Development project and the Island Class vessel project are two separate projects. Their timelines are not connected or dependent on each other.

Q. How will community input be used?
A. Your input is important to us and the input we are gathering now will shape the terminal design concept that goes into the Gabriola Terminal Development Plan. You will also be engaged in rezoning efforts as well as future phases of the terminal development including: Detailed design: The creation of the detailed design plans that will guide construction of the terminal Construction: The development of mitigation plans to minimize impact to the community during terminal construction.

Q. Will the Terminal Development Plan address routes, service levels, and scheduling?
A. No. The Terminal Development Plan addresses the future site planning and design of the terminal, but does not address service levels, routes, frequency of service, scheduling, or fares.

Q. Has the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MOTI) approved the concept terminal plan for Gabriola Terminal?
A. BC Ferries received support in principle on the draft terminal concept plan from MOTI. MOTI remains one of our key stakeholders in the development planning process, and discussions on the concept plan will continue prior to the submission of our rezoning application with Islands Trust.

Q. Who has BC Ferries engaged with as part of the Terminal Development Planning process?
A. We have engaged our key stakeholders including MOTI, the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) and Islands Trust. We also held drop-in sessions for the community in May and September 2018 and have welcomed feedback on the draft terminal concept via email at

Next Steps

The terminal development planning process is expected to be completed by spring 2019. Following the completion of the TDP, the Rezoning and OCP Amendment Applications will be submitted to the Islands Trust. It is expected that the applications will take around 18-24 months to process. Stay tuned for more updates.

If you have any questions, want to provide feedback, or require further information about the Gabriola Island terminal development engagement process, contact or write to us at British Columbia Ferry Services Inc., Terminal Development, Suite 500 - 1321 Blanshard Street, Victoria, BC, V8W 0B7. Your email, address information and any other information about you is being collected under section 26 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for the terminal development engagement process. If you have any questions about the collection of your information, contact the Manager, Terminal Development by calling 250-978-1479, or write to us at this email or at the address above.