Canadian Pacific Railway
Kokanee at Nelson, BC c.1896 Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives
Lytton with cordwood fuel loading cargo and passengers
at the head of Upper Arrow Lake.
The first significant operation in southeastern BC began
with the incorporation on December 21, 1889 of the Columbia and Kootenay
Steam Navigation Company Limited to work vessels on the Columbia River,
Kootenay River and Kootenay Lake. A new 131 foot long sternwheeler, the
Lytton, was immediately built in Revelstoke. Drawing only two and
one half feet of water, its cordwood-fed boiler operated at 90 pounds
pressure. It began service July 2, 1890 carrying 65 tons of track materials
from Revelstoke down the Arrow Lakes to Sproat's Landing where the Columbia
and Kootenay Railway was being built to Nelson on Kootenay Lake, a
newly-founded mining town. On board were a number of CPR officials including
the president, W.C.Van Horne. The C&K was chartered in 1889 and built
by the CPR for 28 miles bypassing a number of waterfalls that were un-navigable,
opening May 31, 1891.
Canadian Pacific Railway
The CPR first took an interest in the area early on and soon got serious about eliminating competition by the best method, one it frequently used. Buy them out! It began with the purchase on February 1, 1897 of the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company; which included six sternwheelers, a tug and ten barges plus shipyards at Nakusp, Nelson and Rosebery. Nelson became the CPR BCCS HQ.
Aberdeen at Okanagan Landing near Vernon at the head of Okanagan Lake. c.1893 PABC
Growing traffic necessitated construction of more sternwheelers. The Kootenay at 184 feet and 1,117 gross tons made her the largest CPR vessel. She provided a daily service beginning in May 1897, along with the Nakusp on the Arrow Lakes route between Arrowhead and Trail.
Slocan with barge at New Denver, a small community on Slocan Lake. PABC
The Slocan, a much smaller sternwheeler at 578 tons provided two round trips daily beginning May 24, 1897 between Slocan and the isolated N&S (CPR) train to Nakusp. Another branchline ran south from Slocan to a connection with the C&K (CPR) to Nelson or Spokane, Washington via the connecting Great Northern Railway. Service on Slocan Lake would go on to become the last CPR lake service in BC lasting until 1975 although contracted barge service would go until the end of 1988 when the isolated branchline was finally abandoned.
The fire-destroyed Naskup was soon replaced by the
Minto, a 161 foot steel-hulled sternwheeler originally planned
for the failed CPR Stekine River service in Northern BC that sought to
be a route to the Klondike gold rush area. The CPR had even planned a
145 mile narrow gauge railway as part of this ambitious scheme. Instead,
the White Pass & Yukon was built over a different route and the ships
that had been bought or built were sold off or diverted south. The Minto
was built at Nakusp and went on the lead a long and useful life on
The Moyie would endure and become history. CPCA
The identical sister ship Okanagan followed in
April 1907 at Okanagan Landing,
The nearly new Rossland docked at Arrowhead with
the Minto alongside and Trail behind.
The third sternwheeler was the Rossland, built at Nakusp she was a fast boat capable of over 22 miles per hour. She began daily service on the Columbia River 127 miles between Robson and Arrowhead in early May of 1898. At 183 feet and 884 tons she was approved for 300 passengers.
Bonnington being launched on April 24,1911 in Nakusp.
Another round soon began in 1911 and although it was unknown
at the time, this was to be the final round in what appeared to be a never-ending
cycle of building and refitting of sternwheeler steamers for the Lake
and River service. These steamers typically all featured staterooms, berths
and a dining saloon. All three had steel
hulls fabricated in Ontario (at three different yards) and shipped disassembled
by rail. This was a big advancement since wooden hulls did not last long
(7-10 years, or so) becoming waterlogged and needing to be replaced. When
the Bonnington was launched a holiday was declared in Nakusp and
everything closed, a common practice in those years so important was a
new vessel to the people of the area. At 202.5 feet and 1,700 tons she
was the largest ever seen in BC yet, two more nearly identical three deck
steamers were to follow. She was built for the Arrow Lakes route while
the Nasookin followed and was the largest steamer ever to operate
on Kootenay Lake. An estimated 2,000 people gathered for her launch with
all the festivities in Nelson on April 30, 1913. She quickly entered service
on May 4th. The last of the three sister steamers and the very last sternwheeler
was the Sicamous which was built at Okanagan Landing for service
on Okanagan Lake, launched on May 19, 1914 she made an inaugural excursion
on June 12th. The motor launch Nelson and the tug Naramata were
also built in 1914 just before the Great War (World War I) began on August
There were boats of various ownership providing varying
degrees of competition on the lakes and rivers over the years including
the Bonners Ferry and Kaslo Transportation Company and International
Navigation and Trading Company Ltd. (Great Northern Railway) on Kootenay
Lake. Slocan Trading and Navigation Co. on Slocan Lake and Revelstoke
Navigation Company on the Columbia River. And, in later years, Canadian
National Railways. However, it was the CPR that was to dominate the
area for nearly a century.
Smelter at Trail Creek Landing and Lytton with two empty barges to load sacks of ore. Cominco
The biggest, longest lasting industry in Southern British Columbia is
still going today more than a century later. What became Consolidated,
Mining and Smelting (Cominco) had its beginning in February 1896
when F. Augustus Heinze, a Montana mining promoter, opened a smelter at
Trail Creek Landing on the Columbia River. The same year he completed
a narrow gauge (36") railway the Columbia
and Western and later extended it using standard gauge intending
to go even farther. He ran into financial difficulties raising the necessary
money. The CPR came to his rescue. Well, they bought him out! The CPR
no longer had trouble raising money for anything it wanted. He sold on
February 11, 1898, the smelter at Trail, the C&W and its land grant
for $806,000. This turned out to be one of the best deals the CPR ever
made in its entire history. Cominco would provide CPR shareholders with
plenty of dividends over the years and the CPR plenty of traffic which
also benefited shareholders. Eventually though, the CPR would sell off
Cominco as well as many other long-standing assets as it sought to concentrate
on fewer activities.
Tugs and sternwheelers were retired as they aged replaced
small passenger carrying tugs that could move both barges and carry passengers
on less-traveled runs. The Rossland, laid up during the war was
lost in January 1917. In the 1920's sternwheelers Kokanee and Slocan
were retired along with tugs Castlegar, Columbia, Sandon, Whatsan
and Ymir. The 1896-built Kokanee was the last vessel
from the old Columbia & Kootenay Steam Navigation fleet. They were
replaced by a second Columbia which could carry 34 passengers and
the Kelowna, both built in 1920. In 1928, the Rosebery,
which could carry 40 passengers, was built for Slocan Lake service replacing
the much bigger Slocan, a sternwheeler. A powerful all-steel tug,
the Granthall, which could carry 15 passengers, was also built
in 1928 for the Kootenay Lake barge service.
The beginning of the end
The Great Depression was upon the land and declining traffic meant a
lack of need for much of the service provided by the Lake & River
Service. Words like, anachronistic and obsolete could be applied to the
sternwheelers yet, they served a need, unfortunately, one that continued
to decline even following the end of hard times. By 1931 Nelson, Nakusp
and Vernon were served by bus.
Eventually, the Sicamous was bought in 1949 by the City of Penticton and then preserved in 1951 as a stationary museum. It remains in use to this time a century after it was first launched.
The diesel tug Okanagan (launched February 1947)
with barges at Kelowna. Nicholas Morant/CPCA
Rosebery car float slip. October 1981 Jim Booth
Shed September 1981 Jim Booth
The small steamer Rosebery continued on Slocan Lake serving the 26.9 mile long isolated track between Rosebery and Nakusp, a service that would outlast all of the others. This was where the entire train went along for the ride. The CPR ended its own operation on Slocan Lake in 1957 after which the Iris G tug boat and a barge were operated under contract to CP Rail until the last train ran on December 21, 1988.