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Inner Harbour tourist icon goes dark in Victoria

A diver cavorts with a large eel during a show at Pacific Undersea Gardens. The tourist attraction has closed on Victoria
A diver cavorts with a large eel during a show at Pacific Undersea Gardens. The tourist attraction has closed on Victoria's Inner Harbour after operating there for 44 years.
— image credit: Courtesy Pacific Undersea Gardens

Undersea Gardens, a floating fixture on Victoria's Inner Harbour since 1969, has closed its doors for good.

The floating attraction, known for its live octopus show and for taking customers beneath sea level to marvel at local fish and marine species in saltwater tanks, had its final day Wednesday. Owner Oak Bay Marine Group, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, made the decision to close the aging vessel after doing a review of all of the company's properties, said spokesperson Susan Barcham.

"It's been a tough summer for us," she said. "We lost our founder (Bob Wright) and regrouping and rebuilding has been a process. Everybody understands that these tough decisions have to be made occasionally, but these decisions have to be made so we can be stronger for the future."

Eight staff, a mix of full- and part-time employees, are affected by the closure, Barcham said. At least five have been offered positions elsewhere in the company, which operates Oak Bay Marina and resort properties on Vancouver and Quadra islands and the Caribbean.

"We have a commitment to our staff and to Bob's legacy to make sure we're running strong for another 50 years," Barcham said.

The attraction operated on the site of the Oak Bay Marina from 1963 to 1969, when former owner and fishing guru Charlie White sold it to Wright, who moved it downtown.

It formed a key part of the Victoria Attractions Association early on with such nearby facilities as the Royal London Wax Museum and Miniature World. It remained a popular spot to visit during the annual Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown spring promotion.

Like any steel vessel, Undersea Gardens has suffered wear and tear over the past 44 years. Custom-built for its purpose, the facility would take a major investment to bring it up to modern standards for aquariums, Barcham said. Oak Bay Marine Group, a privately owned company, is looking instead at "investing in places that are going to reflect well on the communities in which we do business," she said.

The company plans to donate "a substantial amount" of unsold stock from its large gift shop to Santas Anonymous.

As well, Angus Matthews, owner and operator of the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, has said his facility will welcome all season pass holders from Undersea Gardens for the rest of the year.

The job of dismantling the facility has gone out to tender. The results of that will determine when the vessel will be removed from the harbour, Barcham said. The hope, she added, is that the accepted bid comes from a local firm.

ddescoteau@vicnews.com

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