All you ever wanted to know about Sternwheeler Cordwood

A big part of the history of the Skeena River and Upper Fraser River involved the use of Sternwheelers to transport people, equipment, supplies, furs and food up and down the rivers which were the main transportation routes.  Almost all of the sternwheelers used wood to fed the boilers which in turn powered the large paddles at the rear of the ship.  Wood was a readily available resource that grew adjacent  to the river and could easily be cut and split into 3-4 ft sections and piled into cords by local contractors.  The term Cordwood became part of everyday language as it was a necessity for every day travel.  The cordwood cutters would get around $3-4 a cord for each one that was used by the boats.  They would cut it and stack it next to the river at strategic points so that there was always an available supply along the routes that they traveled.  The sternwheelers could burn 1-3 cords and hour depending on the size of the boilers and how hard they ran the boat.  This was for upstream navigation only as downstream typically used a fraction of this as they used the current for most of their power.  Passengers were typically enlisted to help with the loading of the cordwood at the supply points. some boats could hold up to 10 cords of wood at one time.  It was one crew members job to continually feed the boilers with wood the entire time the boat was moving.

Ironically the Sternwheelers faded into obscurity in the 1912 -1920′s as the railway replaced the need for them.  The last use of the sternwheelers was the assisting with goods and supplies to build the railway.

On the Skeena River the last sternwheeler the “Inlander ” did its last trip in 1912. Why this is interesting is that there are still piles of old cordwood lying along the banks of the river that were never consumed.  In one location that we visit there are 6 piles lying adjacent to the river and they are in different stages of rot and decay but they can still be identified.  For some reason I find this fascinating that these piles are over 100 years old and are one of the only remnants of the historic Sternwheeler days.  If you want to visit these piles you can always join one of our tours that visits them or send me a note and I would be happy to provide you directions to them.

Checking out a pile of 100 year old cordwood
photo courtesy of @simonsees


100 year old Cordwood Pile
Sternwheeler with a load of cordwood on the front