Workers at the Canadian Maritime Engineering shipyard in Nanaimo face the unenviable task of demolishing BC’s oldest wooden tugboat.
The MV Sea Lion was built in 1905 by Charles E. Robertson in Vancouver and, at 130 feet long and 22 feet wide, was at one time the largest tug operated in British Columbia waters, according to the Nauticapedia, an online maritime site. Museum. The Sea Lion was originally powered by a 600 horsepower oil-fired steam engine which gave the boat a speed of 10 knots, and was fitted with an Enterprise 800 hp diesel engine in 1952.
Scrapping the 116-year-old tugboat is a sad experience for workers at the Stewart Avenue shipyard, said Jim Drummond, project manager.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “I grew up on an old wooden tug that was built in 1917… The Sea Lion has appeared regularly in my life. It’s a big old majestic tugboat that you couldn’t help but stare at as you passed.
The tug has had many owners over the years. She was bought and sold as a yacht and was briefly used as a cruise ship in the mid-1980s. The tug was owned by a Calgary-based company until 2013 before being sold again and eventually moored in Maple Bay.
The MV Sea Lion made history in 1914 when 376 people from South Asia arrived in English Bay aboard the cargo ship SS Komagata Maru to challenge Canada’s immigration policies. The Sea Lion was carrying a staff of 25 immigration officers and 125 police armed with rifles to attempt to board the Komagata Maru, which resulted in violence between passengers and officers trying to board. Passengers repelled the attempted boarding by throwing pieces of coal and bricks at the Sea Lion below, smashing windows on board the tugboat and causing a number of injuries to officers, according to the Vancouver Sun. The Komagata Maru was then escorted out of Canadian waters by HMCS Rainbow and Sea Lion.
The Komagata Maru Heritage Foundation briefly owned the Sea Lion in the mid-2000s. The foundation claims that the tug was the first in British Columbia to be fitted with a ship-to-shore radio and searchlight, conducted the first towing a Davis Raft type boom and that its whistle had a sliding ladder on which its crew could play songs.
Drummond said a former deckhand and mate of the MV Sea Lion in the 1950s came to the shipyard this fall and shared stories with two dozen staff about his time on the tug and what it was like. was that of working on tugs on the coast of British Columbia in those years.
“We presented him [a piece of the tug] on behalf of the crew, because historically that’s where it was to go, then he took 15 or 20 minutes and graciously shared a few stories. So the people who were here that day got to see a bit of the heart and soul that went into this boat… one of the coolest things I got to do while on the job was this ” said Drummond.
He said the Sea Lion had become a vessel of concern to the government while docked in Maple Bay. Rainwater was seeping into the ship and it had a five degree list. Its condition raised concerns that it would sink, release pollutants and entail high recovery costs.
The ship could have been restored, Drummond said.
“Now here’s the caveat. It was going to have to be a new owner with deep pockets and someone who didn’t care to throw money away because it’s a 116 year old wooden boat, ”he said. “Was it realistically recoverable? Sure. Practically? No.”
Drummond said he was heartbroken to see the boat being scrapped, but parts of the tug will be preserved. The wheelhouse will go to a private owner in the Lower Mainland who will keep this part of the tug.
“Every time I watch it and leave I don’t want to do that, I’m also grateful to be doing it for someone else,” he said.