The S.S. Moyie Turns 125!
News Letters, Stories
October 20, 2023
All About the S.S. Moyie
125 years ago, the S.S. Moyie was built in Nelson, B.C. and launched on October 22nd, 1898. A beloved replica now sails the Glenmore Reservoir each summer, giving Heritage Park guests a taste of steamboat travel. But in an area that is not known for an abundance of water, like Southern Alberta, why does Heritage Park have a boat?
For the majority of the history of what is now known as Alberta, the travois was the primary means of transporting goods across long distances. The Niitsitapi (or Blackfoot) used this sledge-like technology first with dogs and later with horses. Some boating technology was used, however, the nature of Alberta’s waterways made land travel the more sensible option.
When early Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders made their foray into the west, they relied on boats to transport their goods. In the mid-1700s they used birch bark canoes, a technology they learned from the Algonquin of Eastern Canada. Unfortunately, this means of transportation was extremely hard on the fur traders’ bodies. They would paddle for up to 18 hours a day and the loads they portaged between waterways were on average between 200-270 lbs. Albertan archeologists have been able to identify fur traders’ remains based on the telltale injuries this work left on their skeletons. By the late 1700s, canoes were replaced with York boats and scows which are similar to rowboats.
It wasn’t until 1875 that the first steamboat successfully launched into prairie waters. The steamboat revolutionized the way that people travelled and transported goods in Western Canada. The speed and reduced requirement for labour allowed more people to travel farther and was instrumental in opening up access to the North. Between 1875 and the opening of the railway, steamboats were the most efficient means of transportation in Alberta. This is not to say it was easy. The first steamboat to successfully launch was in 1875, but it had a predecessor in 1873 that was wrecked on its first voyage. Rivers in Alberta are often shallow and filled with rocks and rapids which are not ideal conditions for steamboats.
Although the railway virtually eliminated the need for steamboat travel in Alberta when it was built in the 1880s, there were a few boats that remained necessary in the mountains. One of which was the S.S. Moyie. The Canadian Pacific Railway had built a line to Kootenay Landing. The Moyie was launched in 1889 to transport passengers and freight as well as coal and minerals mined in Southern British Columbia between Kootenay Landing and Nelson. The Moyie remained in service for 59 years, eventually retiring in 1957. She was sold for one dollar and towed to Kaslo, B.C. where she rests as a National Historic Site. The Moyie is the oldest intact sternwheeler steamboat in the world.
Almost immediately after the opening of Heritage Park in the summer of 1964, work began on constructing a replica of the famed S.S. Moyie. The Moyie was chosen for use at Heritage Park not only for its impressive history but because sailing on the Glenmore Reservoir comes with specific challenges. The reservoir houses a significant portion of Calgary’s drinking water, making the use of motorized watercraft a no-go, as chemicals, oils, and fuel could leak into the water. And so the steamboat became the Park’s craft of choice.
Heritage Park’s S.S. Moyie was built in Vancouver and after passing sea trials in Burrard Inlet, she was dismantled and shipped by railway to Calgary. In the earliest hours of the morning, the 92-foot-long hull was carefully maneuvered down Macleod Trail and up 82nd Avenue to the boat launch. Upon being reassembled, the Moyie underwent another set of trials and safety drills. One of which was to travel at 12 knots in a straight line for ten minutes. Former General Manager of Heritage Park, Dave Turner, informed the federal inspector that doing so “would land us in the middle of the Sarcee reserve.” A concession was made and the Moyie was allowed to test her speed travelling in a circle.
On August 21st, 1965, dressed with bunting and pennant flags, Heritage Park’s S.S. Moyie was christened with a champagne bottle in front of a crowd of dignitaries, the public and the media and enjoyed her first full day of sailing on the Glenmore Reservoir. The Moyie has remained a fixture of the Park ever since, providing guests with the opportunity to learn about the history of water transportation in Southern Alberta and B.C. In her time on the Park she has carried well over a million passengers, always in sight of the mountains that her predecessor traveled for those historic 59 years.
Harnden, S.J., “Heritage Park’s S.S. Moyie,” Heritage Park Historical Village.
Ivanochko, Bob, “Steamboats,” Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan.
Kristensen, Todd and Mike Donnelly, “Birch Bark Buccaneers and Prairie Paddlers: An Illustrated Look at Alberta’s Early Boating (Part 1),” Retroactive: Exploring Alberta’s Past.
Kristensen, Todd and Mike Donnelly, “Birch Bark Buccaneers and Prairie Paddlers: An Illustrated Look at Alberta’s Early Boating (Part 2),” Retroactive: Exploring Alberta’s Past.
“Steamboats of the Arrow Lakes,” Wikipedia.
“Steamboats of the upper Columbia and Kootenay Rivers,” Wikipedia.
“Transporting Northern Dreams: Steamboats on the Peace River, 1903-1930,” From the Peace River Museum, Archives and Mackenzie Centre Peace River, Alberta’s Virtual Museum Exhibit.
Photo credit: “Steamboat ‘Moyie’ at Walker’s Landing, British Columbia.”, 1935, (CU1129374) by Unknown. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.