The Smokwa never actually sailed on Puget Sound, nor was she a steamer that had been
converted into a ferry, but as part of the fleet that Captain Peabody ran in Canada, she
deserves to be covered here along with the rest of her running mates.
Built in 1946 in Pictou, Nova Scotia as the Scotian she was used to ferry cars across
Halifax Harbor. Like so many other ferries in the past, a bridge put her out of work and up
for sale. Black Ball ferries purchased the ferry and towed her west. After spending some
time refurbishing the ferry, she emerged in the now trademark portholes on the car deck
and in Black Ball colors.
The addition of the double-ended steamer allowed the Bainbridge and Quillayute to
undergo needed maintenance without a distruption to service. On 2 May, 1956, the
Smokwa went into service on the Horseshoe Bay-Gibsons run.
The ferry was sold to B.C. Ferries along with the other vessels in 1961. It soon became
apparent that age was taking its toll on her steam engines. In 1962 she blew a piston,
knocking her out of service. With the Quillayute already out, the car space could not be
lost, so the ferry was brought to and from the dock by tug. It was one event in many that
led to B.C. ferries selling the ferry for $26,290.00 in 1966.
The ferry had been sold for use as a fish camp, but by 1975 she was being used as a
crab cannery in Port Lions, Alaska. The Smokwa was moved from Port Lions to the City
of Kodiak in the early 1980's. The vessel was moored in Kodiak just outside the small
boat harbor at a dock now occupied by Island Seafoods.
Still at work as a cannery, the Smokwa processes fish/ crab in Kodiak for a few years
before closing down. With the death of her owner, the former ferry became a derelict.
Eventrually the Smokwa was towed back to Port Lions in the late 1980's or early 90's.
For several years the ferry was moored on the inboard side of the Port Lions ferry dock.
One morning about two years after arriving back at Port Lions, it was discovered the
Smokwa had sunk at her mooring.
A year later, Fred Devine Salvage of Astoria, Oregon was hired to refloat the vessel and
dispose of it. After refloating the Smokwa, the vessel Salvage Chief towed her to deep
water to scuttle her. The Smokwa, it seems, had other plans. She rapidly took on water
and started sinking on her own. It seemed that the Salvage Chief was about to be taken
down with her when the tow line was mercifully severed, thus averting catastrophe.
Formerly the Scotian Official Number: 175498 Built: Pictou Foundry and Machine Company, Ltd. Pictou, NS 1946 Retired: 1966
Length: 165 Beam: 52' Draft: 12'5" Gross Tons: 814 Net Tons: 481 Propulsion: Steam. 1 3-cylinder Unaflow. Horsepower: 550 Speed: 10 knots
Passenger Capacity: 473 Auto Capacity: 35
Above, a postcard shot of the Smokwa. Author's collection.
The most infamous moment in the Smokwa's history. Broken down, B.C
ferries resorted to pushing the vessel to and from the dock via tug. Author's
|Summer on the
She wasn't particularly fast, comfortable, or, in her later years, reliable, but
in her prime with Black Ball, the Smokwa was an vital part of the fleet.
And it wasn't as if a crossing on the clunky steamer couldn't be
enjoyable. The photo at left shows that on a summer day, the old steamer
could be quite a pleasant place to be.
A rare color photograph of the Scotian, which would later become the
Smokwa. Author's collection.
The last steam-powered ferry to sail B.C. waters is now largely forgotten by all but a few ferry enthusiasts, who remember the quirky little vessel that caused
B.C. Ferries such headaches.
(Special thanks to Lon A. White, Duputy Harbormaster of the City of Kodiak for filing in the last piece of the Smokwa puzzle!!)