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Working the Sternwheelers

Reminisces of the sternwheelers by William Alfred Triggs

One evening in Kaslo a young man I knew asked me if I wanted a job as freight clerk on the CPR steamer Kokanee, He had just quit the job, and persuaded me that the purser of the boat could show me the ropes in short order. I went down to the boat to see the purser, Fred Weir, who merely asked me if I could read and write. On my affirming that I could, Weir gave me a form to dill out, saying that the job was mine provided the Nelson office Okayed my application. The date was January 11, 1917. The okay came and I was launched on my long-term career with the Canadian Pacific Railway as freight clerk on the Kokanee. The sternwheeler Kokanee was working the Nelson-Kaslo-Lardeau run, a comparatively leisurely route. Daily except Sunday we left Kaslo at 5 A.M. for Nelson, connected with the westbound “Crow Boat” on the Nelson-Kootenay Landing run at Procter, then working our way down the West Arm of Kootenay Lake to Nelson, where we were due at 10 am. On the return trip, we pulled out of Nelson at 4 pm, connected with the westbound “Crow Boat” at Procter, and pulled into Kaslo about 9 pm. Every Tuesday and Thursday night we would steam up to Lardeau then back to Kaslo for the overnight layover. As I recall, Lachlan McKinnon was Master of the Kokanee, Percy Edwards, Mate, and John C. Cameron, Chief Engineer at that time.

About a week after I had started on the Kokanee, Purser Weir received a telegram during our nightly layover instructing him to put me ashore at Procter the next morning so that I could relieve the ailing purser on the SS Moyie. I was astounded, as I was barely getting acquainted with the work as freight clerk. Weir, to encourage me, told me not to worry but to read carefully the instructions to agents, the tariffs, etc, and to ask help from the CPR agents at Procter and Kaslo whenever the Moyie called in at these ports. Procter was the home base for the sternwheeler Moyie, which worked more or less in the jobbing trade at that time. Every Monday and Thursday morning she steamed over to Crawford Bay, then worked back to Procter and down the West Arm to Nelson. On those days she would leave Nelson at 3 pm, an hour ahead of the regular Kaslo boat, and handle any way freight for the West Arm as far up as Procter. On Friday she took a barge with rail cars for Kaslo and Lardeau as far as Kaslo, where she would layover for the night. On Saturday she went on up to Lardeau with the barge, on which had been loaded an engine and passenger/baggage coach for the weekly rail trip from Lardeau to Gerrard. On the return from Gerrard, the train was loaded back on the barge at Lardeau. The Moyie would steam into Kaslo about 6 pm where she again lay overnight before proceeding back to Procter. At other times she would handle any other freight jobs offered, such as moving explosives or carrying car loads of feed and flour mill products that had to be unloaded from railway cars at Procter for delivery to the various steamer landings. Matt Reid was Master on the Moyie at that time, with William Haig-Smellie as mate and James Donaldson as Chief Engineer. The sick purser died of typhoid fever so I served on the Moyie as purser for six months until I got another medical, passed it and enlisted in the Medical Corps and was sent to Victoria.

In 1930, the Canadian Pacific Railway completed the railway link from Kootenay Landing to Procter along the west shore of Kootenay Lake, thus permitting trains to run through between the East and West Kootenay. On December 31, 1930, the passenger steamers were withdrawn on the Kootenay Landing - Nelson and Kaslo - Nelson steamer runs, and railway car barge service between Kootenay Landing and Procter was terminated also. The development of highways was also curtailing steamer service on the other interior lakes served by the CPR fleet, so my life on the steamers came to an end at this time.


Audio Clip Description: Audio recreation of William Alfred Triggs reminiscing about the tests put to his first aid skills.

William Alfred Triggs, Purser on the SS Kuskanook

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Audio Clip Description: Audio recreation of William Alfred Triggs reminiscing about the tests put to his first aid skills.

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