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
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
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.
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!!)
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 rare and unfortunately somewhat out of focus shot of the Scotian. Author's collection.
Black Ball refined some of the lines, and the portholes certainly improved her looks, but the Smokwa was still a rather awkward looking vessel. She is seen here sailing into Horseshoe
Bay in August, 1956. Author's collection.
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.