Captains and Crews

This project was sponsored by the Columbia Basin Trust through the Living Landscapes Program in association with the Royal British Columbia Museum, the British Columbia Heritage Trust and by the Kootenay Lake Historical Society, operators of the SS Moyie National Historic Site. It is also linked to the Crowsnest Pass Railway and Steamer Route website sponsored by the Communities Connect Program and developed by the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel at Cranbrook.

The sternwheelers and tugs of the Canadian Pacific's British Columbia Lake & River Service depended on the skills of many people. The vessels were operated by experienced officers and crew members and they were maintained at shipyards at Nelson, Rosebery, Nakusp and Okanagan Landing by highly skilled ship's carpenters, painters, machinists, boilermakers and electricians. Although the focus of the website is the CPR's steamers, we are also including information on people who worked for other companies including the Kootenay Railway & Navigation Company (controlled by the Great Northern Railway), the Canadian National Railways on Okanagan Lake, and other smaller companies. The listings being developed normally are restricted to operations on the Columbia River and its tributaries in British Columbia. An extensive data base is being developed by the Kootenay Lake Historical Society, operators of the SS Moyie National Historic Site at Kaslo.

This section of the website provides background on the many people who operated and maintained the steam vessels. It also includes a preliminary listing of personnel and the major vessels they worked on. We will be adding additional information on shipyard workers and others who worked on the vessels. This is a preliminary listing, with simply alphabetization and information on many workers is very fragmentary or missing.

Contributions of information, corrections and photographs are most welcome and will be included with periodic updates to the website. Please contact the Kootenay Lake Historical Society at:


or via mail at Box 537, Kaslo, B.C. V0G 1M0

The Canadian Pacific's steam vessels used on the interior lakes and rivers of British Columbia required large crews. The largest vessels, such as the Nasookin and Sicamous, and other passenger vessels with full dining room services, usually had a total complement of 30 or more officers and crew members. Tugs usually required about 10 people to operate. On mail routes, the vessels also carried railway post office clerks.

For example, in 1918-1919, the Nasookin's officers and crew included: the captain, the mate, nine deck hands, the chief engineer, the second engineer, three fireman (stokers), one coal passer, the purser, the freight clerk, the chief steward and ten stewards and cooks, for a total of 30 people.

The tug Hosmer, operating on the Procter to Kootenay Landing barge service, had a captain, mate, pilot, two deck hands, chief engineer, second engineer, two firemen, and one cook, for a total of 10 people.

The duties of the officers and crew members of the vessels were varied and each member had specific responsibilities. The Captain (or Master) was responsible for the overall safety and operation of the vessel, the conduct of crew and the safety of passengers. The mates (on larger vessels there could be a first and second mate) were in charge of coaling up, handling cargo and gear and they assisted the Captain. The deckhands, who were supervised by the Mate, loaded and unloaded cargo and livestock and also loaded coal to fire the steamer's boiler. They also painted and cleaned the vessel as needed.

The Purser was in charge of the "business" of the steamer and was responsible for cargo manifests and passenger ticketing. The freight clerk was in charge of cargo and mail.

The Chief Steward was responsible for passenger services including the dining room, staterooms, saloons and lavatories and supervised the cooks and stewards. Cooks prepared all the meals for passengers and crew members. The stewards served the meals in the dining saloon and cleaned the lounges and staterooms for the passengers.

The Chief Engineer, assisted by the Second Engineer, was responsible for the vessel's machinery and its operation. The firemen or stokers, who were supervised by the Chief Engineer, kept steam up in the boiler. On the vessels of the Lake & River service, the officers and crews operated with considerable informality and often worked together for many years.

While in port, a night watchman was responsible for a vessel's boiler at night (maintaining the fire and water levels) and watched for water in the hold, for fires or other hazards.

An individual's career on the vessels was governed by his interests, abilities and, critically, service seniority. To be an captain, mate or engineer, a person had to pass examinations and gain certification from the federal government. However, once the certificates were earned, it was still necessary for a position to be available and they were normally filled on the basis of seniority. As a result, someone with an engineer's certificate and qualifications might work as a stoker or a qualified mate might work as a deckhand as they waited for a more senior position to become available. Gradually, as seniority increased, men could work their way upward in the service. Usually this meant travelling a great deal because the junior men often acted as relief officers when the more senior men were on leave.

Few women were employed on the sternwheelers or tugs. During the First World War women began working on the vessels in the dining rooms and in preparing staterooms. After the war generally men resumed these duties. However, in the 1940s, women were again employed on the vessels, in particular on the Minto on the Arrow Lakes route, as cooks and stewards. Occasionally women also worked as cooks on the tugs. Most employees, including, as far as in known, all officers on the steamers were Caucasian. Chinese cooks were very often employed on the vessels.

Management staff for the B.C. Lake & River Service was based mostly at Nelson.

The shipyards were critical to the operation of the vessels and a large skilled work force was necessary to maintain the sternwheelers and tugs. The Master Builder was in charge of the shipyard operations of the B.C. Lake & River Service. Each yard usually had a yard foreman, a foreman carpenter (or joiner) and a foreman painter. When operations were at their peak in the busy years before the First World War dozens of men were employed in the yards. The major trades were ship's carpenter (shipwright), carpenter, painter, blacksmith and electrician. Boiler makers (usually working for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the locomotive shops) were also key to keeping the vessels running safely and efficiently. The shipyard also employed many general labourers to assist the tradesmen and to learn from them. In 1910, at the Nelson shipyard, a painter was paid $3.00 a day, a ship's carpenter or blacksmith $3.50 and a Labourer $2.50 to $2.75 a day.

This website will include listings of officers and crew members of the sternwheelers and tugs as well as tradesmen employed at the shipyards. Initial listings are posted to the website and they will be expanded and updated in the future. Additional details on individuals are available through the Kootenay Lake Historical Society.

Acknowledgments and Sources

The Kootenay Lake Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the Columbia Basin Trust through the Living Landscapes Program in association with the Royal British Columbia Museum and the British Columbia Heritage Trust for funding for this project.

Information has been drawn from many sources. We sincerely appreciate the assistance of the following: Arrow Lakes Historical Society (Milton and Rosemary Parent); British Columbia Legislative Library at Victoria; Canadian Museum of Rail Travel at Cranbrook (Garry Anderson); Creston Museum and Archives (Tammy Bradford); Kelowna Museum (Marta Leskard, Fran Surtees and Wayne Wilson); Kootenay Museum Association (Shawn Lamb) at Nelson; Penticton Museum (Suzanne Haverkamp and Randy Manuel); Provincial Archives of British Columbia in Victoria; Royal British Columbia Museum at Victoria; Silverton Historical Society (Nancy Anderson); Silvery Slocan Historical Society at New Denver (Stan Wilson and Donna Butler); and the Vernon Museum and Archives (Linda Wills).

We would particularly like to thank Edward L. Affleck for sharing his extensive work on people who worked for the BC Lake & River Service and Bill Curran for his many contributions to this listing. Without their efforts and support, these listings would be much less complete. Special tanks to Elizabeth Scarlett and the other volunteers of the Kootenay Lake Archives of the KLHS.

For published sources see: Bibliography, particularly the books by Affleck (1973), Turner (1984, 1991 and 1995) and Turner and Wilkie (1994). Specific sources for the entries are available through the SS Moyie National Historic Site at the addresses noted above.

Text by Robert Turner, personnel listing compiled by Ken Butler, Crystal Schonberg, Bob Turner and Beth Weathers for the Kootenay Lake Historical Society. Crowsnest Railway Route Website design by Roger Boulet.

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