The Preserved Sternwheeler S.S. Moyie

by Rick Howie and John MacFarlane 2018

S.S. Moyie

The S.S. Moyie as she appears as a museum vessel at Kaslo BC. (Photo from the Rick Howie collection.)

The S.S. Moyie was part of a short but rich history of sternwheelers that plied Kootenay Lake between 1889 and 1957 when the Moyie made her last run. All of the other vessels were gone by 1930 except the Nasookin which was refurbished as a car ferry until 1947. The Moyie was launched in Kootenay Lake at Nelson, B.C. on October 22, 1898 with her maiden voyage on December 7 that year. She was constructed in sections in Toronto by Bertram Iron Works and was assembled at the CPR shipyard at Nelson BC. 161.7’ x 30.1’ x 5.1’ She had a composite wooden and steel hull 835gt 526rt. She was powered by 17nhp steam engine and later re–powered by a 117hp engine. Her speed was reported to have been 16 knots/hr.

Kootenay Lake

The north end of Kootenay Lake is a bit off the beaten track but boasts magnificent scenery. (Photo from the Rick Howie collection.)

From 1898–1957 the Moyie was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway Co., Montreal QC. She was used to link communities with the CPR mainline rail service through southern British Columbia. On April 27, 1957 she made her last voyage, covering 139 km in 9 hours and was then retired. She was towed to the community of Kaslo and beached. In 1958 she was sold for $1.00 to the Corporation of the City of Kaslo from the CPR with the intention of preserving her. At spring high water she was beached again and the Kootenay Lake Historical Society took on a long term project to turn her into a museum display. She remains as the oldest intact preserved sternwheeler in the world and is now designated as a National Historic Site.

Map of Kootenay

The map of the region gives an idea of the size of the lake. An inland sea that supported a fleet of sternwheelers. (Photo from the Rick Howie collection.)

At her peak, the S.S. Moyie was capable of carrying 400 passengers with a dining room that could seat 24 customers. The 13 staterooms housed 3 double lower berths, 12 single lower berths and 14 single upper berths. Alterations in 1920 allowed her to carry 6 vehicles. She was nicknamed ‘the crow boat’ while carrying goods to Kootenay Landing where they would be transferred to trains on the Southern Rail Line which ran through the Crow’s Nest Pass in the Rocky Mountains to Alberta. Ultimately, low ridership, high maintenance costs and a developing road system was too much for the vessel to remain profitable.


Downtown Kaslo (Photo from the Rick Howie collection.)

The context of the S.S. Moyie service was a heady one for the West Kootenay region of B.C. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the region was emerging as an exciting mining region with dreams of fortunes being obtained from mines and gold fields to the north. The C.P.R. had plans for a vibrant tourism industry in this scenic region. But it was largely inaccessible until sternwheelers and railways penetrated the area in fierce competition. As communities grew along the Arrow and Kootenay Lakes, steam–driven sternwheelers plied the waters to serve the economy. Many of these ships were short–lived, coming to ignoble ends through groundings and fires. The peak of sternwheeler travel lasted only about 25 years from 1898 through 1923, declining until the S.S. Moyie made its final voyage.

The first sternwheeler that tried to reach Kootenay Lake was the Forty–nine travelling upstream from Colville, Washington in 1865. She was thwarted by ice at Arrow Lake. The first steam vessel to ply Kootenay Lake was the Midge in 1889 but she was not a sternwheeler. The first sternwheeler to operate on the lake was the Nelson (1891–1913). Other sternwheelers that came and went in service were the Spokane (1891–1895), the City of Ainsworth (1892–1898), the Alberta (1893–1902), the International (1896–1908), the Kokanee (1896–1913), the Marion (1897–1901), the Kaslo (1900–1910), the Argenta (1900–1910), the Kuskanook (1906–1931), and the Nasookin (1913–1947). With new roads penetrating the mountainous terrain, sternwheelers finally became uneconomical and a special era of B.C. history vanished from Kootenay Lake. Details of these vessels can be found at the Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History Facebook site.


Downs, Art. (1971) Paddlewheels on the frontier. Vol. 2. Foremost Publishing Co. Surrey, B.C. 80 pp.

Touchstone Nelson: Museum of Art and History. Sternwheelers of Kootenay Lake. Accessed 2018/01/24

To quote from this article please cite:

Howie, Rick and John MacFarlane (2018) The Preserved Sternwheeler S.S. Moyie. 2018.

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