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Canadian Pacific Railway

British Columbia Lake and River Services


Kokanee at Nelson, BC c.1896 Canadian Pacific Corporate Archives

Canadian Pacific Railway had a long history of marine service on the lakes and rivers of the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of southeastern British Columbia. Water was the best way and in many cases the only way, to reach these remote parts south of the CPR main line, an area with little population, few rail lines and fewer roads until later years. This resulted in a number of water connections between various railway lines, some isolated and some with different companies. All of this to serve mining operations and fruit orchards,
about as far apart in nature as you can get as well as tourists and regular travelers.

Lytton with cordwood fuel loading cargo and passengers at the head of Upper Arrow Lake.
Public Archives of British Columbia

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.

The opening of the C&K brought new traffic and the need for more vessels which the C&KSN immediately acquired. In March of 1892, Captain James W. Troup became manager and he quickly began adding more vessels and expanding service. These included the Naskup, a new paddlewheeler built to serve on the Arrow Lakes and the Kokanee for Kootenay Lake service. The Kokanee entered service May 2, 1896 and at 147 feet and just 347 tons was considerably smaller than the Naskup launched July 1, 1895, she entered service in late August. At 1,083 gross tons and 171 feet long it was more than twice the size of any steamer they had.
She had capacity for 300 tons of cargo, while her passenger accommodations included 17 staterooms. Unfortunately, her career was short-lived for she was destroyed by fire on December 23, 1897
while docked at Arrowhead.

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.

S.S. Aberdeen at Penticton on Okanagan Lake. c.1893
Giant's Head Mountain and Trout Creek Point, Summerland, BC in background.
Public Archives of British Columbia.

The Aberdeen launched at the CPR's own shipyard in Okanagan Landing on May 22, 1893 was the first new CPR paddlewheeler and a big improvement over the existing vessels on Okanagan Lake. At 146 feet and 544 tons she could carry 250 passengers and 200 tons of cargo; its 175 lbs. psi boiler coming from the CPR shops in Montreal.

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 lakes.

The Moyie would endure and become history. CPCA

The Moyie, a duplicate of the Minto and likewise planned for the north, was fabricated at Nelson and made
her first run from there on December 6, 1898 on occasion of the opening of the Crowsnest Pass railway line to Kootenay Landing. She would join the Kokanee and the Nelson on Kootenay Lake along with a new tug the Ymir and barges to handle railway cars. The Moyie would go on to become the last CPR sternwheeler making her final voyage on April 27, 1957. Fortunately, this historic steamboat was preserved.

S.S. Moyie and van 437092 preserved in Kaslo, BC

New steamboats were once again required for the growing traffic and aging steamers that existed. The Kuskanook at nearly 200 feet in length and 1,008 gross tons with capacity for 300 passengers including 1st class staterooms was launched May 5, 1906 at Nelson for service on Kootenay Lake where she would provide a limited stop express service while the Moyie would make all the flag stops. At a cost of $90,000 she was the most expensive steamer yet. Following finishing work, she entered freight service July 5th. Her entry into passenger service was delayed right in the middle of summer for, of all reasons, the lack of crockery and other niceties delayed delivery from England!

The identical sister ship Okanagan followed in April 1907 at Okanagan Landing,
beginning passenger service June 6, 1907 on Okanagan Lake.

The nearly new Rossland docked at Arrowhead with the Minto alongside and Trail behind.
R.H.Trueman/ PABC

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.
Her steel hull was fabricated at Polson Iron Works in Toronto. PABC

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 3rd.

Immediately prior to the War there were xxxx sternwheelers and xxxx tugs in service, the biggest extent of the fleet which had an all-time total of 32 sternwheelers, 1 launch, 18 tugs 8 of which carried passengers, and 13 barges.

Freight was very important and besides that carried on the paddlewheelers there was a considerable amount of railway freight cars on barges moved mostly by tug boats but, at times by the paddlewheelers themselves.
The tug Hosmer was built in Nelson in 1909 for the Kootenay Lake barge service and the Whatshan was also added in 1909 to the Columbia River barge service from Arrowhead. A third tug the Castlegar was built in 1911 for Okanagan Lake barge service.


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.

A number of other smelters were built in the area including at Nelson and Revelstoke. None of these lasted as long as Trail's has.

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.

Changes continued, aside from World War One which drained manpower and stifled tourism, the coming of the automobile changed the way those tourists and local people traveled after the war. So too did the building of more railway lines including the famous Kettle Valley.

The Kettle Valley Railway was built as another way through the mountains of southern BC. Trains ran from Nelson to Spence's Bridge by May 30, 1915 and in July 1916 through the Coquihalla Pass to Hope, near Vancouver. This direct route to the Kootenays connecting with the main line reduced the importance of the Lake & River Service. It wasn't until 1928 that the most serious threat came along, not from the Great Northern but, from the CPR itself. Building of a line between Nelson and Kootenay Landing to serve the growing freight traffic from Trail and the Sullivan Mine at Kimberley (6,000 tons per day!) warranted this expensive construction through the mountainside on the western shore of Kootenay Lake. The end came December 31, 1930; the "Crow Boat" service was over, the sternwheeler Kuskanook, along with tugs Hosmer and Valhalla were sold off. Opening of a new highway in 1931 further reduced passenger travel on the CPR.

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.

The sternwheeler Moyie and the tug Granthall served Kootenay Lake, the latter for barge service from Procter to Kalso and Lardeau, serving two isolated branches. The sternwheel steamship Moyie was famous for being the last CPR passenger boat in BC lake service having operated from 1898 until 1957 making her last voyage April 27th. During the nine hour voyage she stopped at 13 communities where her passing was honoured. Fortunately, the Moyie was preserved; being sold by the CPR for $1 to the town of Kaslo where it was beached to become an historical exhibit and where it remains to this day. The CPR contracted Kootenay Water Transport Ltd. for barge service from 1957 until December 16, 1977 when abandonment was finally approved following a big decline in carloads.

The Minto served on the Arrow Lakes along with the Columbia. The Minto needing repairs and operating at a loss of $100,000 a year was finally retired making her last voyage on Arrow Lake April 23, 1954 after having traveled an estimated 2,500,000 miles since 1898. The CPR then sold the Columbia and a barge contracting out service on the Lower Arrow Lake for a few years longer. The Minto was bought by an individual, John Nelson, it remained in existence as a display for some years eventually succumbing to decline and following the death of its owner it was burned August 1, 1968.

Passenger service on Okanagan Lake was ended January 6, 1935. For awhile, the Okanagan and the Sicamous continued in freight service and pushing barges but, soon only the tugs and barges continued to work on the lake to connect with the railway at Kelowna and Penticton.

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
She made her last run on ending service on Okanagan Lake May 31, 1972.

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.

Tug and barge. June 11, 1975

8700 loading lumber cars. Iris G will take them to Slocan City.
Roseberry, BC August 1, 1975.

Nelson Yard. June 10, 1975



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