Marion Creek, flowing into Columbia Lake; Mount Marion
The Marion didn’t spend much time on the Upper Columbia, but she was one of the most well travelled steamboats in the Kootenays.
As best as I can tell, Marion Creek, flowing into Columbia Lake, is named after one of the shortest serving steamboats on the Upper Columbia River, the SS Marion (see closing of this post for a discussion of my misgivings about this). Although she didn’t spend much time on the Upper Columbia, the Marion went on to be one of the most well travelled steamboats in the Kootenays!
Construction and Launch
The Marion was constructed in Golden the spring of 1888 by Alexander Watson on behalf of Captain Francis Patrick Armstrong and his financiers. The new steamboat was built to run the river while the original Duchess was taken out of service and a sleeker, better designed model (the second Duchess) was built to replace her.1
The Marion was a sternwheel steamer, 61 feet long and 10 feet wide (18.5 by 3 meters), constructed to draw only eight inches (20 cm) of water. She is described, as she was being constructed, as “the handsomest model of a light-draft vessel I have ever seen.”2 She was built of Douglas fir, with cedar decks, and was capable of carrying fifteen tons of cargo. On her maiden voyage upriver 7 May 1888,3 the Marion, “glided out into the channel as gracefully as a duck.”4
Operation on the Upper Columbia
As the only steamboat on the Upper Columbia at the beginning of the season, it was a busy time for the Marion. She was smaller than the second Duchess would be, and “her carrying capacity [was] taxed to the utmost to forward the ever increasing amount of freight to its various destinations.”5
An early tourist to the valley, Susan Margaret St Maur, who travelled on the Marion in the autumn of 1888 on her last voyage of the year, wrote:
“The day improved as we ran down the river, and the wheel-house where Captain Armstrong allowed us to sit was certainly the most comfortable place in the boat, and from it we had beautiful views of the river as we steamed along. The heavy mist rose slowly off the mountains on either side of the valley, and let us see the hills, quite white with snow.”6
The Marion Crosses the Mountains
The Marion was briefly brought back into service by Captain Armstrong during spring of the following season (1889),7 but shortly after she, “was sent to Revelstoke on two flat cars” to serve on the Lower Columbia River instead.8 Her position as a boat running opposite to the Duchess was taken over, in 1890, by the Pert.
(The Marion got around – to aid the geographically oriented, I’ve tagged many of the place names soon to be mentioned on the map at the top of the post)
The Marion had a much longer and varied service on the other side of the mountains. At first she was put on the run between Revelstoke and Sproat’s Landing (roughly Castlegar),9 although it seems that competition from other steamers limited early business. According to an 1890 newspaper report, the Marion only made a few trips in 1889, and a couple more in the early spring of 1890. She was forced to be “laid up” after the Mara line of steamboats, owned by the C.P.R., was awarded ferry privileges at the Slocan and Kootenay river crossings.10
The C.P.R. steamboat line made operation difficult from other, independent operators, but in November 1899 the Marion was chartered by Tom Ward and his friend (Arthur Dick), who took advantage of her low draw in the water to continue operating after the larger steamboats were put away for the winter.11 She continued to operate between Revelstoke and Sproat’s Landing for as long as the water would allow.12
Sale of the Marion
At this point, the Marion was still owned by Armstrong and his financiers, Thomas Belhaven Henry Cochrane and his wife, Lady Adela Cochrane. Cochrane is mentioned in the spring of 1891 in Revelstoke as working to fit up the Marion for the upcoming season’s work, and the Marion is mentioned in advertising alongside the Duchess and the Pert.13
Sometime before the following spring (1892), the Marion was sold to Captain Robert (Bob) Sanderson. Sanderson continued to do the Revelstoke/Sproat’s Landing run in the low spring water,14 and the following year (1893) moved the Marion to make the run between Revelstoke and the east arm of Upper Arrow Lake (Beaton Arm).15
Sanderson also owned extensive land around and including Halcyon Hot Springs, and he used the Marion to haul timber and otherwise support his construction of a large hotel there.16 The following year, the Marion was used to build a wharf at Fire Valley (now Inonoaklin creek).17 In 1895 she was again used to make regular trips along the Upper Arrow Lake between Revelstoke and Nakusp,18 and would continue to operate out of Revelstoke through 1897.19
In the autumn of 1897, Captain Sanderson decided to move the Marion from her headquarters at Halcyon Springs over to Kootenay Lake.20 In a move reminiscent of her transfer to Revelstoke in 1889, the Marion was brought down to Robson [Castlegar-ish], loaded on two flat-cars, and railroaded over to Nelson.21
Sanderson moved the Marion to support the construction of the Crows Nest Railway, and she was operated through 1898 between Nelson and Kuskonook (the southern end of Kootenay Lake).22
The Marion’s work on railway construction was short lived, however, and the following year, she was sold to the Kalso based Lodestar Gold Mining and Development Company.23 The new owners refurbished the Marion, constructing a pilot house on her upper deck, and planned to run her between Kaslo and Howser Lake (now Duncan Lake) over the Upper Duncan River.24
As the level of the Duncan River was notoriously low, the trip between Kalso and Duncan had only been done once before by steamer, but the low draft of the Marion was deemed perfect for the task.25 The steamer continued to be used in the vicinity of Kalso and Duncan through 1899.26
An Ignominious End
The fate of the Marion remains somewhat unclear. The author of the authoritative paper on steamboats in the Kootenays, Norman Hacking, reports that she, “[met] her doom in the mud of Howser Lake,” but provides no citation to support this. Hacking also reports having found the name-board of the Marion nailed to a cabin in the village of Lardeau.27
This may be true, but the Marion continued to be used following her 1899 operations into Howser/Duncan Lake, and there is no record that she returned there. At the beginning of 1900 she was overhauled with new engines.28 This outfitting turned out to be optimistic, however, as she ended up spending the season tied up at the Kalso docks rather than under operation.29
The Marion’s fate quickly became tied up with that of her holding company, the Lodestar Mining Company, which was facing financial difficulties. In November 1900 the craft was seized after the captain of the Marion and two crew members filed suit against the owners for lack of pay.32 The Marion found herself in the middle of a series of legal battles between the failing Company and various creditors.33
I was unable to trace what happened to the Marion through this litigation. The last trace of her had her tied up at the Kalso docks. Her machinery is reported to have been sold and shipped from Kaslo to Revelstoke in August 1902.34
It is possible that the Marion somehow made her way back up to Duncan Lake, as Norman Hacking reports, but it seems unlikely. Pieces of the Marion were probably either sold off to pay debts or pilfered over time.
I’ve held onto this post on the steamer Marion for quite some time as the case for Marion Creek being named after her is less forceful than I’d like. The Marion only ran on the Upper Columbia for a short time – just over one season – and I found no direct evidence of the steamer being associated with the creek itself. I’ve been on the lookout, and run into multiple dead ends, in an attempt to find/rule out an alternative origin for the name (there have been multiple excursions into the genealogy of people who lived nearby).
After well over a year of looking, however, the steamboat Marion remains the strongest (and dare I say only) candidate. There is a case to be made for her. The earliest mention I’ve found of the creek is on an August 1891 application by Charles J. Brownrigg for a pre-emption at the mouth of the creek.35 The Brownriggs had obtained that property in 1889 from the Taynton brothers, and it would later become far better known as Thunder Hill Ranch.
Although this first mention of the name “Marion Creek” is some two years after the Marion’s removal to the West Kootenays, the Thunder Hill Ranch connection remains intriguing. The Marion is reported in 1888 to run through to the “Upper Columbia Landing,”36 and although I can’t say for certain where this landing was, there’s a decent chance that it was at or near the mouth of Marion Creek. Settlement along Columbia Lake in 1888/1889 was limited to the Hardie Ranch, and the Taynton property, with the Tayntons being closer to the head of Columbia Lake. There’s a case to be made for Marion Creek getting its name for being the preferred landing spot for the Marion, and for the name simply sticking.
As I said, I’m not fully satisfied with the explanation, but thus far it’s the only one I have! In any case, I figured the creek was a good opportunity to look a little deeper into the history of the Marion.