The steam ferry Smokwa was one of the few boats that didn’t serve on Puget Sound before Black Ball moved operations to Canada. Captain Peabody
purchased the ferry second-hand to augment his fleet and increase service after it became apparent that his Canadian operations were going to be more
successful than first anticipated.
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 with Black Ball’
s trademark portholes on the car deck crimson smokestacks.
The addition of the double-ended steamer allowed the Bainbridge and Quillayute to undergo needed maintenance without a disruption to service. On 2 May
1956, the Smokwa went into service on the Horseshoe Bay-Gibson’s run.
The ferry was transferred to B.C. Ferries along with the rest of the Black Ball fleet 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 tugboat. 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 processed fish and crab in Kodiak for a few years before closing. With the death of her owner, the former ferry became a
derelict. By the late 1980’s, the Smokwa had been towed back to Port Lions.
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 raise the vessel and dispose of it. On 15 May 1990, after refloating the Smokwa, the vessel
Salvage Chief towed her to deep water to scuttle her. The Smokwa, it seems, had other plans, rapidly taking on water and sinking. It seemed that the Salvage
Chief was about to be taken down with her when the tow line was mercifully severed, thus averting catastrophe.
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.
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 Name Translation: heron, or great blue heron
Above, the Smokwa working for Black Ball. Captain Raymond W Hughes 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 collection.
|Summer on the Smokwa...
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.
|The Scotian, which would later become the Smokwa. Author's collection.