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The Steamer “Courser” Stands In As Ferry

May 25, 2015

The Courser sternwheeler on northern sojourn - Stikine River - 1898In the first week of April, 1899, the South Westminster ferry Surrey was taken out of service for a "thorough overhauling."

Substituting for the Surrey was Captain George H Cooper’s memorable river flyer, the sternwheeler Courser, pushing a scow.

The Courser, built for speed, was Captain Cooper’s best known vessel.
The  stern-wheel steamer of unique proportions was launched at Sapperton in February1892,  "gliding gracefully into the river amidst the cheers of quite a crowd of spectators."

She was brought around to the CPR wharf in the city  to be fitted with her machinery, including twin engines, 16 X 48, with at output of 400 horsepower.

Long and slim  —  130 feet long and only 14 feet wide  —  the Courser‘s appearance on the Fraser warranted extensive press coverage up and down the coast. According to Captain William Watts, himself a boat-builder, the Courser was "dubbed the ‘Razorstrop,’  owing to her peculiar build."

The Courser was intended for the Fraser River run to Chilliwack. She would carry only passengers and light freight and touch only at the "principal landings." She was to be an express boat, making a run from Chilliwack to New Westminster and returning the same day, according to a schedule.

With her 400 horsepower engines providing "three times the power used by any other vessel of her size in British Columbia," and with a draught that "is the lightest, without exception, of any steamer on the Pacific Coast,"  she was capable of "greater speed than that of any vessel at present plying on inland waters."

The Courser lasted but one season on the competitive Chilliwack route and since1893 had been engaged in various forms of contract work. In 1898 she had been sent up to the Stikine River for the gold rush. In 1899 she was back jobbing on Fraser River.

Surrey on the Ways

The old ferry Surrey on Fraser River -  loaded with wagonsIt was to be at major overhaul for the Surrey, the twin-hulled boat with center paddle-wheel that first went into service in 1891.

The ferry was taken down to "the Government ways" at the mouth of the river for inspection, repairs and modifications.

Iron man John Peck,  a New Westminster Alderman and Chairman of the Ferry Committee, took charge of the work.

Peck was well qualified to superintend the inspection and overhaul: a qualified engineer with extensive experience, he was founder of the Vulcan Iron Works (destroyed in the fire of 1898.)  Later in June, when the Surrey was back in service, Peck was appointed by the Province to be Inspector of Steam Boilers and Machinery.

Capt. Cooper Withdraws Courser – Market Day Traffic Chaos

The Courser stood in as ferry through the months of April and May, 1899, until on Thursday May 31th,   consequent  of a dispute with the City, Captain Cooper withdrew the vessel after the evening runs.

Alderman Peck secured another  vessel,  the  stern-wheel steamer Telephone, to begin on Friday morning, June 1st.

The New Westminster City Market - square the wagonsFriday was Market Day in New Westminster, the day ranchers from up the valley brought in their produce and the  highlight of the week for city commerce.

An unfortunate delay getting the Telephone under steam in the morning resulted in traffic chaos at the ferry landing opposite the city as teams and wagons were backed up for some hours.

The aggravation for farmers  intensified when the Telephone broke down. After another delay the tug Fearless was pressed into service with the scow.

The Telephone served as ferry only a week before being  sold by her owners Ewen & Munn to Captain William Watts, who took her up to run on Harrison Lake in place of his recently sold City of Tipella.

The tug Eva filled in for the short period before the Surrey resumed her regular run on Friday June 23,  a day when "more than the usual number of farmer’s wagons came across to the weekly market."

A fuller account of the steamer Courser and her builder Captain George Herbert Cooper is following by the next post.

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