Steamships Of The Columbia
Birth of the "paddlewheel" at edgewood.
On a December day in 1865, the serenity of the Columbia Valley was broken when a steam-driven paddle wheeler, the SS Forty-Nine came up from the south, making its way upriver. It was launched at Marcus, Washington and was built for service on the river from Marcus to La Porte, at the foot of Death Rapids. La Porte was a community that served the placer mines along the branches of the Goldstream River, a few kilometers to the north. During the first voyage, the SS Forty-Nine wasn’t able to make its way through the ice in the Narrows between the two Arrow Lakes. Passengers had to reach the goldfields on foot.
During the next season, Captain Leonard White was successful in undertaking the rapids of the Columbia and reaching La Porte. His policy was to charge his passengers full fare on the upstream journey, and to allow poor miners free passage back out to civilization. Unfortunately, the gold deposits of the Big Bend ere soon used up, and late in 1866, on his third voyage of the year, Captain White had only three paying passengers. Although business to La Porte declined, other gold strikes, such as the one on Forty-nine Creek near Nelson, allowed the service to continue until the SS Forty-Nine hit bottom below Downie Creek in 1869. It was patched up and continued service when there was a demand.The Columbia River remained quiet for the next fourteen years until prospects began developing for upriver traffic. The idea of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Selkirks came about and the SS Kootenai was launched at Little Dalles in 1885. The Kootenai was used to haul construction materials and general supplies to Farwell. Work was temporary, and after completion of construction in the fall, the SS Kootenai was inactive like the SS Forty-Nine had been. This period of inactivity was relatively brief. The discovery of the Silver King ore deposit near Nelson started a flurry of mining exploration and conditions were right for launching a steamship enterprise on the Columbia River.
Edgewood, BC, from the steamer.
With the C.P.R. mainline completed, things were now drastically changed. It became possible to run a scheduled service from Revelstoke to Little Dalles. Fred Hume and Robert Sanderson who also took on an additional partner and started the Columbia Transportation Company accepted this challenge. In 1888, they launched a small twin-hulled vessel named the SS Despatch. The Despatch left Revelstoke on its first run on August 8, 1888, and reached Sproat's Landing (the access point to the Silver King claim) two days later. It soon became obvious that its design had many limitations of speed and hauling capacity and some upgrading would be necessary.
The three partners of the Columbia Transportation Company had realized that now they could only meet the demand by the mix of additional capital, and three additional partners were added to the company. The expanded venture was renamed the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company. The company was incorporated on January 21, 1890 with capital resources of $100,000. Immediately, they commissioned the construction of a much larger and more luxurious vessel, the SS Lytton, for $38,000. Another $ 10,000 was spent on purchasing the idle SS Kootenai and immediately putting this ship back into service. The SS Lytton left Revelstoke on July 3, 1890 on its maiden run. Amid the notable people on board, was William van Horne, who was traveling to Sproat's Landing to check on the progress of the Columbia and Kootenay Railway, which was inching its way towards Nelson.
Taken from the bow of the Bonnington 1915.
They arrived at the Landing on July 4th, finding a bustling community, which included a government building, railway buildings, a sawmill, two stores, at least one hotel, three restaurants, and several houses. On August 15th, Corbin's railway from Spokane to Northport starting operating and connections were worked out with the C.K.S.N. steamers. Once the Columbia and Kootenay Railway was completed at the end of May 1891, a steamer service was started on Kootenay Lake, from Nelson to Bonner's Ferry. In August, the largest and most beautifully outfitted vessel, the SS Columbia was put into service on the Arrow Lakes. Business was thriving, especially after Captain J.W. Troup was hired as the general manager. Another addition to the fleet was the unsightly, but very practical, SS Illecillewaet, which replaced the worn out SS Despatch on October 30, 1892. The SS Illecillewaet was designed by Troup as a workhorse and was made with such a shallow draft, that the low water in the Narrows would never pose a problem. New mining developments, as well as railway construction near Upper Arrow Lake kept the fleet profitably occupied. New docking facilities were built at Robson to take advantage of more suitable terrain than what was offered at Sproat's Landing.
CPR Bonnington Edgewood B.C.
All things, however, were not going well. On August 2, 1894 the luxurious SS Columbia caught on fire south of Trail and quickly became a total loss, only three years after its maiden run. Plans were made for a replacement, and an even greater vessel, the SS Nakusp was launched on July 1, 1895. Later that year, the SS Kootenai grounded on Upper Arrow Lake and was written off. On June 11, 1896, SS Kootenai’s replacement the SS Trail started service. Towards the end of 1896, the C.P.R. started negotiations for the purchase of the successful company. Before the year was out, a deal was made, and for $280,000 the C.K.S.N. was purchased by the railway giant, effective on February 1,1897. In addition to the fleet of vessels that were acquired from the purchase of C.K.S.N, the C.P.R. also obtained another vessel, which had been under construction when ownership of the company changed hands. This was the SS Kootenay, launched in April 1897.
The Bonnington coming into Edgewood wharf.
C.P.R. began a program of expansion, not only on the Arrow Lakes, but also on Slocan, Kootenay, and Okanagan Lakes. The problem of interrupted service through the Narrows due to low water or ice was solved when the Nakusp and Slocan Railway opened at the end of 1897. Steamers on Slocan Lake closed the gap in the rails between Slocan City and Roseberry. On November 18, 1897, a very different vessel was launched to offer express service on the Arrow Lakes. A more rounded hull design and very powerful engines increased its speed. This was the SS Rossland and it was capable of doing a return trip between Arrowhead and Robson in one day. The year closed sadly for the Lake and River Service. On December 23 the SS Nakusp burnt to the water line while at dock at Arrowhead. The SS Nakusp had been in service for almost two and a half years.By this time, Augustus Heinze had completed his Columbia and Western rail line to Robson West. In a dramatic move, the C.P.R. bought out this railway as well as the smelting operation in Trail for $860,000.
A barging service between Robson and Robson West was put into place so that Crowsnest coal could be hauled to Trail by rail. The SS Illecillewaet and SS Lytton were kept busy at this service until a bridge was put in 1902. In 1898, the C.P.R. pushed ahead with railway expansion westward as well as more improvements to the steamer service. Two steamers ordered for service on the all-Canadian route to the Klondike via the Stikine River, were diverted to the Kootenays. One of them was the SS Minto. The Minto joined the C.K.S.N fleet on November 19th 1898. The peak of C.P.R. expansion on the Arrow Lakes came in 1911 when the SS Bonnington was launched at Nakusp on April 24.
Almost twice as large as its predecessors, the SS Bonnington was built exclusively to promote the tourist trade on the Arrow Lakes. Unfortunately, the First World War made a huge impact and the Tourist Industry was no longer booming as it once had been.
In 1916, the Kootenays became connected to the coast. The Kettle Valley Railway started running trains from Nelson to Vancouver. Traffic to the main line at Revelstoke decreased dramatically. As the older paddle wheelers ended their service periods, they were no longer being replaced. The SS Rossland ended its service when it sank at Nakusp in 1917; the SS Kootenay was withdrawn from service in 1919; and the amazing SS Bonnington succumbed to the effects of the Great Depression and was retired in 1931. Only the SS Minto’s lonely whistle could be heard echoing along the narrow valley. Eventually, its time too ran out. The Minto had outlived all of the other steam ships on the Arrow Lakes and on April 23rd 1954 the Minto left Nakusp for Robson West for the last time. The Minto’s last journey was an emotional parting from friends along the Lakes whom it had served for such a long time. John Nelson was determined not see the Minto go, and he spent his meager life savings to fend off the inevitable end. Finally - a year after his death in 1967- the Minto was committed to the deep in a Viking funeral.
SS Bonnington, Mr Banting with the mail bags.
Minto Model Edgewood Homecoming August 9,1992 Backs of Susan and Ron Akhurst, Bill Penner, Lions Club sponsored John Bryden engineered it, Spike Nesbitt and Richard Spence, and Bill MacDonald.
The SS Minto, like the other ships, represented a way of life and a set of values, which had been at odds with our super-efficient, profit-motivated society. The ships were built to a standard of luxury, which would be hard to justify in even the competitive world of today. The meals served on board were far superior to today's standard fare and they were affordable to all. Great pride was taken in providing a homely atmosphere and the schedules were flexible enough to allow for adventures. If only we could step on board again.