B.C.’s last wooden, steam-powered tugboat being restored for 100th birthday next year

She’s almost 100 and still a beauty.

The S.S. Master is the last wooden-hulled and steam-powered tug boat still in existence in B.C. and likely Canada, and to celebrate her 100th birthday in 2022, the vintage workhorse is going in for a bit of a spruce up.

“She looks pretty good for a 100-year-old boat,” Robert Allan, a naval architect who is a member of the S.S. Master Society, aid at Seaspan’s North Vancouver Shipyards in North Vancouver, where the tug is in dry dock for repairs and restoration.

“But she needs some care and attention, for sure,” he said.

Seaspan agreed to have 10 of its workers restore the 85-foot long tug that weighs 225 tons for no charge. The project will take two weeks and will complete about 20 per cent of the work that is needed, said Seaspan vice-president Paul Hebson.

“Historically, tug boats have been so important to the development of British Columbia as a province,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we support something that’s 100 years old.”

“Most people don’t know how integral tugs and barges are to B.C.’shistory and development,” S.S. Master Society member David Bradford said. Barges have to be towed when they enter into English Bay, for instance, because they’re too large to be steered.

The tugs, from the larger deep sea tugs to the smaller boom boats, are used to tow barges, log booms, and ships, according to the society website. Those have hulls made of steel and are fuelled by diesel.

Bradford said there’s something about a wooden boat that is special.

“A lot of the guys in the yard, their hearts beat a little faster when they see it,” he said.

The goal is to restore the tug and use it for educational and cultural purposes. In past summers, the tug was on display at Granville Island, said Bradford.

The tug is still operational, but hasn’t worked as a tug since the 1950s, he said.

The S.S. Master was built by Arthur Moscrop, B.C.’s most notable tugboat builder, in 1922 at the Beach Avenue Shipyard in False Creek.

She was the last tug launched with a “triple expansion steam engine,” which was a Royal Navy Word War One surplus engine built in 1916. It still powers her today.

The Master was first used in the logging industry and in 1940 was bought by the Marpole Towing Co. and painted with the company’s colours, black diamonds on a white band on an orange stack, the same colours it bears today.

The black diamonds represented the towing of coal barges from Vancouver Island to Marpole’s plant in Coal Harbour.

Ownership changed hands a few more times and by 1959, the Master was put up for sale or scrap in 1962.

The World Ship Society of Western Canada, a branch of the English organization of ship lovers, bought her for $500, with the idea of rescuing and restoring the Master “as a tribute to the tug boat industry of B.C.,” said the S.S. Master Society, which has owned her since 1985.

It is fundraising $2.5 million to complete the restoration.

“Old wooden boats require a lot of work,” said Allan.

Once the Seaspan work is done, S.S. Master will be towed back to the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site in Steveston.

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