Traveling by Scows and Riverboats
For over 100 years, those who worked in the fur trade used the rivers and lakes to travel to the Peace River country. This mode also played an important role in the transportation of settlers into the Peace River country.
In 1882-83, the Hudson’s Bay Company built the first steamship, the S.S. Graham, at Fort Chipewyan. The S.S. Graham provided services down the Athabaska River to Fort McMurray with trips up the Peace River to the Vermilion Chutes where passengers and freight would move into canoes and scows to continue up river.
Bishop Grouard attained the parts to build a steamship and brought them to the St. Augustine Mission in 1902. The St. Charles was built there and it took its first voyage on 18 May 1903, piloted by Father LeTreste. The St. Charles provided services between Peace River Crossing and Fort Vermilion until 1911 when a private operator purchased it.
In 1905, the S.S. Peace River was launched by the Hudson’s Bay Company. This stern wheeler was 110 feet long and could carry 25 passengers and 80 tons of freight. Its regular service was from Fort St. John to Fort Vermilion. In 1906, the S.S. Peace River successfully traveled to Hudson’s Hope.
The Peace River Trading Company was formed in 1911 by Fred Lawrence and E.J. Lawrence. The Company built the S.S. Grenfell that traveled to Fort St. John. It was at Fort St. John where the S.S. Grenfell was grounded on a sandbar and burned in 1914.
The largest stern wheel steamship to provide service on the Peace River was the D.A. Thomas, with a length of 161.9 feet and a width of 37 feet. It was built by D.A. Thomas, who became Lord Rhondda. The D.A. Thomas was launched on 2 June 1916 and was purchased by the Hudson’s Bay Company on 1924. In 1926, the D.A. Thomas was damaged when the captain attempted to take it up the Peace River Canyon. The ship was lost in 1930 when it washed over the Vermilion Chutes.
When the railroads arrived and the roads improved, the steamships no longer played a significant role in the transportation in the Peace River country. The D.A. Thomas continues to be remembered as an elegant and stately ship that defines earlier times of the Peace River.