Steam-powered treasure moored in Vancouver's False Creek

Built in 1922, S.S. Master is the last of its kind

The last registered steam-powered boat in the country has been moored since Canada Day in False Creek in front of the market at Granville Island.

The S.S. Master Society finally secured a berth in the high-traffic zone so more visitors can see an artifact of B.C.s history.

article continues below

The Master previously spent its summers near the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Russ Copeland, volunteer skipper of the Master, says the steamship must be visible and running. Once this is gone, theyll never see another steamboat again, he said.

The white paint on the exterior of the 89-year-old heritage tug is scabbed and worn, but the wheelhouse is fitted with Douglas fir and brass. Copeland steers the steamship tug. Two volunteer crew drip oil onto the engine and brave 120-degree Fahrenheit temperatures while twin furnaces heat a 10-ton boiler to create the steam that pushes the pistons. Filling the steamships tanks with water takes two to three days using a garden hose.

Renowned designer and builder Arthur Moscrop built the steam tug in False Creek in 1922, just before tugs were built for or converted to diesel power. The Master is the last survivor in original condition of more than 300 steam-powered wooden tugs built in the province that used to tow log booms, barges of coal, oil, gravel and limestone along the west coast.

Its engine was one of a series of 36 pairs built in 1916 in Scotland for use in the Royal Navy minesweepers of the First World War. It still works a hundred per cent, Copeland said.

The Master worked local waters until it was laid up in 1959. It suffered weather and vandalism until 1962, when members of the World Ship Society of Western Canada, a branch of an English organization of ship lovers, rescued and restored the Master as a tribute to the tugboat industry of B.C.

When the World Ship Society found it increasingly difficult to care for the Master under its charter in 1971, the Society for the Preservation of the Steam Towboat Master, now the S.S. Master Society, formed to maintain it.

Members of the society nearly rebuilt the ships hull and machinery in the early 1980s and the Master moored at Expo 86.

Copeland, who grew up in a lighthouse on Merry Island near Sechelt and worked as an RCMP officer in the marine section, saw the Master at Expo and decided more than 15 years ago to devote time to the boats preservation. It conjured up childhood memories. We used to go out and meet some of these boats and have coffee in [the galley]. The cook always had pie for us kids. Wed be down in the engine room and all that stuff, he said.

The 71-year-old resident of Ladner will guide the Master to Steveston in early August for a heritage boat show and might make a 10-hour trip to Victoria in September.

The Master is usually open to visitors Saturdays, or when a volunteer is on board, until September.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

Read Related Topics

Popular Vancouver Courier

Sign Up For Our e-Newsletter!
Find the Vancouver Courier Newspaper