Canadian Sternwheeler Bonnington
By James Donahue
The Bonnington was an elaborate four-decked stern wheeled steamship launched in 1911 for the Canadian
Pacific Railway to offer freight and passenger service on the Arrow Lakes in British Columbia.
The Bonnington and two sister ships, the Moyie and Minto, were the largest sternwheelers ever built
to run on those British Columbian lakes. The Canadian Pacific dominated steam navigation on the inland lakes from the early
1890s. The Bonnington was built to replace one of the older wooden hulled vessels that was ready for retirement. To assure
its longer life, this steamship was constructed on a steel hull.
The Bonnington was the most elaborate of the three company ships, sporting four decks. The company
increased passenger capacity with the idea of developing the Kootenay and Arrow Lakes area as a major tourist destination.
The engines and boiler for the Bonnington were said to have been the largest ever built for a Canadian
stern wheeler. The grates of the boiler were over 70 square feet and it was said the boiler consumed up to 3,800 pounds of
coal an hour when the ship was underway. One 130-mile trip from Arrowhead to Robson called for 15 tons of coal.
The steamer reached a top speed of just 16 miles an hour, and was among the slower vessels in the
fleet. Even its steel was a disappointment. The owners thought it would be able to operate in shallow ice during late fall
and early winter but the ship’s shallow draft prevented its use as an icebreaker. Also the tall four-deck superstructure
made the vessel difficult to operate in a crosswind.
The Bonnington offered 62 staterooms, all equipped with electric lights and steam heat. The 71-foot
long dining room could seat up to 60 people. The vessel also had two community rooms, a ladies room at the stern and a men’s
smoking room at the bow. There was a lounge and officer’s cabins on the Texas deck.
The Bonnington operated on the Arrow Lakes route during the summer seasons from 1911 to 1931.
World War I and the years following marked a general decline in passenger and freight service on the
lakes. As railroads and roads were built and people moved to the cities for jobs, business declined. The Bonnington was to
be the last sternwheeler built on the Arrow Lakes, and it was among the last to be taken out of service in 1931.
The ship remained idled at Nakusp for the next decade, slowly deteriorating. Some of its parts were
stripped and sold to operators of other vessels of her class operating elsewhere.
The ship was sold in 1942 to the British Columbia Department of Public Works, then two years later
sold to Frank W. Sutherland of Arrowhead. There were rumors that the ship would be converted for use as an amusement hall,
but this did not happen.
Diesel engines were installed and Bonnington was briefly used as a ferry in the 1950s. The ship ended
up moored at Beaton, where it was partially dismantled. In 1960 the hull filled with water and the Bennington sank. It was
found by the Underwater Archaeology Society of British Columbia in the 1990s and today ranks as one of the largest freshwater
shipwreck sites in British Columbia.