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The Glory Days of Paddle Steamers

There is something magical about the churning of water as the paddle steamer leaves the dock, as the inertia is overcome and forward momentum takes over. These boats were well appointed classy vessels, pieces of art in operation, living proof that form and function can coexist.

The Sicamous Collage

Unlike moden ferries, the working parts were exposed, the power transferred from the burning of coal to the paddles was evident in the slow pistonning of the drive shaft. Paddles steamers were an important part of the development of much of BC, both coastal and inland – here in the Kootenays, even train lines relied on steam power to make connections across the vast lakes like the Arrow, Slocan and Kootenay. Passengers and goods traversed these waterways at a modest pace, there was community on the boats in those days too. No iPods, little in the way of books or newspapers – people were glad to hear of news from others, and to have conversations. Been on a commuter ferry, train or bus recently? Not many people talking to each other.

I’m not a historian, I don’t know much about passenger paddle wheelers of the 19th and early 20th century in BC. All I do know about them is they were beautiful. Was life better back then? Probably not a whole lot, if at all – but transport was not a thing to be taken for granted, and these vessels are a testament to that – and how far removed we are from this simple fact.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.