From the forthcoming Summer issue of British Columbia History
By Robert G. Allan
There are few vessels in BC waters a century or more old. A few vintage yachts remain, but seldom do workboats achieve that distinction. A notable exception is SS Master, approaching her centennial in 2022 and, according to our research, the sole surviving wooden-hulled, steam-powered tug afloat in the world.
Master was built by noted shipwright Arthur Moscrop on the shores of False Creek in Vancouver. She worked for various companies connected to the local construction industry, most notably Evans, Coleman & Evans, forerunner of Ocean Cement Ltd. Her duties consisted mostly of towing logs and barges laden with sand, gravel, limestone, and coal along the coast.
Supplanted in 1959 by steel, diesel-powered tugs, Master was left to deteriorate. However, in 1962 the local branch of the World Ship Society saw the promise in this fine little ship and restored her to a semblance of her past glory. That work has subsequently been taken over by the SS Master Society, a small group of volunteers who for nearly 60 years have shown her off up and down the coast, educating residents and visitors alike about the important role of tugboats in the development of the BC economy.
In 2018 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada recognized “Tugboats of Canada’s West Coast” as “an Event of National Historic Significance” with the unveiling of a plaque at Granville Island, and specifically acknowledging SS Master. She also received the Beaver Medal for maritime excellence from the Maritime Museum of BC.
But age is relentless, and old wooden tugs need care beyond the skillset of even the most dedicated volunteers. The SS Master Society is therefore raising awareness and money to see this iconic steam tug preserved for decades to come. The SS Master Centenary Project aims to raise $3.5 million for a significant restoration effort. The scope of work covers extensive hull, deck, and bulwark repairs, steam machinery overhaul, and general upkeep.
This maritime world treasure deserves the utmost care and attention of all British Columbians.
To learn more, or to make a donation, visit https://www.ssmaster.org/