Twin Cities: San Francisco and Victoria

Circa 1858 or 1859 Correspondent’s ren­der­ing, Image PDP01898:  cour­tesy of the Royal BC Museum

Probably the best re­ward for my hav­ing been so well im­mersed in re­search­ing our West Coast mar­itime his­to­ry over the years, was com­ing across cer­tain as­pects of it that have never been writ­ten up let alone spo­ken to in the past. What with hav­ing been born and raised in Victoria, a city whose his­to­ry and cul­ture was sup­pos­ed­ly all of British ori­gin, I was much sur­prised to dis­cov­er how so close­ly linked it was with ports down along the U.S. west coast through­out the later half of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Indeed the ten­ta­tive title of my cur­rent book project is Twin Cities: Victoria and San Francisco.

Regardless of its long­stand­ing British stan­dards and so­cial habits, Victoria in its early for­ma­tive years was trans­formed into very much an American wild-west fron­tier town after be­com­ing so close­ly linked to San Francisco both so­cial­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly back in the mid-1800s. To start with, both cities are some­what sim­i­lar ge­o­graph­i­cal­ly what with their being bound­ed by ocean wa­ters on three sides. As it is, San Francisco re­mains as one of the largest ports along the Pacific since this unique ge­o­graph­ic fea­ture pro­tects an in­cred­i­bly large open bay. Although its har­bor is much small­er in size, Victoria was to be­come an­oth­er very ac­tive port along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Fort Victoria, a quiet and peace­ful Hudson Bay Company trad­ing post, un­der­went a dra­mat­ic trans­for­ma­tion once the Fraser River gold rush of 1858 was un­der­way and both Vancouver Island and New Caledonia (today’s main­land British Columbia) were ab­solute­ly over­run with Yanks eager to pan a good dol­lar out of the river bars. Victoria, which was to be trans­formed into just an­oth­er American wild west town, was to main­tain its close ties with California right up until the ar­rival of Canada’s trans-con­ti­nen­tal rail­way, the C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) to Pacific tide­wa­ter at Port Moody in the sum­mer of 1886.

But re­gard­less, as time went on I fi­nal­ly began to un­rav­el and get to the bot­tom of the story as to how British Columbia’s cap­i­tal city was so close­ly con­nect­ed to the U.S. west coast through­out the 19th cen­tu­ry. Having been to­tal­ly im­mersed in re­search­ing and writ­ing west coast mar­itime his­to­ry over the years, one par­tic­u­lar ship­wreck I be­came ob­sessed with, and whose re­mains are still yet to be found, was that of the U.S. flagged steam­er George S. Wright which was lost on a voy­age re­turn­ing to Portland, Oregon, after a run freight­ing mail and cargo up to Alaska. It was while scan­ning through Victoria’s paper of the day, the British Colonist, track­ing news of her dis­ap­pear­ance and loss, that it re­al­ly came across how much sea-going traf­fic re­mained run­ning be­tween U.S. ports and Victoria well into the later years of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry.  On February 28th, 1873, res­i­dents of Victoria opened their copies of the Daily British Colonist to read, “Terrible Marine Disaster!” Probable Loss of the Propeller Geo S Wright with all on board!” The American screw steamship was on its way south from Alaska to Portland in late January that year.

The Captain of the George S. Wright took on some risk and put all her crew and pas­sen­gers in dan­ger by tak­ing the out­side route through Hecate Straits to cross Queen Charlotte Sound rather than through the Inside Passage that win­ter. As it was, the steam­er which was only 117 feet in length and of 184 gross tons, would have been over­loaded with all the cargo and pas­sen­gers they had taken on. Captain Thomas J. Ainsley had put to sea from Kluvok, their final Alaska stop, after load­ing some 800 bar­rels of salmon, 100 bar­rels of oil, along with some skins and furs on 25th January.  They then head­ed out into a snow storm which would have made for treach­er­ous sea con­di­tions out in Hecate Straits. Still her Captain was most keen to get back into Victoria as soon as pos­si­ble since he was en­gaged to a woman who lived there. The steam­er was under the com­mand of Captain Ainsley, “an ex­pe­ri­enced pilot” who, as it hap­pened, was “…the broth­er of a Mrs. Mouat of this city” ac­cord­ing to the British Colonist.  In its March 7th paper, it went onto pro­vide a list of the steamer’s of­fi­cers and crew and re­port­ed that “Capt. Ainsley, it is stat­ed, was short­ly to have been mar­ried to a young lady of this city…Chief Engineer (John) Sutton leaves a large fam­i­ly in this city; so, too, does Assistant Engineer Minor; B.F. Weidler, the Purser, was a broth­er of George W. Weidler, steamship agent here.”

Victoria’s har­bour was to re­main an in­cred­i­bly busy port fol­low­ing the Fraser River gold rush what with steam­ers and ships of sail ar­riv­ing in from Portland and San Francisco as well as ports through­out Puget Sound. The local pa­pers would keep track of ships tied up in Victoria’s Inner Harbour or over in Esquimalt wait­ing their turn to un­load and list­ed not only all the goods being de­liv­ered up onto her wharves but also all the pas­sen­gers aboard and what they were here for This flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty con­tin­ued on well into 1859 and in its June 25th paper that year Victoria’s British Colonist re­port­ed on how the city had come to the fore­front as a major ma­rine cen­tre on the Pacific by list­ing the ships cur­rent­ly sit­ting in port at both Victoria and Esquimalt at the time: the steam­ers Otter, Governor Douglas, Caledonia, Colonel Moody and Eliza Anderson; the ships Thames City, Carnatic, Eliza and Ella, barks Euphrates, Carrie Leland and Caesar, brigs Katie Foster and Hamburg, steamship Forward, along with the Royal Navy’s Tribune, Satellite, Pleiades and Plumper.

In essence, the bound­ary be­tween the United States of America and what was British ter­ri­to­ry at the time never re­al­ly stood for much through­out the years fol­low­ing the Fraser River gold rush right up until July 1871 when the colony fi­nal­ly joined Confederation as the province of British Columbia.

The Rewards of having a website: More Rum Running Tales


Even though it’s been going on three years now since my last book, The Real Story of West Coast Rum Running hit the streets, it is still prov­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly re­ward­ing hav­ing a web­site up where folks are able to con­nect with me via my Blog. The lat­est re­sponse I re­ceived was from David Ferguson, who point­ed out that it was his fa­ther, “Davie” Ferguson, on p. 267 stand­ing out on the deck of the dis­trib­u­tor boat, Ryou II, be­hind George Butts and “Sparky” Miles. “My fa­ther’, Fergie, ap­pears in some of your pic­tures, but not in the text. I am not sur­prised. He al­most al­ways kept his thoughts, and cer­tain­ly his feel­ings to himself.”

Then there was Gary Cullen over in Tsawwassen who filled me in on the tale of Rosie Broun, a young lady liv­ing out on Port Roberts right next to the bor­der in a big house known as the ‘goat ranch’ or ‘snake farm.’ Here she was op­er­at­ing an aer­i­al tramway for load­ing boats run­ning in across from Washington state. Here on dark nights when there was no one around liquor car­goes were loaded and run south. Also, an­oth­er woman down in Renton, Washington, con­tact­ed me to fill me in on her husband’s great uncle, Louis Bussanich’s, ad­ven­tures back when he was ac­tive­ly in­volved in the trade. He and part­ner, J. Rice, made the news in Victoria after they were bust­ed in October 1928 by Canadian Customs in the Hoozit, “one of the neat­est speed­boats brought into Victoria” for being in Canadian wa­ters eager to pick up a load of liquor with­out re­port­ing them­selves. Bussanich later died down in Puget Sound after his ‘fast run­ner’ was shelled by a U.S. Coast Guard boat and sank.

Another per­son who con­tact­ed me just so hap­pened to be the niece of Sidney V. Elvy who was cook aboard the moth­er ship Federalship when she was seized on March 1, 1927, off the California coast. After the steam­er was brought into San Francisco all the of­fi­cers, crew, along with the own­ers, were jailed and put on trial. During their search of the steam­er, the Coast Guard hap­pened to come across a poem in Captain Stuart Stone’s cabin ti­tled “Hail, Ale, Gang’s All Here!” After being found in­no­cent of all charges and the crew were all set free, Sidney V. Elvy signed on aboard the 76-foot schooner, Noble, as cook. Upon their re­turn from Rum Row, Ensenada head­ed back home to Vancouver and en­coun­ter­ing thick fog while search­ing for the en­trance to Juan de Fuca Strait on January 1st, 1928, the Noble was caught in heavy swells off Escalante Reefs and sank with Sidney Elvy, along with three other crew mem­bers, los­ing their lives.

Still, what was prob­a­bly most re­ward­ing con­nec­tion I’ve made so far, was with Norma Warris, whose fa­ther was David Stanley, a ‘busi­ness’ part­ner of Archie MacGillis who was op­er­at­ing his big-time rum-run­ning op­er­a­tion out of Coal Harbour while Prohibition was un­der­way south of the line. After her fill­ing me in on all that her dad was well im­mersed in, she most kind­ly passed over his orig­i­nal doc­u­ments that he had held onto from those days. I felt I had struck it rich! And the wire­less mes­sage fea­tured above? It was sent out by Archie MacGillis over to David Stanley in Honolulu who was tak­ing care of their trade op­er­a­tions in Hawaii. And do note, that a 1924 dol­lar is worth some fif­teen dol­lars in today’s money.

Wreck of the Uzbekistan

Wreck of the Uzbekistan

This past August I found my­self on the in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful and fab­u­lous West Coast Trail which runs along the out­side coast of Vancouver Island.  I was as­signed to Pachena Point light sta­tion for a month-long post­ing work­ing as a re­lief light­keep­er but what was par­tic­u­lar­ly mov­ing was that I was sit­ting right be­side the Graveyard of the Pacific where my fa­ther had been in­volved with a res­cue op­er­a­tion of a ship up on the beach some 77 years earlier.

On April 2, 1943, in the midst of World War II, HMCS Outarde the Royal Canadian Navy minesweep­er which my fa­ther, Dick James, was serv­ing aboard as an Able Seaman, hap­pened to be en­gaged in minesweep­ing op­er­a­tions out in Juan de Fuca Strait. Then they re­ceived or­ders that they were to pro­ceed at full speed to the scene of a strand­ed ship up on the beach just two miles down from Pachena Point. This was the Russian lend-lease freighter S.S. Uzbekistan which had been launched from a ship­yard in St. Nazaire, France in 1937 and mea­sured 326 feet in length and was 3039 reg­is­tered tons.

The freighter slipped her moor­ings in Portland, Oregon, the morn­ing of April 1st, 1943, and was bound for Seattle where she was to load lend-lease sup­plies for Vladivostok. Unfortunately, with a south­east gale blow­ing bring­ing with it lim­it­ed vis­i­bil­i­ty, once up along the out­side coast of the Olympic penin­su­la, they missed see­ing the light of the Umatilla buoy. Then when they did fi­nal­ly see a flash­ing light they mis­took it as that of the Umatilla. They had made a grave error, in­stead, it was that of the Swiftsure buoy sit­ting out off the en­trance to Juan de Fuca Strait. As a re­sult, the cap­tain held his ship on a steady norther­ly course which had them head­ed right into the out­side coast of Vancouver Island. To make mat­ters worse both the lights at Cape Beale and Pachena Point had been shut down fol­low­ing the shelling of the Estevan Point light sta­tion a lit­tle far­ther up the out­side coast by the Japanese sub I‑26 on the 20th of June the year before.

HMCS Outarde, with my fa­ther aboard, ar­rived off­shore at the scene of the strand­ed ves­sel late the af­ter­noon of April 2nd to find her ground­ed some 150 yards off the beach sit­ting broad­side up against a rocky shelf just off the mouth of the Darling River. While there were some U.S. coast guard and Canadian naval pa­trol ves­sels sit­ting off­shore ready to as­sist with a res­cue, it was the Outarde’s whaler car­ry­ing a land­ing party of 11 men that were able to make it in along­side the Uzbekistan. Unfortunately though, as the whaler ap­proached the strand­ed ship and what with a strong sea pound­ing against her hull, she was car­ried around in­side her bow. Here the whaler was caught in the break­ers and hurled for­ward in the surf to be swamped but luck­i­ly was de­posit­ed up­right among the rocks well in­shore. The Russian crew who had all land­ed safe­ly and were camped out just up off the beach went down to lend the whaler’s crew a hand.

After sig­nal­ing be­tween ship and shore, the Outarde’s land­ing party left the beach that evening to head off to Pachena Point where arrange­ments were made to ac­com­mo­date the sailors. Here they re­ceived a good meal and beds for the night. The next morn­ing the Outarde flashed a sig­nal to Pachena in­struct­ing the land­ing party to head out on the trail for Bamfield where they would be picked up to re­join their ship.

So there I was some 77 years later after this major ship loss, out on Pachena Point. Then with some half-de­cent weath­er and a good low tide one af­ter­noon, I hiked down the beau­ti­ful West Coast Trail to her wreck site. It re­quired a bit of search­ing and with some scram­bling out over the rocky shelf, I fi­nal­ly came across what lit­tle was left of the Uzbekistan. There it was, its huge boil­er sit­ting out there with the surf pound­ing over it.
boiler in the sea

Still with us, Johnny Schnaar’s Kitnayakwa

Kitnayakwa Rum Row, Ensenada, early 1930s. Fraser Miles photo.

It was only a short time after my rum run­ning book came out that I began being con­tact­ed by folks with more tales to share and tell. I was par­tic­u­lar­ly in­trigued to hear from Susan Ben – Oliel who re­vealed that she and her hus­band were the cur­rent own­ers of Johnny Schnaar’s fast pur­pose built ‘run­ner Kitnayakwa.

Susan Ben – Oliel said that “there is an in­ter­est­ing story and one word be­hind the ac­qui­si­tion of the Kitnayakwa – my hus­band found it on the Seattle Craigslist! It was ini­tial­ly in bad shape and was partially

The Kitnayakwa
The Kitnayakwa as she was orig­i­nal­ly found. (Photo from the Susan Ben – Oliel collection.)

sub­merged when we had it brought up to Canada in July 2009 (on the back of a flatbed truck)” Over time (and much more slow­ly than they would have hoped) they have been try­ing to re­store it. They later paint­ed the ex­te­ri­or and built a lean – to to cover it and a deck around it. It sits right at the edge of their lake house (on Echo Lake, at Harrison Mills). Susan says “at least close to water if not in it.”

Throughout the U.S. Prohibition years, there were two dif­fer­ent ways that Canadian rum run­ners car­ried out their op­er­a­tions in south­ern British Columbia wa­ters. The bulk of the trade in­volved a va­ri­ety of Canadian small ves­sels de­liv­er­ing up liquor or­ders to American boats. This took place in a gen­er­al­ly safe man­ner with­in B.C. wa­ters such as Haro Strait which the Victoria Daily Colonist of the day de­scribed as filled with small is­lands serv­ing as “Oases of Scotch in a Sea of Saltwater”. The other method en­tailed tak­ing on a high level of risk by de­liv­er­ing up booze di­rect­ly onto Washington State beach­es which was oth­er­wise de­scribed as ‘jump­ing the line.’

One mariner who proved par­tic­u­lar­ly adept at this very lu­cra­tive un­der­tak­ing was Johnny Schnaar. After haul­ing liquor out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour for Fred Kohse in the ini­tial years of the trade, Schnaar soon fig­ured that he’d prob­a­bly do even bet­ter with a boat of his own. Right up until Prohibition fi­nal­ly ended in December 1933, Johnny de­signed and had built five fast wood hull shore boats. The fourth one built in the boat­yard of Tomotaro Yoneda on Chatham Street, Victoria, was the 45 foot 8 inch­es long Kitnayakwa which was pow­ered by two high speed Lee gas en­gines ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing 1,036 horse­pow­er to her twin screws, which were good for up to forty knots. What was amaz­ing is that some 91 years after her launch­ing in Victoria in 1928, the Kitnayawka is still with us.

Courtesy of Brian Kilpatrick collection

Following the end of the pro­hi­bi­tion years in December 1933, the own­ers of the rum trade’s fleet of boats had to look for other pur­suits in order to keep them work­ing or just sell them off. As it hap­pened, a num­ber of fast run­ners were turned into love­ly yachts, one being the Kitnayakwa. Sometime around 1938, Gordon Kilpatrick, who was liv­ing out at Point Grey in Vancouver at the time, bought her and she be­came his family’s yacht “Kitty”.  Then when his son mar­ried in 1945, the young cou­ple lived aboard her for a year until they could have a house built ashore. Mr. Kilpatrick sold her off some­time in the late ‘40s and many years later she fi­nal­ly ended up in the hands of Susan Ben-Oliel and her husband.

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