Nakusp marks century since launch of sternwheeler Bonnington

A century after the S.S. Bonnington made her maiden voyage on the Arrow Lakes, she got yet another round of applause in her hometown of Nakusp.

  • May. 7, 2011 6:00 a.m.

Actors from the Mirror Theatre present the story of the launch of the S.S. Bonnington

A century after the S.S. Bonnington made her maiden voyage on the Arrow Lakes, she got yet another round of applause in her hometown of Nakusp.

A record number of visitors came through the Nakusp museum on the ship’s centennial weekend.

The Nakusp and District Museum Society honored the Bonnington with a host of activities, all presided over by a 100-year-old Bonnington banner made of hemp. The flag was found in the museum’s storage room.

Sharon Montgomery is the Museum Society’s curator. She has personal family ties as well as institutional memory of the Bonnington’s service to the region, with four generations in the region on her mother’s side and three generations on her father’s side. Both of her grandfathers worked on the Bonnington.

“One hundred years ago, they declared a civic holiday in Nakusp and closed all the businesses and all the schools, and everyone went to the waterfront to watch the launching of the S.S. Bonnington,” Montgomery said.

The steam-powered sternwheeler, powered first by wood and then by coal, was the largest ship that sailed the Arrow Lakes.

Built in the Nakusp shipyard, the Bonnington played a critical role in the Arrow Lakes region, ferrying people, gold, silver and goods; there were no hairpin roads, just rails at the time.

Minerals played a role not just in opening up the Kootenays; the wealth brought to the surface from area mines fueled a larger rush for civilization, Montgomery said.

“As a side note, there was enough gold that came out of Sandon to fund the infrastructure for Vancouver, Victoria, Spokane and Seattle,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that’s where all the money came from to build those cities.”

The Bonnington plied the Arrow Lakes for the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1911 to the early 1930s, when she was dismantled because roads were being built in the Kootenays, giving B.C. families new freedom from mass transit on the lakes.

“My mother (Ellen Rushton) lived in Nelson, and they would travel to Castlegar by train and then catch the Bonnington up the Arrow Lakes to Nakusp to visit (her great-great-great-grandmother),” Montgomery said.

The Columbia Basin Trust sponsored the event.

“We toured 76 people through the museum that day, which was a record,” said Montgomery.

The museum will open on the long Victoria Day Weekend May 21, and will remain open seven days a week for the busy summer season.

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