The SS Whatshan

Written by Rosemarie Parent of the Arrow Lakes Historical Society using member Bruce Rohn’s extensive interviews, notes and photos; he also used the Nelson Daily News courtesy of Touchstones Museum and Archives in Nelson.

With the car barge service from Arrowhead to Nakusp ending in June 1915, the CPR decided that the tug Whatshan could be put to better use on the lower Arrow Lakes winter service. Prior to this, the CPR used the tug Yale, leased from the Yale Columbia Lumber Co. in 1909 for the Robson to Edgewood run.

As settlements grew on the lower lake, the CPR put the Columbia tug on for the winters of 1910, 1911 and 1912 with Captain Walter Wright in charge. As the Columbia had limited accommodation for passengers and freight, the settlers complained bitterly, so the CPR put the Rossland on for the 1913 season. The winters of 1914 and 1915 were mild enough to keep the Minto and Kootenay on the through run.

An additional passenger cabin was added to the stern of the Whatshan and she began her lower lake winter runs three times a week in extreme conditions in January of 1916 with just a channel open between Robson and Edgewood. The up-run ran on Monday – Wednesday – Friday bringing mail to settlements such as Deer Park, Renata, and Edgewood; the down-run on Tuesday – Thursday – Saturday took the mail out. The through run of the Kootenay got stuck in an ice jam below Burton in January and was there for six weeks. The channel between Edgewood and Needles was closed till almost the end of March.

At Robson, the Whatshan couldn’t break the ice into the wharf, so goods had to be unloaded midstream on the ice and packed to shore. A week later, it broke the propeller 10 miles north of Robson and was stranded for 24 hours. In February, her passenger list consisted mainly of prisoners from the Edgewood Internment camp. Finally, on March 29th, the Whatshan broke through from Edgewood to Needles for the first time since January and through service resumed.

The summer of 1916 was a busy time. In June, the Whatshan saw some service towing logs for Glaspie Bros. from Eagle Bay across from Halcyon to Nakusp for the Quance mill. She was also used when the CPR temporarily re-established the barge service between Nakusp and Arrowhead. In winter of 1917, she ran her regular trips from January to April and the season proved to be a mild one. When the Mountain Chief mine started up in Renata, the Whatshan made some special runs in March.

After overhauling in October, she made a few trips between Robson and Edgewood to relieve freight congestion. In 1918, special trips were made to Renata for cordwood and ore from Mountain Chief mine and she relieved the Columbia while at the Nakusp shipyard for refitting and repair. In 1919, besides her usual runs, she hauled railway ties from various points in the narrows to Robson and Nakusp. When the Minto got stuck in ice at Burton in December, the Whatshan was used but service was cut to only twice a week. In January service was again re-established to three trips a week.

This was the last time the Whatshan was used. In the middle of July of 1920, she was put up on the Nakusp shipyard ways and her machinery and boiler were taken out and shipped to Okanagan Landing for a new tug being built there. In June of 1921, the remains were towed to Arrowhead by the tug Yale. Her final resting place was near Deep Water Landing at Beaton.

Of all the tugs that serviced the Lower Arrow Lake from 1909 to 1961, the Whatshan proved to be the most suited for this run. She had the power to be able to keep the channel open in bad weather.