Rhymes, Rants & Accolades from North Central BC

THE BLUENOSE STERNWHEELER

The Good Old Days [Fraser Lake Bugle, 1981/82]

Interview with Harvey MacDonald

The Bluenose was built during the 1920s by two Swedes, Axle and Pete, for Bert Black and Dan Webster, two of the original partners in what would later be known as Fraser Lake Sawmills. (Merle Hartman was also an early partner in the sawmill)

In the spring of 1928 Harvey MacDonald “went down to the mill” after a winter of cutting ties.

“I started piling lumber and they wanted someone on the Bluenose. Bill Leslie was running it then. Bert Black said, “By Golly, I got just the man for you…

“I was on the Bluenose for two years. There was Bill Leslie and I, the first time I was on it. Then there was a couple of years between. The last time I was on it was with Hyrum Christensen.

The Bluenose was built for the purpose of towing logs on Fraser Lake. They were logging along Fraser Lake at that time. They’d haul logs from Simon Bay and all through there. Webster and Black were steam engineers from the days when steam was the thing. In one sense they (the sternwheelers) were good because they had lots of power… but you had to steer them with the towline. There was no prop and the rudder was ahead. There were notches cut in the tow post. To steer the boat, you had to use a peevie to pull the tow rope over to another notch.

The Bluenose was thirty feet long but the big boiler took up a lot of room. There were two engines at the back turning the paddle-wheels. When you towed, you had to be feeding the boiler all the time to keep the steam up. I was the strongest so I guess that’s why I got the hardest work as I had to do that. It was a woodburner. Sometimes we ran out of wood and we’d have to go ashore and throw out a gangplank; get a crosscut saw and saw some wood.

Bill Leslie and I towed from the end of the lake…and from the river. (The annual log drive on the Stellako River transferred logs which had been cut along Francois Lake downstream to where the river ebbed into Fraser Lake. From there, the logs were put into booms to be towed across the lake. When the wind “blew from the east” it would sometimes take many days to tow a boom the relatively short distance to the sawmill.)

One time there was a boom across the river up past the bridge. When Bill and I got to the boom, we had to anchor the boat… there was about ten or twelve feet of water. At the end of the Bluenose there was a ramp way out and you had to get the anchor and kind of swing it out. I was feeding the boiler when I heard Bill yell so I shut the boiler down. I went over and here come the bubbles and pretty soon up comes Bill. I got the pike-pole and fished him out. He had these waders on – full of water!

He said, “You know, I hung onto that damned anchor until it hit bottom! I just couldn’t let go!”

In later years, the Bluenose was replaced by a tugboat with a diesel “Union” motor. It was named the North Star…Ivan Ray was the second mate with me on the North Star. Ivan was scared of water…We used to pull logs from the east end of the lake (Fraser Lake) and when you’re towing, right in the middle of the lake is the best place to go…I’d give him the wheel to take four hours or so of sleep and here he’d be up on the shore…

I’d say, “What in Hell are you doing way over here?”

He’d answer, “When this thing drags its belly on the ground, then I know I can walk ashore!”

We had fun, though. Ivan was full of “hellery” One time we were anchored up on Beaumont Beach getting ready to tow a boom. Ivan had a frying pan. He bent the handle and dug up a whole potful of these clams. He cleaned them all nice and cooked them with some bacon… he ate some and said, “I think it’s poison!”

After about an hour or so, I saw that he didn’t get sick so I had some and by golly, it was darned good!

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