The MacFarlane Tugboat Company

by John M. MacFarlane & George R. MacFarlane 2001 (updated 2011)

Tugboat Wabash

Tugboat Wabash (#126247) (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

Around 1909 Arthur Francis MacFarlane was operating a hand logging operation on the shores of Todd Inlet based from Mill Bay BC. He would cut trees on the steep slopes by hand and gravity would move them to the salt water. He would assemble small booms of logs and have them delivered to Sayward’s Mill at Mill Bay BC or to the Sidney BC mill around the end of the Saanich Peninsula. He found that the contractor who did their towing was very unreliable. In c1910 his father, Major James Francis Lenox MacFarlane (of Mill Bay BC) purchased a small tug, the Victory, for his two sons Arthur F. & Fred R. MacFarlane. They used the Victory to tow logs and scows around the Mill Bay area. The Victory was a small plain wooden-hulled vessel. The brothers sold the vessel and she was later destroyed by fire prior to the First World War.

Tugboat Wabash & HMCS Naden

Tugboat Wabash & HMCS Naden (Photo from MacFarlane collection)

In 1910 the two brothers purchased the tug Wabash (#126247 40 feet 4nhp steam engine) that had been built in Victoria BC in 1909. This vessel was better suited to the towing jobs that they were getting and kept them employed for several years. In 1913 she was re–engined and her horse-power was reduced to 2.4nhp. In 1914 at the onset of the First World War Arthur (who had militia service with the 5th Canadian Garrison Artillery at Fort Rodd Hill) joined the Canadian Army for overseas service with the Royal Canadian Artillery. Major MacFarlane arranged for his son Fred to join the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR) (then recruiting in Victoria) and after officer-candidate training in the UK he was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).

While they were away serving in the War they left the Wabash at anchor in Wheelbarrow Cove (near Mill Bay) in the care of their young sister Eva as the ship’s husband. (Captain L.R.W. Beavis moored HMCS Naden there as well, just to the stern of the Wabash). Eva would walk down from the family home each day to pump out the tug and to ensure that she was not in imminent danger of sinking (all old wooden tugs leaked). She was secured to the shore and would ground out at low tide on the mud flats. One morning when Eva visited the Wabash she found one of her neighbours removing the propeller. Challenging him she did not believe his story that he was removing it for safe keeping. She took the propeller home and hid it under her bed where it stayed until the end of the War.

When Arthur and Fred were demobilized they sold the Wabash which was, not surprisingly, in very poor condition after four years of neglect. They took on (probably under charter) the tug Bonilla (#138681 62 feet 9nhp steam engine) which had been built at Tacoma WA USA in 1917 by Western Boatbuilding Co. and owned by the Lummi Bay Packing Co. Ltd. The Bonilla passed through a number of owners during the 1920s and 1930s before being sold to the Vancouver Tugboat Co. as the La Bonne. She was still afloat in 2004 owned by James Drummond, Cowichan Bay BC.

Tugboat J.W.P.

Tugboat J.W.P. (#150670) (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

In 1921 they chartered-to-purchase the tug J.W.P. (#150670 60 feet 13nhp steam engine) built in Vancouver BC in 1920. They purchased the tug from Joseph William Pike and a Mr. Livingston and, in turn, sold the tug to the newly incorporated MacFarlane Brothers Ltd. (located at 118 Pemberton Building, Victoria BC) in 1927. The JWP sailed chiefly out of Victoria BC serving the west coast of Vancouver Island. They towed for Cathels & Sorenson Ltd. and for the independent loggers Rutger, Lomont & Bair, Frank Baker and the John Quinn Shingle Mill in the Port Renfrew area (Port San Juan BC). Later she towed for the Malahat Logging Co. out of Port Renfrew BC. In 1941 she was rebuilt at the Victoria Machinery Depot Ltd. and re-engined with a 360bhp Deutz diesel engine and renamed as the Swiftsure II. During the Second World War she was chartered to Bicknell & Byrns of Gulf of Georgia Towing and then to Armour Towing & Salvage Co. In 1947 Arthur MacFarlane sold her to John Bruno of Vancouver BC and she was again re-engined with a 450bhp Enterprise diesel engine for general towing. By 1974 she was a live–aboard at Maple Bay BC and renamed as the Tusko.

In 1926 MacFarlane Brothers Ltd. purchased the tug Daring (#122375 72 16nhp coal-fired steam engine) from the Gulf of Georgia Towing Co. At this time MacFarlane Towing Ltd. Was incorporated (with capital of $50,000) located at 118 Fort Street, Victoria BC (in the Pemberton Building, then called the Yarrow Building). The Daring was registered under MacFarlane Towing Co. Ltd. (Fred MacFarlane& Harold Lewis, owners). The Daring had a black funnel livery which was the custom on most tugs on the coast at that time. She towed booms from Elk Bay to Vancouver for the Stella Lake Logging Co.

Tugboat Doreen

Tugboat Doreen M (#153326) (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

In 1927 Captain Fred MacFarlane purchased, for the MacFarlane Towing Co. Ltd. the tug Doreen M. (#153326 25 feet 1nhp steam engine). In 1926 she was built at the Victoria Motor Boat Co. (Fosters) next to the V.M.D. shipyard site on order to Cathels & Sorenson Ltd. She was used to assemble log booms at Cowichan Bay for the recently established Cowichan Booming Association under his younger brother, Captain George Alexander MacFarlane. In 1928 Fred sold his holdings at Cowichan Bay to Domingo Ordano. While being towed by the seiner Faith of Sechart (Portloc Fishing Co.) the Doreen foundered on 07/08/1928 in 35 fathoms off of Sooke BC.

In 1928 MacFarlane Brothers Ltd. purchased the tug Restless (#117159 71 feet 16nhp steam engine) from the Minister of Marine & Fisheries in Ottawa ON. She was built in 1906 in New Westminster BC for the Westminster Towing & Fishing Co. The Restless had been commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy during the First World War and for a time was the tender to the Royal Naval College of Canada when it was based in Esquimalt BC. She was later employed as an examination vessel and then passed to the Canadian Hydrographic Service. The funnel on the Restless was painted green with a white band sporting a green shamrock (for the brothers Irish origins). In 1932 she was sailed to Vancouver BC and lay alongside the big tug Haro at the B.C. Mills Timber & Trading Co. wharf (at the old Hastings Mill site) for a long period during the economic depression. She was eventually returned to Victoria and lay at her old berth at Murdie’s float in the Inner Harbour. Early in 1933 she was fired up and sailed under Captain McPhee for Nanaimo for bunkers. When they reached Saanichton Bay they decided (probably due to running with a skeleton crew) to tie up for the night at the James Island wharf with the idea to sail the next morning for Nanaimo. During the night she caught fire and burned to the water's edge.

In the 1930s, after the onset of the Great Depression, many coastal tugs were suddenly out of work. The big Cathels & Sorenson logging camp at Port Renfrew shut down and with it all the towing contracts. In Victoria the Canadian Puget Sound Mill closed, along with the Cameron Bros. Mill which then operated sporadically for several years. This also had a major effect on towing contracts. In 1930 the Stella Lake Logging Co., which had kept the Daring busy for several years was also closed. The Daring then contracted with the Canadian Packing Co. towing scows of pilchards to their reduction plant at Ceepeecee in Esperanza Inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The loss of the Daring is the subject of a seperate page on this website.

In the early 1930s Captain George MacFarlane left the MacFarlane Brothers Ltd. and went to work as the Master of the tug Storm King for her owner, Captain Mathias Mathieson in Victoria BC. In 1935 he chartered the Ispaco No. 2 (#156446 ex-fish packer, 60 feet 65bhp diesel engine). In June 1936 he purchased (with John Harry Kirby as joint owner) the tug M.C.M. (#134119 69 16nhp steam engine) originally built in 1914 for Mercer and Meyers. In 1938 he was appointed as the Master of the Solander (#155250 49 5bhp diesel engine) owned by Nitinat Lake Logging Co. (Sorenson & Baird) towing Davis Rafts from Nitinat Lake on the west coast of Vancouver Island to Victoria BC. In 1941 he was appointed as Master of the tug Nitinat Chief (#173474 64 160bhp diesel engine). He participated in the design of the tug and enjoyed a reputation for his ability to tow large booms of logs out over extremely treacherous Nitinat Bar. This was his last command as he died of cancer at the young age of 47 on 11 May 1944.

Tugboat Solander at Nitinat Bar

Captain George A. MacFarlane in tugboat Solander (#155250) towing logs over the Nitinat Bar. (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

Tugboat Solander

Tugboat Solander (#155250) (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

Captain MacFarlane was a strong swimmer. His nephew John Henderson stated that he had never met anyone before or since that could swim under water like him. When he and his cousin George Jr. were paddling a boat or a canoe and saw Captain MacFarlane in the water they would immediately head for shore. He would disappear under water and before they knew it their boat would be overturned and they would have an unplanned swim, a great joke by the Captain on the children!

Tugboat Snohomish

Tugboat Snohomish (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

Captain Fred MacFarlane sold out his interests to his brother Arthur on 16/01/1934 and after a short period operating a coastal service with the Skookumchuck, he went to work with Island Tug & Barge Ltd. in Victoria BC. He became extremely well known on the British Columbia coast as Master of the tugs Salvage King (I), Salvage Queen, Island Navigator, Island Sovereign and the former U.S. Revenue Cutter Snohomish. The Snohomish worked on the British Columbia coast and towed to the Aleutian Islands under charter to the US Army Sea Transport Service making many runs between San Pedro CA and Alaska. His last trip was a monumental 10,000 mile voyage taking the Snohomish (which had been sold to the Argentine Navy) and towing a large barge in which was enough fuel for the voyage and six small US Army tugs. They traveled from Seattle WA to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The crew was repatriated to Victoria when Captain Fred MacFarlane was employed as Island Tug & Barge's Shore Captain. He retired to Mill Bay BC and died at age 78 on 08/07/1965.

Arthur MacFarlane retired from marine life in 1947 after selling the Swiftsure II. He undertook a number of business ventures in Sooke BC before his retirement. He died on 13/08/1965 at age 76 only 5 weeks after his older brother Fred. His only son, Douglas MacFarlane owned and operated several small tugs in and around Sooke Harbour between 1955–1995 towing logs for the Lamford Forest Products mill.

Fishboat SanPan

Robert Frayne’s steam powered fishboat San Pan (Photo from MacFarlane collection.)

Robert W. Frayne, the son of Mrs. R.W. (Lillian) Frayne, the eldest of the Mill Bay MacFarlanes sailed the BC coast for many years as a marine engineer on many tugs. He was later a commercial fisherman and operated a steam fish boat becoming a familiar sight on the coast after a bad experience with a fire at sea from a gasoline engine that destroyed an earlier vessel. He and his wife became beach combers and would make an annual trip north to Alaska and return fishing and salvaging logs. He died on Gabriola Island well into his nineties.

Gordon MacFarlane (son of Fred) did not follow the sea. He was qualified as an Electrical Engineer and eventually became President and Chairman of the British Columbia Telephone Co. Among his many accomplishments he oversaw the conversion in British Columbia of dial telephones to touch–tone.

Commander George R. MacFarlane (son of George A.) sailed on the British Columbia coast as Mate in several tugs prior to the Second World War. He joined the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve (RCNR) in 1941. Later he commanded the Prestonian–class frigate HMCS Stettler and the Restigouche–class destroyer HMCS Chaudiere. After retirement he served many years as a Councillor of Central Saanich BC. His brother, Charles Lewis MacFarlane was a successful entrepreneur and businessman in Victoria BC. His son Bruce was a Master Mariner who had command of the car ferry on the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories for a time.

John D.S. Henderson, son of the youngest MacFarlane daughter Eva, was a marine engineer sailing in foreign–going, coastal vessels and tugs for over 40 years. He served in the RCNR during the Second World War in HMC Ships Chilliwack, Calgary and Stratford. His last berth was as Chief Engineer in the hydrographic vessel William J. Stewart. Afterwards he was the Chief Supervisor of the Ocean Sciences Centre workshops at Patricia Bay BC.


To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John & George R. MacFarlane 2001 (updated 2011) The MacFarlane Tugboat Company. Nauticapedia.ca 2002. http://nauticapedia.ca/Articles/Tugboat_MacFarlanes.php

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