All Harmen Bootsma wanted to do Thursday was finish some office work during his last day on the job, but it proved to be an impossible task.
Bootsma got continually interrupted in his Chemainus wharf office, but that was actually a good thing and a testament to his many years of service that went above and beyond the call of duty. People felt compelled to express their gratitude and best wishes to the retiring harbour manager (a.k.a. wharfinger) responsible for not only Chemainus, but the Maple Bay and Crofton locations.
“I’ve known some of these people for a very long time,” said Bootsma during an interview with the Courier, something else he had to squeeze in on his final day’s schedule.
Bootsma actually started in the position during April of 2000, right around 22 years ago, back when “I was a young fellow,” he chuckled.
A small plaque with words of wisdom on it that Bootsma admits his dad probably paid more attention to than him until recently especially resonates with him now. Translated from a Dutch saying, it reads: “Enjoy life. It’s later than you think.”
Bootsma turned 65 last August and made up his mind he was going to retire, although he agreed to stay on until April 15. Connie Crocker has now taken over the job.
Bootsma didn’t want to prolong it any longer because he’s known of many people as they’ve aged who’ve made plans that never materialized. He has a bucket list at the ready that includes a travel itinerary with his wife.
One of the priorities is “to have a first-hand look at some icebergs,” Bootsma said. “We’re going to travel across the country.”
Something has to be done about the weather first, he conceded, although with the borders being open again “maybe a guy could go south as well,” Bootsma said. “We don’t know 100 per cent yet. I haven’t been a huge guy for planning these things.”
That will all come in due time, especially with more time on his hands now.
Bootsma was born in Monnickendam, the Netherlands and immigrated to Canada in 1976. He lasted a whole six months in Mansfield, Ont. south of Collingwood but made some good friends there, including the guy who would eventually be the best man at his wedding.
“I was raised around dairies,” said Bootsma. “My family was in the dairy business in the States as well. I realized that’s something I wasn’t going to be buying.”
Instead, he worked the oil patch in the Calgary area and also got into construction doing pulp mill shutdowns. Bootsma had also lived in Langley before coming to Chemainus in the late 1990s.
Bootsma had done some cruising in his boat and was in San Diego for a year before deciding he needed to do something else. When the opportunity with harbours came up, “somebody said that’s up your alley,” Bootsma confided.
He secured a two-year contract under the old Transport Canada docks jurisdiction and “it was definitely a learning curve,” Bootsma indicated.
But he knew where he wanted to be and Chemainus fit the bill.
“It has a little harbour and you can walk right into town,” Bootsma noted. “There aren’t many places you can do that.
“Chemainus is a great little town with restaurants and shops, all within easy walking distance.”
The harbour was home to some 600 overnight boats the first year. At its peak, the total surpassed 2,000.
“The whole last few years things have changed with COVID,” Bootsma added.
As harbours were slowly off-loaded to municipalities like North Cowichan by Transport Canada, Bootsma had a couple of two-year extensions and reached a longest renewal term of five before it eventually all added up to some 22 years.
His responsibilities involved overseeing operation and management of the wharves on behalf of the municipality. That included: maintaining safe wharves and performing minor maintenance and repairs; site inspections; assigning berths, handling reservations and wait lists; and maintaining detailed maintenance and financial information.
His job has also always been to expect the unexpected and fortunately incidents like fires didn’t happen too often, although there was one in Crofton last year.
“Fire in a harbour can be really, really bad,” Bootsma conceded. “It is almost always electrical, 99 per cent of the time.”
There was also an oil spill in the Chemainus harbour during his tenure that required a containment boom to prevent it from spreading.
“In my time, I think we’ve had a couple of boats sink,” Bootsma added.
Looking back on it all, the job’s rewards far exceeded his expectations.
“I’ve met some of the most awesome people doing this job,” Bootsma said.
A couple from Santa Barbara, California even came up to Sidney in a boat ahead of the season schedule to make sure they could take him out for dinner before he retired.
“That’s the total over the top for me,” Bootsma laughed. “I have met so many fantastic people from all over the States, from all over Canada.”
The last week was a whirlwind, with his attention to details continuing right to the last minute.
“The whole last week I’m up at two o’clock in the morning and I’m thinking this and I’m thinking that,” Bootsma indicated.
“I wish I had a little more time with Connie. After 20 years so much of the stuff is in your head. It’s not necessarily written down on paper.”