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Freight cars and island treasure – the speculative ventures of Captain SF MacKenzie

June 30, 2014

In 1901,  there was a freight car ferry that ran from Liverpool, opposite Sapperton, down Fraser River and across to Sidney on Vancouver Island. 

The service was established by Captain Simon F MacKenzie, a Scot who in 1892 had guided a renowned group of adventurers  to Cocos Island off the coast of  Costa Rica in a hunt for buried treasure.

Victoria Terminal Railway & Ferry Company

The Victoria Terminal Railway & Ferry Company was formed in November 1900 to connect the  Victoria & Sidney Railway on Vancouver Island with the Great Northern Railway on the mainland,  at its northern terminus opposite the city of New Westminster.

Among the original investors in the VTR&FCo were EG Tilton and TW Paterson, and a major promoter of the line was  Captain SF MacKenzie, who took over from Paterson as General Manager of the line in 1901

Captain Simon Francis MacKenzie

Capt SF MackenzieCaptain MacKenzie, a native of Kiltarlity,  Invernesshire,  had come to the lower mainland in 1888 after a spell in Portland, Oregon,  and with his brother Duncan MacKenzie, engaged in business as coal merchants and general freighters, located on Westminster Avenue (Main Street) in Vancouver.

MacKenzie Bros. had commissioned the construction of  several steamboats including the  Agnes, the Clyde,  and the steam schooner Eliza Edwards.  They also operated a  trio of small shallow-draught river freighters SS Fingal, SS Staffa and the SS Clansman, building a sizeable trade servicing rural river landings.  The Staffa and likely the others were built at the False Creek boatyard of Leamy & Kyle.

Cocos Island treasure — the Eliza Edwards excursion

It was with the Eliza Edwards that Captain MacKenzie obtained a measure of celebrity.  The Eliza Edwards was launched in 1891 for sealing,  but turned to fishing halibut for the export trade. 

In June 1892 MacKenzie was approached by Captain James H. Van Bramer (Van Bremer) and others with a plan to charter the Eliza Edwards for an expedition to Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica in search of a vast hoard of buried treasure.  While professing little faith in the venture, MacKenzie went along with his vessel.
Expedition leader Van Bramer,  a 60 year-old widower,  was an American who came to British Columbia around 1860. He was naturalized a British subject at New Westminster in May 1873. Van Bremer built the Sea Foam, one of the pioneer vessels of the Fraser River and Burrard Inlet, which he operated as the ferry between Hastings townsite, Gastown and Moodyville on the north shore.
The mystery surrounding the voyage of the Eliza Edwards provoked a great deal of speculation in the press as to her true purpose and the boat was  detained in California on charges of smuggling.
If any pirate treasure was found, no one was saying and by the fall of 1892 Van Bremer was noticed on his return to BC.  It was reported the members of the expedition had not taken themselves too seriously and were amused by the attention paid them by the press. 

"The gentlemen reaped a rich harvest in adventure and jolly experience, although they came back with less gold than they carried."

Captain MacKenzie sold the  Eliza Edwards to the government of that Costa Rica, which converted her to a gunboat, renamed the Turalba

Van Bramer lived the last few years of his life in Santa Barbara and died there in June 1895.

The barge car ferry Georgian  -  Liverpool to Sidney and Vancouver

For the VTR car ferry service, MacKenzie Bros purchased the Georgian,  a barge owned by the White Pass & Yukon Railway. Built for the Klondyke gold rush to take equipment and  cattle to the north, the Georgian was used to carry coal from Comox to Skagway until wrecked.
With a capacity of 800 tons, the Georgian was refloated and refitted.  Her sides were arched, forming a bridge-like superstructure and she was fitted with enough rail to take on board 12 freight cars.

"Ferry slips were constructed at Sidney, while the Great Northern built a slip at its terminus at Liverpool, on the Fraser river opposite New Westminster. From this slip Great Northern cars are transferred to the Georgian, and carried not only to Victoria, but to Vancouver, where a slip has been built at False Creek."

Under tow of the tug Mystery, the  Georgian operated to Sidney until February 1902 when service was discontinued because "the amount of freight offering did not warrant the operation of the barge."  

On completion of the Port Guichon-Cloverdale railway in 1903, a ferry service operated from Port Guichon to Sidney with the Victorian

MacKenzie Bros sold off the three small steamers Clansman, Staffa and Fingal in 1903.

Captain MacKenzie later operated the car ferry Georgian under contract to the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway, hauled by the tug Escort No. 2.   The Georgian was driven ashore in 1903 at Texada Island and in March 1905 she was caught in a gale, separated from the Escort No. 2, and foundered on the rocks off Hornby Island,  a total loss.

Captain SF MacKenzie remained active in the steamship business until retiring from business in 1910, when he disposed of the last of his vessels.


Captain SF MackenzieSimon Francis MacKenzie

-born 1857 06 08 Kiltarlity, Invernesshire, Scotland

-died 1924 11 07 Vancouver BC.

Caricature above from Vancouverites As We See ‘Em.

See also, Daryl E Muralt, The Victoria and Sidney Railway,  1892-1919.

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