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




2017 Historic Fort George River Journey

Historic Fort George River Journey
A jet boat journey exploring trains, ferries, and sternwheelers

May 15 or June 17 2017
Prince George, BC

Historic Ft George Canyon

Journey with us as we explore the rivers of Fort George and its iconic historical features via jet boat!

On this one day tour, led by Jeff Elder from the Prince George Heritage Commission, we will travel by jet boat to explore some of the regions most inaccesible historic sites. The Nechako River and Fraser River will be our classroom for the day. Our small group of 5 participants will allow plenty of time for discussion and questions. We will go to shore throughout the day and explore at our leisure. Space is very limited so don’t delay!

Old Miworth Reaction Ferry Pontoon

Reaction Ferry
The tour will commence with a 30 minute jet boat ride up the Nechako River to the site of the Miworth Reaction Ferry. In Miworth two hulls of the ferry still remain, plus a wooden derrick tower. This ferry operated from 1922 to the mid 1940’s. Reaction ferries were common in the interior for crossing many of our many river systems. The ferries consist of two pontoon hulls and a cable across the river. The energy of the river current is used to angle the pontoons across the river.

Ring bolt in Fort George Canyon

Fort George Canyon
The last destination on our tour is Fort George Canyon where the sternwheelers of the early 1900’s attempted to navigate and winch themselves through the rock outcropped islands and fast flowing rapids and whirlpools of this narrowing in the Fraser River. We will learn and experience why it was so difficult to bring these boats through this extremely treacherous section of the river. Don’t miss this chance to experience the rich history of our local rivers!

Grand Trunk Pacific Bridge

Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Bridge
From the Miworth Reaction Ferry site, we will journey to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Bridge. This iconic Prince George Feature is over 100 years old and at and is still the longest railway bridge in BC. While viewing the Bridge from below, Jeff will provide a historic perspective on the bridge. On this stretch of our journey a stop will also be made at Goat Island, where this island’s contribution to the building of the GTP Railway Bridge and the stories of Jim Johnson’s goat farm will be told.