The remains of an ancient tugboat can be found not terribly far from Nelson British Columbia. This craft, the wood-hulled SS Hosmer, was launched over a century ago and for many decades worked hauling barges loaded with rail cars up and down that huge body of water (more on this in a bit). Later it burned to the waterline and sank in the shallows, and for the last seventy some odd years has been rotting away near shore on the west arm of Kootenay Lake.
All that remains today is the rusty boiler mostly above water, and some of the hull below, occasionally exposed at times when lake levels are low. Removed many decades ago, and put on display in town, is the prop belonging to the Hosmer.
The craft is located in a small cove between to juts of land. It’s surrounded by houses and cabins so access is limited that way – if you walk in via private beaches get permission first! If you come by water, and that lake is great for boating, access is unrestricted. Bring your snorkel. I understand it’s pretty interesting under the surface.
The SS (Steam Ship) Hosmer was constructed in Nelson in 1909 by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The hull and superstructure were of heavy wood beams and planking. The steam engine, boiler and drive cylinders, came form a firm in Ontario and were brought in by rail.
The CPR had a fleet of ships on Kootenay Lake, some passenger liners, and of course tugs, like the Hosmer, that were used to ferry rail-barges to various disconnected lines and rail-equipped loading docks up and down its shores. In particular, this craft bounced between Kootenay Landing and Proctor, a gap in the CPR’s southern mainline that would take years to close – until then barges moved cars, a lot of them, between those points. It was a busy run.
The Hosmer was being worked very hard from day one and was rebuilt in the late 1910s. Later, in the mid-1920s, it suffered a fire requiring extensive repairs. With completion of that rail gap spoken of earlier (through extremely precipitous territory, so it took some time), in the early 1930s, the ship was out of work. I guess it was pretty worn out by then. Old documents speak of it handling multiples of two to three barges at at time, each with up to fifteen cars, several times per day, each way, six or seven days a week.
After languishing at the CPR shipyards for a few years it was sold to a local fellow with intentions to turn it into a house boat of sorts. Not sure what would power it though since the engines (but not the boiler) were salvaged sometime soon after its retirement. How far he got with it is unknown. For years I guess it was anchored not far from where it is today. In the early 1940s vandals burned it to the waterline, sinking it in the process. It’s shallow here so it didn’t have far down to go. It was then abandoned, interestingly not all that far from where it was built so long ago (just a few clicks away).
What was left of the hull (recall most of it burned) eventually collapsed under the weight of the boiler. Today, the latter is the only part visible – it almost looks like it’s floating from the shore – unless water levels are low in which case some wood bits can be seen too. Photos found from a few decades ago show the wreck looking much as it does today.
I’ve heard snorkelers mention some old rails scattered near the wreck which presumably must have been ballast. The submerged rudder, now separated from the hull, can be found nearby, along with other odd bits of metal and wood. In the 1980s, the prop was removed by the Nelson Museum and brought to town.
The craft, it’s believed, was named in honour of Charles Hosmer, a CPR official of the era. He also had a town named after him.
The railway had many tugs on Kootenay Lake, not just the Hosmer. These other craft were built in the years 1890s-1950s, most at the firm’s Nelson shipyards. The last of these operated up until the 1970s, moving rail cars in and out of those disconnected lines touched on earlier (what was left of them by this time). The Hosmer was largest tug on Kootenay Lake (33m in length, 6m wide and 100-ish gross tonnes). The CPR also operated passenger ships. The last of these, the Moyie, is now on display in Kaslo north of Nelson.
The Hosmer is not the only ship wreck on the lake. There are many, most of them connected to the CPR’s former operations. Some of these remains are close to shore like the Hosmer while others are in deep water.
Kootenay Lake, end to end, is over a hundred kilometres long with the west arm extending out for a couple dozen more. In most places it a couple kilometres wide give or take. Surface area is some four hundred square kilometres. I told you it was huge! In fact it’s one of the biggest in the province. It’s very popular with boaters and anglers.
Other interesting remains…
CPR’s Big Hill revisited.
Stirling Mine – Commander Mine – Nacmine Alberta.
Rosebery BC railway barge slip (connected to CPR’s second tug operation on the Arrow Lakes further west).
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2016.
Location: Nelson, BC.
Article references: Royal BC Museum Victoria, Touchstones Nelson: Museum of Art and History, Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism.
Access by land is limited (private property all around), but by water presents no real problems.