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Old 12-01-2014, 03:07 AM   #1
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Union Steamship Company

I've posted about this some years back and if it's in the wrong place the admin folks can move or remove it as they see fit.

Back when there was a lot of activity up the BC raincoast, from the late 1800s through the mid 1900s, several shipping companies set up to serve the logging camps, fish canneries, and rickety waterfront communities between Vancouver and Prince Rupert. One of the most well-known was the red-and-black-funneled Union Steamship Company.

Anyone interested in the company's history and vessels would do well to read a book called Whistle Up the Inlet by Gerald A. Rushton.

I have found this company fascinating ever since reading the book some years ago, and every now and then I do an internet search for photos I might not have seen of the company's vessels and operations. Here are a few I just came across and couple I've seen before.

What I find remarkable in comparison with today's maritime environment along the same coast is that the Union captains and crews ran their not-small vessels up the same narrow channels and passes we run our boats today, fought the same strong currents, wind, fog, and weather that we do today, dealt with the same 10 to near 20 foot tidal ranges we deal with today, and negotiated the same rocks and reefs and islands we do today. But they did it with large vessels, no thrusters, no plotters, no radar, and no tugboats. They maneuvered their unwieldy vessels in and out of roughly put together piers, and sometimes up beside nothing more than a floating log and plank walkway, completely on their own.

I have for some years now thought it would be an adventure to try to retrace the Union Steamship Company's routes up the BC coast. Most of the whistle stops have long since disappeared as the airplane and technology changed the lumber and fishing industries forever, and people moved from the floating and boardwalk log camps and cannery communities in droves after WWII to the cities and towns on the mainland and Vancouver Island.

To look at the last sad, collapsing buildings at Minstrel Island today, for example, one would never suspect that this was once the center of social and business life for an entire region with dancehalls, saloons, a hotel, diners, stores, houses, and busy piers with boats coming and going at all hours of the day.

But it would still be a fascinating challenge, I think, to retrace the steps of those incredibly experienced and knowledgeable captains as they threaded their ships up and down the Inside Passage, back when high tech navigation was a series of huge sounding boards on the more treacherous reefs and a steam whistle to echo off of them.

Maybe someday we'll get to give it a shot.

(I took the last photo at Minstrel Island in 2010.)
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Old 12-01-2014, 10:07 AM   #2
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Marin,
I agree with you. Fascinating to follow the stories, printed and oral, of
those times, vessels and people!
Don't forget that Seymour Narrows has been somewhat "tamed" by the
removal of the top of Ripple Rock. Still can be nasty as I'm sure you are aware.
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Old 12-01-2014, 12:38 PM   #3
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Ya gotta love the proud bows and sweeping lines on all those old boats.

They just don't make 'em like they used to.
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Old 12-01-2014, 12:43 PM   #4
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Quote:
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Don't forget that Seymour Narrows has been somewhat "tamed" by the
removal of the top of Ripple Rock. Still can be nasty as I'm sure you are aware.
Ted
Yes, and I believe the explosion that took off the top 15 or 20 feet of Ripple Rock is still considered the largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion ever.
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Old 12-01-2014, 01:15 PM   #5
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Off the wall of my old boat, NOT a former U.S. boat. Taken with my iPad, upright, held normally, hence the crap orientation as that's what they do, when they can.
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Old 12-01-2014, 01:23 PM   #6
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Very cool.
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Old 12-01-2014, 01:45 PM   #7
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Union Steamships stopped running up the coast in 1956, in 1962 Northland Navigation took over. I lived in a logging camp a few miles from Minstrel Island in 64-65-66. Our freight, groceries, gas and diesel, propane, parts, Christmas toys, and the occational new pickup, were delivered by the Northland boat, Northern Girl.

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I was 9 years old and had a 10' plywood pram with a 2HP Chrysler outboard. I would earn $5 from Marge the cook on "Boat day" freighting all their groceries from the deepwater float where the "Girl" landed, in to the beach and up into the cookhouse.

In those days Minstrel was a booming community. Rose's General store was built out over the water beside the wharf approach. The hotel was busy, there was a restaurant on the east point where you could get pie and ice-cream anytime. There were 3 big diesel generators, one ran all the time. There was a public (radio) phone in a little booth on the boardwalk. There were movies in the community hall every Sunday night, people would come from all over for that.

Oh and Marin, the big three story building in your picture was called the "apartment" building, it was where single men lived. Some seem to think that was the hotel, it wasn't.....The Hotel was just north of those buildings and turned with it's long side facing the bay. There was a grand staircase up the front on to the porch, and double-doors leading into the "Beer parlor".
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Old 12-01-2014, 02:01 PM   #8
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I travelled with two girls from Prince Rupert to Namu on the Northland Prince in 1965. Spent two weeks running a babysitting/summer camp for the native kids whose parents were off fishing or working in the cannery, courtesy of the United Church. When I was 16, I found the church an excellent way to meet girls 8^).

Namu was going crazy with the herring season. While I was there, 2 Indian kids caught a world's record halibut off the dock with a hand line. Had to haul it up the flying boat ramp with the manager's Jeep.

When we had done our session, we flew to Vancouver on the Grumman Mallard.
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Old 12-01-2014, 02:10 PM   #9
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Tad--- Thanks a ton for the info on Minstrel Island. In the book I am back to writing now that the book I was hired to write has been published, Minstrel Island is one of the locations that is part of the story. The book is set in WWII and is based on a true story although I was only told the highlights.

I have looked fairly extensively for information about what Minstrel Island was like at that time with little success. Your post above actually tells me more detail about the community than I've found thus far.

Even though my book is in the form of a novel-based-on-a-true-story because all I know are the basics, I want to make the situations and locations as accurate as possible. The story takes place on an Elco PT boat and I have spent hours crawling around in a restored one, buying and reading just about every book published about PTs, and interviewing dozens of PT vets.

But I would like to learn more about some of the communities up north, particularly Minstrel Island. My wife and I stopped at Minstrel a couple of times in the 90s on our floatplane trips up and down the Passage when they still carried avgas, and we've visited in our small boat more recently after the minimal facilities that were there then finally shut down. So I have a feel for the location, at least.

If you can suggest where I might find more information about what the community was like back when it was thriving--- the various establishments along the waterfront, where the residents lived, and so forth, I would be eternally grateful.

I'd love to see photos of the place from the 1940s. That is something I have yet to unearth.

I will PM my e-mail address to you if you have any suggestions or info you'd be willing to pass on to me.

Thanks again for your post above. It tells me a hell of a lot more than I knew before.
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Old 12-01-2014, 02:31 PM   #10
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Marin-great pictures. A time lost to be sure. I have a client who is now 101 and still in great shape. He is related to the Foss tugboat family. His family had businesses in Anchorage starting in the early 1900's. He travelled between Seattle, the BC coast to southern Alaska from his boyhood on and he is fascinating to talk to about those days.

On old settlements, there are still remnants of many old waterfront businesses around if you know where to look or have someone tell you. One that quickly comes to mind is at the Anacortes ferry terminal. Old pilings line the shore to the right of the waiting. An early part of the century salmon cannery.
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Old 12-01-2014, 02:52 PM   #11
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Union Steamship Company Marina on Bowen Island is my home port. Great marina and the owners and staff are amazing!!!
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Old 12-01-2014, 03:13 PM   #12
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"I have for some years now thought it would be an adventure to try to retrace the Union Steamship Company's routes up the BC coast."
Marin, I know you're a published author. If you did this and wrote of your adventures that is a book I'd buy! - Boyd
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Old 12-01-2014, 03:28 PM   #13
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"I have for some years now thought it would be an adventure to try to retrace the Union Steamship Company's routes up the BC coast."
Marin, I know you're a published author. If you did this and wrote of your adventures that is a book I'd buy! - Boyd
I need to finish the book I've been working on (with long interruptions) for some seven or eight years now before I start thinking about another one.
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Old 12-01-2014, 03:30 PM   #14
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Greetings,
Mr. Marin. In reference to post #4. It could be that THIS is a larger man made explosion or maybe it's not considered as such being an accident...
Halifax Explosion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 12-01-2014, 03:44 PM   #15
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RT--- Yes, I've read about the Halifax ship explosion. There are several books that have been written about it. The one I read, which I thought was excellent, is The Curse of the Narrows by Laura Mac Donald.

I don't know how the two explosions compare. The one that blew up Ripple Rock was underwater and, of course, it was not in proximity to a town.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the Ripple Rock explosion which was the last of several attempts to knock the top off the rock which made Seymour Narrows all but impassible between slack tides and was responsible for several wrecks. I see that it uses the phrase "non-nuclear planned explosions."

-------

Between November 1955 and April 1958, a three-shift operation involving an average of 75 men worked to build 500 feet (150 m) of vertical shaft from Maud Island, 2,370 feet (720 m) of horizontal shaft to the base of Ripple Rock, and two main vertical shafts up into the twin peaks, from which "coyote" shafts were drilled for the explosives. ....1,270 metric tons of Nitramex 2H explosive was placed in these shafts, estimated at ten times the amount needed for a similar explosion above water.
The explosion took place at 9:31:02 am on 5 April 1958. 635,000 metric tons of rock and water were displaced by the explosion, spewing debris at least 300 metres in the air which fell on land on either side of the narrows. The blast increased the clearing at low tide to about 14 metres (45 feet).[11] After this, its two peaks were 13.7m (45 ft) and 15.2m (50 ft) underwater.[12]
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had cleared the area of within 3 miles of the explosion, and the engineers and TV crew that witnessed the explosion were housed in a bunker.
The explosion was noted as one of the largest non-nuclear planned explosions on record, though Soviet authorities reported a larger explosion in the Ural Mountains to carve a new channel for the Kolonga River and in China to open a copper mine.
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Old 12-01-2014, 04:45 PM   #16
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Greetings,
Mr. Marin. Not trying to be argumentative but I didn't know if you were familiar with the Halifax explosion. I know what a stickler for detail you are and rightly so.
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Old 12-01-2014, 06:35 PM   #17
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Minstrel Island.....

I have to call my Dad and find out the names of the couple that owned the hotel. Oddly there's a photo of the hotel on Google Earth, let me try this....
Panoramio - Photo explorer

That must have been taken in the 70's or even 80's, when we lived down channel it was always brightly painted and you could easily read the big HOTEL letters between the windows upstairs. The steps, porch, and floor inside were all chewed up from cork boots. I have an idea the hotel owner was Pearly and his wife was Jean.

Board walks connected all the buildings.

We lived 10 miles north of Minstrel, at Walden Brothers Sawmill in Baronet Pass. Nothing remains of that place except the big steel sawdust burner. At that time, if there was a full crew (2 yarders/spar trees, booming ground, skidding, road building, etc.) the population at Walden's was bigger than Minstrel. The population of each place would have been anywhere between 25 and 40 people, and lots of kids.

There were other people (families) living at Lagoon Cove, in the 40's the big cannery at Bones Bay would have been going strong. When we were there it was closed with just a watchman and used for net storage. There were probably a couple of dozen (hard to believe now) logging camps within 20-30 miles of Minstrel in the 1960's....but the end was very close. Once the big companies bought all the timber rights, the little guys had to move elsewhere or go to work for the company. We moved south to Desolation Sound/Toba Inlet.

This picture shows the top of the Hotel(left top) and the store is the building on pilings in front of it. Northern Vancouver Island ~ The Undiscovered Coast: Minstrel Island: Centre of the Logger's Universe

The Critchley family had their home on the east point of Minstrel for many years. Robert Critchley now lives in Kelsey Bay were he has built a private fishing museum Catch & Preserve
I would suggest you go there and talk with him and/or his Dad if possible.
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Old 12-01-2014, 08:27 PM   #18
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Marin,
A couple more possibilities:
Yes, Pearly Sherdall (spelling??) lost in Knight Inlet
Ernie Rose in Coal Harbour, 14 km west of Port Hardy by road - I think he's
a former owner of the store at Minstrel Island.
One of the Haddleys from Chatham Channel is living in Sayward.
Bill Procter of Echo Bay is well versed in the history of that whole area, (gives you another excuse to cruise to the Broughtons

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Old 12-01-2014, 09:43 PM   #19
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Tad and Ted--- Thanks a bunch for the info and suggestions of people to talk to.

We take our small boat (17' Arima Sea Ranger) up to Telegraph Cove every spring to fish for halibut, ling cod, and salmon. We rent one of the buildings there for a couple of weeks. So it would be easy to drive into Kelsey Bay and look up Robert Critchley. Same with Ernie Rose in Coal Harbor. We've been to Port Alice (by road) so it would be fun to check out Coal Harbor, too.

I know about Billy Proctor, from his book, and we keep saying we'll run over to Echo Bay while we're up there but so far we never have. Maybe this time we'll fit it in.

Thanks for the photo links. They all worked just fine.

Tad-- We've been through Baronet Passage a number of times on our way back from Minstrel, Lagoon Cove, and Karlakwees and we've fished (unsuccessfully) for salmon along the north side of Cracroft Ilsand at the entrance to the pass.

Ever since reading the book Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban I've wanted to see Pott's Lagoon. Finally got back in there this past June. Interesting glimpse of what must have been a way of life all over that area back in the 1930s and 40s.

Great country, and growing up there must have been a fabulouse experience (although one seldom realizes this until one is an adult and living someplace else).

We've overflown that country a lot in the floatplane, and looking down on all the fabulous bays, islands, and inlets plus getting glimpses of the area's history by reading things like The Raincoast Chronicals is why we bought the diesel cruiser we have today.

Seeing the area firsthand, first from the deck of the Queen of Prince Rupert in 1977 and later flying and boating it, is also what eventually motivated me to turn a story I was told back in the 1970s by four WWII PT vets into a book.

I've been a lot of places in my life so far, but the BC raincoast is the best place on the planet as far as i'm concerned.
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Old 12-01-2014, 09:56 PM   #20
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Greetings,
Mr. Marin. Not trying to be argumentative but I didn't know if you were familiar with the Halifax explosion. I know what a stickler for detail you are and rightly so.
Glad you mentioned it. I was just remembering what I thought I remembered regarding the size of the Ripple Rock explosion. Never occured to me to compare it to the Halifax explosion, which was certainly a bazillion times more devastating to people. The book I mentioned, Curse of the Narrows, is worth reading as the author does a great job of explaining how and why the explosion occured, and what it was like to be in it.
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