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




Skeena River Unique Accommodations

One of the things we strive to include in all of our tours is  the “uniqueness”  of all aspects.  Our locations that we visit are all unique northern BC focused.  On our Skeena River Historical Journey we re-trace the route and history of the early 1900 paddlewheelers that navigated the infamous Skeena River from Hazelton to Port Essington.  Our goal for this tour is to have the guests overnight in accommodations as close to the Skeena River as possible and have their luggage transported to the next nights accommodations and have it waiting there for them while they are on the river learning about the history and taking in the sights.   One of these is the Soaring Spirits Lodge in which we spend out first night.  These unique raised “tent” sites are quite luxurious and  will make for a special story and memory that you will never forget.  Our Skeena River Tour is scheduled for August 1-6, 2017.

Unique Skeena River Accommodations
One of our “Skeena River Historical Journey” guests in her tent accommodations
Unique Skeena River Accommodations
Tent Accommodations along the banks of the Skeena River




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.



2017 Skeena River Historic Journey

August 1-6, 2017
Hazelton – Port Edward, BC

Join us for a one a kind journey as we jet boat 200 km of the amazing Skeena River from Hazelton to Port Edward. You will not find a tour like this anywhere else as the guests overnight in a different accommodation adjacent tot he river each night.


Jet Boating down the Skeena River
Jet Boating down the Skeena River enroute to Port Edward
Sternwheeler – The Hazelton

This five day experience will retrace the travels of the sternwheelers that navigated the Skeena River from Hazelton to Port Essington in the early 1900’s. You will join a small group of 10 guests boarding two jet boats to begin a 300 kilometer journey along the Skeena River, through the coastal mountains before arriving at Port Edward. Much of the time will be spent floating the river without the engines running allowing you to enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of the river on this trip of a lifetime!You will eat, sleep and breathe early Skeena River history for five days on the river, while gaining knowledge about the region from a variety of guest speakers and first nation’s communities. Historic sights of interest will be visited and discussed as your group navigates through some of the most scenic landscapes in the world. This journey will provide photographers with some very unique picture taking opportunities. You will spend all five nights in accommodations adjacent to the Skeena River.

Traditional Kitseguecla Smokehouse
Traditional Kitseguecla Smokehouse

The first day of the trip will begin in the community of Hazelton where we will have a “meet and greet” breakfast which will include introductions and a discussion of the tour itinerary. Your first stop is the aboriginal historic site of Ksan. From there, you will board one of two jet powered river boats and begin your voyage down the river towards the ocean. This section of the Skeena was notorious for its navigation hazards and the difficulty it presented for the Sternwheelers, but this will not be an issue for our modern day jet boat transportation. As you journey down the river, your tour guide will highlight many of the stories from this early period of British Columbia’s history and will identify the associated locations. You will stop at the First Nations community of Gitsegukla or “People of the sharp pointed mountain” where a hereditary chief will provide a cultural tour of the village. Next, the tour will travel to “The People of the Place of Rabbits” or Gitwangak, where another hereditary chief will share their knowledge of the carved house totem poles that date back to 1840. The final stop of the first day will be to visit a First Nations salmon netting and processing site on the banks of the river, below the community of Gitwangak. Your accommodations on this first night will be in unique “wall tents” adjacent to the mighty Skeena River that are erected on cedar platforms with spacious sundecks and commanding views. These deluxe tents are well appointed with quiltcovered queen sized beds, antique furnishings, rugs and oil lamps to lend luxury and romance to a “roughing it” experience. The tour will commence in the community of Hazelton with a visit to the historic village of Ksan, a living museum of the Gitxsan Aboriginal people. The trip will finish in the Skeena River Estuary where you will explore the history of the north coast canneries and fishing villages. The last two nights will be spent in the historic “Cassiar Cannery”, a once thriving salmon cannery recently restored as luxury accommodations. You will complete your journey by retracing the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad route on a return trip to Hazelton by rail.

Woodcock Airstrip on the banks of the Skeena River
Robert Tomlinson Grave at the Meanskinisht Cemetery on the Skeena River
Very Unique Accommodations on the first night of the trip
Very Unique Accommodations on the first night of the trip

This will be one of the busiest days as the tour will be stopping at as many historic sites as possible. The day will start with a quick stop at Woodcock, which is home to a crumbling RCAF runway adjacent to the Skeena River. Shortly after this stop, your tour will arrive at the present day site of Cedarvale, or Meanskinisht, as it was known in the early 1900’s. With so much to visit, the jet boats will power through some of the most well know rapids with names like “Devil’s Elbow”, “Hornet’s nest”, and “Gig Rapids”. These rapids were the demise of more than one Skeena River Sternwheeler over the
years. The remote “Ghost Town of Dorreen” will be visited, with one of the part-time residents guiding the group through the scattering of buildings and old vehicles that still remain. The once thriving town of Usk will warrant a quick visit, reaction ferry ride, and presentation by a long time resident. The next stop will be Kitselas Canyon, which was, and still is, the most feared section of the Skeena River. Your second night’s accommodation at the Magnificent Yellow Cedar Lodge on the banks of the Skeena River.

Historic Ring Bolt on Ringbolt Island
Historic Ring Bolt on Ringbolt Island
The Dorreen General Store

After a hearty breakfast in the lodge your journey will continue through some of the most scenic sections of the trip as the Skeena River carves its way through the towering, snowcapped, coastal mountains. This day will be taken at a slower pace with more time to explore islands and gravel bars in search of that unique photo or memory. The jet boats will float many portions of the river on this day, allowing time to just take in the awe inspiring beauty. One of the highlights will be a lunch time salmon BBQ on a Skeena River gravel bar. If water levels permit, you will jet boat up one of the many scenic Skeena River tributaries – some of which are known as “The Most Beautiful Rivers in the World”.

Cruising up a Skeena River Tributary

This segment of the trip marks the tidal portion of the Skeena River. You will boat by some magnificent scenery on this day as waterfalls cascade down from the glaciers and the vegetation and ecology changes to a coastal variety. You will visit Port Essington which is the site of a salmon cannery that operated in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Highlights here include the eerie moss covered grave sites in the cemetery, and the remnants of the historic boardwalk. If the group desires, a stop for a soak in a remote hot spring can be accommodated. The tour will then make its way through the Skeena River estuary before arriving at Cassiar Cannery where you will spend the next two nights.

Port Essington Pilings
Port Essington Cemetery

The last full day on the water will be spent exploring the canneries and fishing communities of the lower Skeena River. The first stop will be the unique fishing community of Osland. The long boardwalk, which is supposedly an extension of Highway 16, and a variety of old fishing boats and cabins will be explored, providing opportunities for photographers to obtain unique photos. The tour will then explore the old cannery locations of Carlisle and Claxton on the south side of the Skeena River. The old pilings, structures and discarded items will again make for some interesting photography. The day will end with a tour of the North Pacific Cannery Historic Site and then back to the Cassiar Cannery.

Osland Boardwalk
Cassiar Manager’s Houses


Waiting for the Train at Cassiar Cannery

For more information on this tour please contact:
Rob Bryce (250) 960-5982 or