Gwendoline Mountain, between Stockdale and Forster Creeks
The steamboat Gwendoline was merely a visitor to the Windermere Valley, having passed through only twice: once on her way up to Golden, and once going back down to the Kootenay River. Nonetheless, she does hold the title for being one of only two steamboats to successfully pass through the canal at Canal Flats.
The steamboat Gwendoline was launched late in the summer of 1893 by Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong as part of the fleet of the Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company. She was constructed earlier that year at Wasa, and christened (partly completed) after Lady Gwendoline Rous, daughter of the Earl of Stradbroke, who was staying at Thunder Hill Ranch (near Canal Flats) at the time.1
Shortly after the Gwendoline was launched, Captain Armstrong decided to take her north from Wasa to Golden where he could finish up construction on her at the yards of the Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company.
The canal at Canal Flats had been built by this time, but it was in very poor condition after the gates of the lock were blown in June 1893 to keep the hotel and sawmill at Canal Flats from flooding in high water.2 Unable to use the canal, Captain Armstrong took the Gwendoline to Canal Flats, partly dismantled her, and took the hull over on skids and rollers to Columbia Lake before refitting her and taking her up to Golden. There, the Gwendoline was completely reconstructed and relaunched on the Columbia River in May 1894.3
Bringing the Gwen South
Captain Armstrong did not want to keep the Gwendoline on the Columbia River, but instead wanted her for a route on the Kootenay River. This meant bringing her again across Canal Flats. As the Gwendoline was being fitted up during the winter of 1893, Armstrong had persuaded the Province to spend $2,500 to repair the damaged canal to make it fit for navigation.4 With the repairs completed, on 22 May 1894 the Gwendoline set out south.5
The journey back up-river and through the canal was a difficult one for the Gwendoline. The passage between Windermere Lake and Columbia Lake was particularly treacherous with deep mud and snags, and at one time she hit a submerged rock (for a hilarious recounting of the voyage, see the “Maiden Voyage of the Gwendoline” ).
The Gwen arrived at Canal Flats and went through the single lock of the canal on the night of Saturday, May 26th.6 That same night the Kootenay River began to rise, and by the following morning the canal was “somewhat over supplied with water” so that the country west of the canal was completely flooded.7 This made reloading cargo difficult, but it was managed and the Gwendoline was back in the Kootenay River by Sunday evening. The river was roaring, and the boat made it downstream to Wasa in just under three hours.
By Monday morning the entire valley was flooded. This was the flood of 1894, which did millions of dollars of damage in the Province, including sweeping away every bridge on the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers at the time.8 The canal itself was also badly washed out and considered pretty much useless from that time.9
The high water meant that the Gwendoline was rarely used in 1894, and she was seldom used the following year either as she had little capacity for cargo.10 She was rebuilt in 1896 when her length was increased from 63.5 feet (19.4 meters) to 98 feet (29.9 meters), and she remained that year on the run between Canal Flats and Fort Steele. This was just one leg in a network of boats, tramways and portages operated by the Upper Columbia Navigation and Tramway Company to link the railway at Golden B.C. with the railway at Jennings, Montana.11 As part of the Gwen’s cargo that summer in 1896, she brought down the first church bell to be heard in Fort Steele.12
The 1897 season was an eventful one for the Gwendoline. Early in the season, her entire crew of ten deserted the ship to join the Yukon gold rush. That same month, the Gwendoline was wrecked in a notoriously dangerous section of the Kootenay below Jennings Canyon (now underwater in Lake Koocanusa). Despite fatalistic reports at the time, within a month the Gwendoline was patched up and back in service.13 She remained busy that summer and the next.
In 1899 the future of the Gwendoline seemed uncertain. One report had her being brought back over to the Columbia River, while another had her going over to the Kootenay Lake area. The former scheme appears to have been abandoned after examining the canal at Canal Flats, and the latter plan to relaunch the Gwendoline above Kootenay Falls ended in disaster.14 The Gwendoline was wrecked and hopelessly broken up in a canyon near Bonner’s Ferry on her way to Kootenay Lake.15 Not even decade in age, and the Gwendoline had met her end.
The Gwendoline was not a long resident of the Windermere Valley, having passed through the valley only once on her way up to Golden, and once going back down to the Kootenay River, but she does hold the title for being one of only two steamboats to successfully pass through the canal at Canal Flats.
The Gwendoline’s Namesake
As for the Lady Gwendoline for whom the Gwen was named: Lady Gwendoline was the youngest daughter of John Edward Cornwallis Rous, the second Earl of Stradbroke. She was born in 1869 with the unenviable name of Lady Gwendoline Audrey Adeline Brudenell Rous, and she was the longest lived of her five siblings, passing away in 1952. Lady Gwendoline was married in 1895 to Brigadeer General Sir Richard Beale Colvin, and she later was appointed Commander, Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1919 for her work with the Essex Branch of the British Red Cross.16
Lady Gwendoline was staying at Thunder Hill Ranch (near Canal Flats) in 1893 at the time of the construction of the Gwendoline. Gwen’s sister, Adela, was married to Thomas Belhaven Henry Cochrane, and both Adela and her husband were financially invested in the Upper Columbia Navigation Company (who built the Gwendoline). Thomas Cochrane also had mining interests up Findlay Creek, which is why the sisters were visiting this remote area.
Cochrane’s name is likely familiar, but he isn’t who you might think. Thomas and Adela had a cattle ranch at the now ghost town of Mitford, Alberta, which was located just to the west of present-day Cochrane. The name of the town of Cochrane, however, is unlinked to Thomas and Adela: it was named after a completely different (apparently unrelated) Cochrane.
Gwendoline Mountain, located between Stockdale and Forster Creeks, was adopted as a name for the peak in 1973. The name was recommended by Peter Robinson, a mountaineer who climbed in the area in 1952. It is also just one of a series of mountains named after Steamboats that used to run on the Columbia River.
Francis Patrick Armstrong