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General News · 21st August 2018
Deepa Narayan
“Gorge Harbour, Come in Grace Spirit. You are fine; we have a spot for you. That is affirmative. Come on in, the guys are there to catch your lines.”

Bill Dougan, 54, is the General Manager at Gorge harbour. Unruffled with a smile in his voice, he speaks on his radio to welcome and guide yet another yacht into the marina as I speak with him. Born in Essex County, Ontario, not far from the US border at Detroit, Bill moved west after hopping onto a freight train bound somewhere, getting off where it looked beautiful. It was Vancouver in 1988. “I had to explore”, he said, working in restaurants as he next moved to Nanaimo and finally to Cortes.

Bill is quietly proud of what Gorge Harbour Marina has achieved since it was bought by Michele and Richard Glickman 13 years ago,but is also deeply worried about staff shortages which in his words are linked to the lack of housing and jobs, twisted into an ironclad stalemate. “When there are no jobs, young people do not come to make Cortes home. And when there is no affordable housing, it is difficult for young people to make Cortes home even when there are jobs. This summer, for the first time we were short staffed, we needed 8 more staff, none of the businesses on island could find the people to work for them.” He wants to work with islanders and other businesses to discuss possibilities.

When the Glickmans bought the marina, Bill Dougan was given a free hand to manage guided by a shared vision with them. “They wanted to create a marina that was family friendly, an asset to the community and a viable business. I am proud of the fact that we took a business in decline, were able to modernize it and create a beautiful environment.”

Bill’s management decisions were driven by two guiding principles. First, “Make every decision to benefit the community. This was difficult, to make every decision from the community perspective. And second, don’t lose money if possible, but don’t compromise on the vision of benefiting locals. There were years when we didn’t make a profit, but now I am proud of the fact that we are a viable business. We started with a business that employed 10 people, and we now employ 60 and we need more staff in the summer.”

How did they do it?

No matter what I asked him about the marina business, Bill kept coming back to the principle of community benefit. “We took a long term vision and did things that many business's do not do, we did not nickel and dime the locals, and instead of keeping locals away from our resort, we invited them in and opened our facilities to them.”

“Locals have access to our swimming pool and we keep the hot tub open in the winters, and the local community really appreciates this. The locals come and hang out. It makes us happy. In the winters the locals can live on docks for a fee, we now have 7 live-in-boats through the winter. The ocean is the last place where freedom exists. We let locals use our Wi-Fi, to charge phones, to get water, even though it costs us a little here and a little there, in the end it costs us nothing. “

“In return what we have is loyalty, appreciation, and local people coming down here and using this facility; to have these beautiful facilities and locals not using them is such a waste.”

I asked why do most resort facilities keep locals out? “I don’t know, I don’t see the sense in it. In our restaurant tourists are always curious about how local people live. I know our staff have had tourists come to their homes, see their gardens, so to discourage this friendship makes no sense.”

One of the biggest challenges for a business on a remote island is staff retention. Bill is a one-man recruiting-training-and-retaining phenomenon. Given the shortage of young people living on the island, Bill takes a long-term view of staff development.

“Several years ago when I first saw that severe shortage of possible employees was going to hit us in the future, I started hiring kids at 13 years of age. I trained them up to clean the pool, pick up garbage and I gave them short 4 hour shifts, knowing that if they enjoyed themselves, I would have them for the next five years while they lived at home. So I ended up with a solid crew, these 45 people form our core staff.”

Why do young people come back?

“We operate with one rule, RESPECT. Everything flows from that. I could write 20 pages of rules, but I can sum it up in one 7-letter word, respect. We treat them fair, we pay fair.”

Bill circled back to what he considers the biggest constraint to attracting young people to come to make a life on the island. Affordable housing. “The problem is worse. In the last four years, Airbnb has taken over the island leading to a precipitous drop in housing available to staff. In the old days, people would rent their houses to staff, with people moving out in July and August. Now even this option has dried up. More and more young people are moving off island, and few young people are moving in.”

“Without affordable housing, we will not attract young people to Cortes, young people who choose to make Cortes their home, their community and raise their children here. Young people come to Cortes for the natural beauty, for the community and for the life style. But without housing, this cannot work.”
welcome to the gorge harbor marina
Comment by Scotty Martin on 26th August 2018
bill rocks,,a great human being indeed
Comment by ashe on 24th August 2018
Yeah, Tammy is the unseen support behind it all. But I echo Max... and you guys have created the Whaletown community hub, I am really grateful, its been an essential aspect to my life and heart on Cortes. Love you guys.
Bill is the best.
Comment by max on 23rd August 2018
Gosh, I love him. His community vibes sure have worked on me. Dirt-bags like me can feel right at home.
Way to go Bill -- and thanks! Respekt!
... probably Tammy is behind the whole thing. :p
Same old same old
Comment by Paul Ryan on 21st August 2018
We have exactly the same problem on Quadra!