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Peace River at Hudson's Hope in 1912

The Peace River, Canada, was navigable by boat from the Rocky Mountain Falls at Hudson's Hope to Fort Vermilion, where there was another set of rapids, then via the lower Peace from Vermilion to Lake Athabaska. The Peace is part of the larger river complex of the Athabasca Basin, Slave, and MacKenzie Rivers.

The Athabaska had large rapids too at Grande Rapids and Fort Smith; in this way the rivers were sectional as various boats worked upper and lower sections. The Peace River system was the western arm of the complex. Travellers to the Peace would pack or Red River Cart from Fort Edmonton eighty miles north to Athabaska Landing. Boats bound for the Peace block would travel all the way north on the Athabaska River to Lake Athabaska, to get to the mouth of the Peace and then turn around southwest again. Traditionally, canoes provided transport in the area.

The first motorized vessel on the Peace system was the SS Grahame, built by the Hudson's Bay Company in Fort Chipewyan in the winter of 1882-83. She carried freight 200 miles (320 km) up the Peace to Vermilion Chutes, where the company’s goods were portaged around the rapids and reloaded into a flotilla of scows and canoes for the journey onward."

The steamboats in the early days of the province provided transport to move food and supplies in and wheat and livestock out the five hundred miles of the Peace and 250 miles (400 km) of the Athabaska. Rolla, Taylor, Dunvegan, Peace River, Alberta and Vermilion were put in points.



The Catholic mission at Dunvegan ran the first sternwheeler, the St. Charles in 1902. Built for Bishop Emile Grouard, her primary purpose was to aid him in his missionary work. She also carried goods for the North-West Mounted Police and the HBC.[1] In 1905, the HBC launched a sternwheeler of their own, the Peace River. Built at Fort Vermilion, this 110-foot (34 m) long vessel could carry forty tons of freight and worked on the Peace River for ten years.[1]:123, until she was taken through the rapids below Fort Vermilion.

Steamboats had a limited season, often making only making 3 or 4 trips a year. These trips up and down the river would take several weeks, depending on conditions and sand bars. Boats did not travel at night due to limited visibility. Wood was the traditional fuel and these sternwheelers could burn as much as three or four cords of wood per hour. Paying passengers had no guarantee of a leisurely trip; although contractors were hired to cut and stack cordwood along the river, the sternwheelers often burned wood in such enormous quantities that the passengers would be called into service and set ashore with crosscuts and axes to replenish the wood supply.[1]:127 The season was short due to winter and ice up and the boats had to be pulled from the water in winter to avoid destruction by the ice.

DA Thomas at Hudson's Hope

As development came late, with the Peace River Block only being opened up about 1910, so followed the steamboats. The Grenfell was built in 1912 at Peace River, but sadly sunk two years later. The Northland Call was also made in Peace River and ran for half a dozen years in the teens. The D.A Thomas was built in 1915 by Baron Rhondda of Wales, the British Peerage name for same D.A. Thomas, who was a coal baron in the British Isles. He wanted to exploit the coal and oil deposits of Chetwynd, and so built the 168-foot (51 m), huge leviathan. She was quite unsuccessful owing to the First World War, although she ran until 1929.[1]:127 The D.A. Thomas steamed proudly up and down the Peace until the late 1920s, but the expansion of rail into the area finally made her uneconomic and obsolete. In June 1930 she took the drop over the Vermilion Chutes, suffering some damage on the rocks, and then limped on to Fort Fitzgerald. There, she was dismantled and scrapped with parts being used for other purposes including storing grain - an inglorious end for a fine ship. Other sternwheelers of that era included the Pine Pass, the Northland Echo and the Lady Mackworth, sister ship to the D.A. Thomas.[1]:127

End of an era

For the years from 1915 to 1925 the Peace River artery became the easier route to the north and Peace River town became the shipping off point. The boats were transferred to the upper and lower Peace, and the Slave River. At this time the HBC ran all their boats down the Peace system to the Mackenzie River chain, boats like the Prospector and Distributor, which were useful in the war for the Norman Wells Canol project. The Hudson's Bay Company boats steamed until 1948.

The arrival of the Model T Ford, and bulldozer, and gravelled roads, finished the river steamers in the Peace River Block. Also, the Edmonton, Dunvegan and British Columbia Railway worked its way to BC and arrived in Dawson Creek in 1930, completely doing in the steamboat era. Farther east the Northern Alberta Railway and the Alberta Northern Waterways railway bypassed the worst rapids on the Upper Athabaska River by rail and thus made Waterways, or modern Fort McMurray, the transport head for the Peace and Athabaska Rivers. Other Railways—the Central Canada and Pembina—tried to alleviate transport woes but became weakened by the Depression and were not completed.

Smaller boats of various kinds continued to work on the Peace for another 20 years, but the age of steamboats was gone. The final commercial freight run up the Peace River was made by the Watson Lake, a steel-hulled vessel, in September 1952. Her last trip completed, she was hauled out of the water and loaded on a flatcar and shipped by rail to Waterways to continue work up north.

The US Army built a diesel paddler for tug service on the Peace River in 1942. It worked on the raising of the Peace River Bridge (part of the Alaska Highway ), the re-located and exiled bad boy bridge of Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It promptly collapsed again in 1957.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Downs, Art (1975-1979). Pioneer Days in British Columbia Volume 2. Heritage House and main author Harold Fryer. ISBN 0-919214-68-1.  :120

Further reading

  • Pioneer Days in British Columbia Volume Two Art Downs and Harold Fryer ISBN 0-9690546-2-9

External links



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