The Norvan Celebrates 100 Years.

by Kechura Davidson 2017


The Norvan in her permanent home. Rod Palm states that "the house–works look shabby but it is all edge grain first growth cedar that I chainsaw milled from beach combed logs and there are no knots in the siding or facia. The oak framed windows we years back were salvaged from an old table seiner called the Dominion #1." (Photo from the Wayne Barnes collection.)

It’s been a century since the straight stem on North Vancouver’s first ferry boat plowed through the Burrard Inlet. As the population of North Vancouver began to rise, the municipal council realized the need for a regular ferry service from North Vancouver to Vancouver. In January of 1900, the steam ferry North Vancouver was commissioned. According to the boat’s Certificate of British Registry, she was built by H. Kenworthy with an overall length of 82’, a beam of 20’ 1", and a gross tonnage of 82.79 tons. However, J. Rodger Burnes who rode the ferries five days a week throughout the early 1900s, wrote that the firm of Hardie and Thompson drew up the plans. Ross and Howard built the engine for a total cost of $3,893. Armstrong and Morriston built the new boiler engine for a total of $1,705. The carvel hull was built by the B.C. Marine Railway Company for a total of $10,950 and launched from their yard on May 12, 1900. These contradictory facts are possible if H. Kenworthy was employed by the B.C. Marine Railway Company.


The Norvan (Photo from the Nauticapedia collection. )

The North Vancouver began to drain the funds of the Municipal Council of North Vancouver as the boiler would frequently give trouble, and other boats would have to be hired as temporary replacements. The municipality could not stand for this costly venture; thus, they decided to cut services. As a result of the cut back, their original Captain resigned. This added to the costs that the ferry incurred as several new captains stepped aboard and with their limited experience both the boat and wharves were damaged on several occasions. Mr. Burnes would again ride with the original skipper, Captain Gosse, who returned after the others captains had failed.

In 1903, the Norvan was purchased by the North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company and renamed North Vancouver Ferry No. 1. The company then made plans to build a second ferry with double ends to allow larger wagons to board at one end and get off at the other. The North Vancouver Ferry No. 1 was then used as a stand by ferry.

According to H.W. McCurdy’s Marine History, a listed maritime event of 1925 was the sale of the North Vancouver Ferry No.1 to M. R. Cliff of Vancouver. Cliff had the old ferry rebuilt as a steam tug at Vancouver Shipyard and renamed as Norvan. The tug worked for over 25 years and retired in the late 1950's when the steam engine became outdated and wasn’t worth re–powering as a diesel.

Cliff had a reputation for being a hard man to work for. He detested seeing his boats tied up and was often seen on the back roads along the Fraser in an old Rolls Royce doing periodic checks on his boats and crews. He carried any equipment that he thought might be needed in the trunk and would often park on the bridges and wait for the tug to come in. He would lower food and supplies from above to allow the men to head right back out on the next trip. He was said to have kept his boats in good shape and managed to keep a faithful crew.

In 1958, the Norvan was bought by Percival (Percy) Wilson Howes and at that time the means of propulsion changed from steam to sailing. The boat was towed by Howes on his crab fishing boat the Yuri M from Burrard Inlet to Tofino Harbour. There he anchored and obtained a foreshore lease fronting Neilson Island. Howes used the Norvan as a base for his modest living quarters above decks where he used kerosene lamps as lighting and a diesel powered stove for cooking. While below decks his machine shop was fully equipped with lighting and electrical outlets within arm reach from wherever he stood.

When Howes died in 1971, Tom Grant was hired as a care taker by the executor of the estate to watch over the Norvan until a new owner could be found. Grant made $5/day to sleep aboard the boat because Howes had several thousand dollars worth of machine equipment below decks. Grant says that he spent several sleepless nights smoking cigarettes on deck, feeling the strong presence of what he thought was Percy.

In October 1971, the Norvan was purchased for $6,600 by A.W. (Sandy) Bradshaw. Bradshaw’s main interest in the boat was the machine shop equipment. In December of 1971, Grant felt that the Norvan was a must for his diver friend Rod Palm. Grant lent Palm the $2,000.00 that Bradshaw was asking and it became home to Rod Palm and family.

Palm took over Howes’ foreshore lease fronting Neilson Island and immediately began the construction of his home on the Norvan. He and his family lived afloat for 6 years until the owner of Neilson Island won his 2–year court battle to have them evicted from their lease. At that time, Leach Island (later changed to Strawberry Island) was for sale and the Palms decided that it would be the perfect place to mount their home. The Norvan moved and was anchored on the foreshore of Strawberry Island while plans of hauling it out of the water were in the works.

Palm says, "When we grounded the vessel on the island, we raised it 9 feet and slid it sideways 26 feet, putting literally right into the tree line. We accomplished this by using three 50-ton hydraulic jacks. The bow would be lifted a foot, then the stern a foot, then the jacks were put on an angle to facilitate sliding sideways. This was a somewhat risky manoeuvre, considering that the jacks could shoot out at anytime. On one occasion the 250 ton (dead weight) vessel slid sideways a full 8 inches in an instant. The result of this sent dishes, books, pots and pans flying across the rooms. My daughter Coral’s little head burst through the side window screaming, "Daddy don’t do that!" After six months of these precarious events, the Norvan was set to rest close to a meter above the highest recorded tide in Clayoquot Sound."

The Norvan is now the base of a marine monitoring organization called the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society.

Editor’s Note: The Nauticapedia notes that she was built as the North Vancouver, later renamed in 1906 as the North Vancouver Ferry No. 1 In 1900 she was owned by the Corporation of North Vancouver, North Vancouver BC. In 1903 she was owned by North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company, North Vancouver BC. In 1910 she was owned by North Vancouver City Ferries Ltd., North Vancouver BC. In 1921 she was owned by Wallace Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. Ltd., Vancouver BC. In 1925 she was owqned by M.R. Cliff & BC Mills Towing Co. Ltd., Vancouver BC. In 1958 she was owned by M.R. Cliff Tugboat Co. Ltd., Vancouver BC. In 1959–1967 she was owned by Percy W. Howes, Tofino BC. In 1972–1995 she was owned by Roderick Stanley Palm, Tofino BC. (Her registry was closed in 1995). In 1919 she was rebuilt to 65t. In 1925 she was rebuilt as a tug at Vancouver BC 83gt 39rt.

To quote from this article please cite:

Davidson, Kechura (2017) The Norvan Celebrates 100 Years.. 2017.

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