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Food & Entertainment on the Ships


While in theory it was possible to order everything on the bountiful menus, usually some discretion prevailed and one struggled to make a selection from a bewildering number of succulent items. Where the Chinese cooks who staffed the steamer galleys obtained their training is not known, but their standards were high, not only on the principal runs such as Nelson to Kootenay Landing, but also the side runs. The Hooker Creek prospector ‘coming out' at Crawford Bay on the Str. Moyie at the crack of dawn could look forward on board to a substantial English breakfast, while the English settler's wife, coping pluckily with a primitive life style on the orchard frontier at Longbeach could top off a rare day of shopping in Nelson by boarding the Str. Kuskanook on her late afternoon run to Kaslo, heading for the sanctuary of the ladies saloon and reclining in unwonted luxury as a proper English tea was wheeled up to her armchair.


After the sale of liquor was banned on the sternwheelers in 1911, food and the scenery became just about the only diversions on board. It was otherwise in those rip-roaring years between 1895 and 1898 when the booms in the Rossland and Slocan mining divisions were at their height. In his January 1945 Cominco Magazine article entitled "All Roads Led to Trail," John R. Widmer, briefly employed in 1896 as a deckhand on the Arrow Lakes sternwheeler Nakusp, wrote as follows about the overnight northbound run from Robson to Arrowhead:

"... great stories are told of the glories of steamboating, but no man who did not travel on them during the nineties can have any conception of the wonders of real steamboat travel. A seven or eight piece orchestra was part and parcel of the Nakusp and the dances, concerts, card games, shooting affrays and intrigues of theses long trips up the Arrow Lakes would make one of the most picturesque, entrancing and unbelievable books ever written ...."

In those early years, when two commodious sternwheelers, the Nakusp and the Kootenay, maintained daily service northbound and southbound on the Arrow Lakes, each would on alternate evenings lay overnight at Arrowhead. On festive evenings, such as New Years Eve, the Captain would on the layover, host a formal dinner dance which would be attended by Arrowhead's respectable married women. The floor in the dining room would be cleared of tables and the dance band would strike up in the gallery which surrounded the dining area. On the regular northbound runs, respectable married women, needless to say, remained securely locked in their cabins.

Music and dance and acceptable demeanor were a feature of evening steamboat excursions on Kootenay Lake for decades. The social historian-researching rowdy runs on Kootenay Lake sternwheelers has to shift back to the nineties and focus his attention on the Str. Alberta of the International Navigation and Trading Co., which worked, from Bonners Ferry to Kaslo. Kaslo during the boom times boasted a seedy music hall known as the Opera Comique, while Porthill at the border crossing boasted a disorderly dance hall which catered to the mass of railway construction workers then in the Kootenay Flats.

The Bonners Ferry Herald of August 12, 1899 reported

"... when the Str. Alberta arrived in port last Thursday evening she was boarded by a company of ladies who demanded the surrender of the ship, informing Capt. MacPhee Howatt that they had made arrangements to have a social hop on board that evening. The Captain was overwhelmed and surrendered instantly. The party consisted of about 40 ladies and gentlemen and they had a fine time. The officers of the boat all assisted in making the evening highly enjoyable ..."

Excerpts from the writings by E. L. Affleck


Media Clip Description: Explore the Ladies Salon of the SS Moyie as it is today in Kaslo BC.

SS Moyie Ladies Salon

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Media Clip Description: Explore the Ladies Salon of the SS Moyie as it is today in Kaslo BC.

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