Connecting the Kootenays: The Kootenay Lake Ferries
Connecting the Kootenays: The Kootenay Lake Ferries is the authoritative history of a century of ferry service across Kootenay Lake. Historian Michael A. Cone follows the service from its genesis in 1921, when it first linked the East and West Kootenays together as part of the visionary Southern Trans-Provincial highway, right up until its 100th anniversary in 2020, when the existing two-ferry operation is on the verge of turning another page with the introduction of a new ‘electric ready’ ferry with state-of-the-art technology. The story starts with coal-fired CPR sternwheelers – graceful and luxurious in their accommodations – carrying automobiles between Kuskanook and Nelson and then progresses to a ferry service owned and operated by the Provincial Government. From 1931 until 1947, the ferry ran between Fraser’s Landing and Gray Creek. In the post-War boom, the route was shortened to what it is today. For the next 73 years, Kootenay Lake ferries have crossed between Balfour and Kootenay Bay, always ready to provide a safe, convenient, sometimes vital year-round link to the communities they serve, regardless of how bad the weather is.
Michael Cone’s book chronicles the changes that have taken place over the century, from transformations in ferry designs and docking facilities, improvements in navigation techniques, evolution in crew uniforms and safety, to privatization of operations, revised scheduling and, not to forget, the removal of the ferry tolls in 1963. Over the years the operation has altered to keep pace with the changes in public taste, ranging from demands for shorter routes and less congestion, and improved on board and terminal conveniences, to changes in automobile styling, including the advent of RVs and larger commercial trucks.
Connecting the Kootenays: The Kootenay Lake Ferries is a local history book you’ll want to curl up and read. It is filled with colourful first-hand accounts from crew members who were there, with black and white and period colour photos, many of which will be new for even the most ardent Kootenay historians.
Press: Connecting the Kootenays: The Kootenay Lake Ferries
Greg Nesteroff, My Nelson Now, Mar. 8, 2022
Several books have been devoted to the sternwheelers that once plied local lakes, but until now there’s never been a volume specifically about the ferries that served the same waterways.
Michael Cone rectifies that oversight with his recently published Connecting the Kootenays, which looks at a century of ferry service on Kootenay Lake.
“The sternwheeler stuff has been touched at various times in other publications,” Cone says. “Bob Turner’s books, Ted Affleck’s books. That’s been covered before. But the ferry service from 1947 when the Anscomb was built through to 2020 is all new material as far as I know.”
Cone has had a “longstanding interest in the history of navigation on Kootenay Lake,” most of it related to the sternwheelers. “But I thought this was a story that needed to be told because a lot of the oldtimers that joined the [ferry] service after the war were passing away. I didn’t want to lose their stories.
Cone started working on the project in earnest about five years ago. The book comes as the MV Balfour is set to be retired and replaced with a new ferry after nearly 70 years on the lake, although Cone says the timing is just coincidental.
“Sadly, this book is 15 years too late. Because a lot of the guys I interviewed, the senior captains from the Second World War on, are all gone. The modern audience you get is ‘My dad worked on the ferries’ or ‘My grandfather worked on the ferries.’”
The book opens with a discussion of the Grand Trunk Road, conceived in 1908 as a highway across the southern part of the province at a time when automobiles were still in their infancy. The government was unsure how to link the East and West Kootenay. Following World War I, they decided to extend the road from Sirdar to Kuskanook to connect with the CPR sternwheelers that were running to the south end of the lake anyway.
The new route, which opened in May 1921, allowed drivers to continue to the Crowsnest Pass.
“I never really full appreciated the fact that the steamer that was running from Nelson to Kootenay Landing was opening up the country,” Cone says. “It wasn’t a local service … Once you reached Kuskanook all of a sudden you could go all the way across British Columbia.”
The book also discusses the changing methods of ferry construction, beginning with hulled sternwheelers, followed by the riveted hull MV Anscomb, welded construction for the Balfour, and then plasma cutting for the MV Osprey 2000.
Cone says the detailed book will reward a careful reading.
“Some of the stories you won’t have read before. Those are based on interviews I got years and years ago with crew on the Nasookin, for instance. Those tidbits of information I’ve tried to put into the book as much as I can … I think the reader will get a lot of that if they are prepared to take the time to read it.”
In working on the book, Cone says the controversy over moving the Balfour terminal to Queens Bay (which the Ministry of Transportation ultimately opted against) caused some headaches for him in trying to get information from the government.
Carolyn Grant, Trail Times, April 21, 2022
At 7 pm on April 28 2022 the Cranbrook History Centre, you will have an opportunity to connect with two Kootenay authors who have recently written books around Kootenay transportation history.
Ed Talks – Boats and Trains in the Kootenays will present authors Michael Cone and Terry Gainer talking about their recently released books ‘Connecting the Kootenays’ and ‘When Rails Ruled the Kootenays’. They will be signing their books, which are on sale at the History Centre.
Michael Cone’s book Connecting the Kootenays’ is a 100 year history of the Kootenay Lake ferries.
Cone takes you through the history of the ferries, beginning with the sternwheeler Nasookin in 1921, a vital water link as the rail line didn’t fully connect the east and west Kootenay until 1931. Cone has done significant research and includes pictures and staff interviews of the Moyie, the MV Anscomb, the Balfour and the Osprey 2000. Local history buff Tom Lymberry of Gray Creek calls the book a triumph of accuracy and detail.
Terry Gainer’s ‘When Trains Ruled the Kootenays’ is a history of railways in southeastern BC. It sold out on first printing and has been reprinted this year. It includes a selection of historic photographs, and details the considerable rail traffic in and out of Nelson and area in the early 1900s.
Both books will be of interest to those who appreciate Kootenay history, and an opportunity to meet both authors at once shouldn’t be missed.
Keith Powell, Talking Kootenay Books, May 9, 2022
Cranbrook author and publisher Keith Powell interviews: Michael A. Cone, author of Connecting the Kootenays: The Kootenay Lake Ferries.