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B.C. community’s economy hit hard by loss of popular Shuswap houseboat company

The mayor of Sicamous, B.C. says the loss of a popular houseboat company that went into receivership this week is a major blow to the local economy.

The houseboats owned by Waterway Houseboats and Vinco Holdings of Sicamous were removed from their moors on the shore of Mara Lake Wednesday, a day after a receiver took possession of the company’s assets.

Mayor Terry Rysz said the company’s disappearance from the water is akin to another town having a mill or mine shut down.

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“At the height of the summer, Waterway employs 150 people directly and indirectly,” he said. “This loss will be a huge blow to Sicamous. We are trying to work with the people to see if we can support them.”

The company, which is one of the largest houseboat operators in Canada, has been operating in Sicamous and Shuswap Lake for 50 years.

READ MORE: Shuswap houseboat company slammed by 2012 flood predicts it will go into receivership

But on Tuesday, its owners announced on the Waterway website that it had been placed in receivership.

The company puts the blame on the devastating flooding in 2012 that tore apart Waterway’s infrastructure. According to court documents, the company was forced to borrow heavily to repair the marina and upgrade its fleet.

Waterway had hoped a lawsuit against the province and the district of Sicamous, which asked for $10 million to cover property damage and business losses stemming from the flooding, would give them enough to pay back the debt.

But the company was awarded just $2 million by B.C. Supreme Court in April, after the judge found Waterway was 25 per cent at fault.

READ MORE: B.C. Supreme Court judge awards $2M in 2012 flood damage lawsuit

Waterway said pursuing an appeal of the decision would take at least two years and cost hundreds of thousands of additional dollars it couldn’t afford.

After months of missed payments, CIBC asked the court to order a receiver to recoup the nearly $8 million it lent out.

In a statement of claim, the bank said the summer bookings for the company were softer than normal, which the mayor acknowledged.

“The downturn in the Alberta economy and the pipeline issue have taken a toll on this community,” Rysz said. “These are things out of our control.”

Customers who booked trips noticed things were unusual when they were asked to pay upfront for their vacation.

Lezlie Armstrong says last year, she paid a deposit and then the balance at the time of departure. This year, she says the company wanted the payment immediately.

“I think the company misled us,” she said. “They must have known something was wrong.”

Houseboating is the major draw to the Shuswap, and Sicamous itself is known as the houseboat capital of Canada.

READ MORE: B.C. court denies appeal in case of fatal Shuswap Lake houseboat crash

The community and rival companies are scrambling to accommodate as many rebooked trips as possible.

“The two other companies in town were taking calls well into the night on Tuesday trying to rebook people,” said Shelia Devost, president of the Sicamous Chamber of Commerce.

There is no indication the receiver intends to run the company and honour bookings already made. The assets will likely be sold off to pay creditors.

— With files from Doyle Potenteau, Global News

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