HISTORY: Tugboats shepherded sailing vessels past Cape Flattery

Local ship masters included Oscar Scarf and James Christensen

Pilot, a tugboat, plies the waters of Sooke Harbour in 1913. (Contributed - Sooke News Mirror)

Pilot, a tugboat, plies the waters of Sooke Harbour in 1913. (Contributed - Sooke News Mirror)

Elida Peers | Contributed

It was a dreary day when the tugboat Pilot was photographed in Sooke Harbour in 1913.

As this image was given to the Sooke Region Museum by Len Clay, we assume it was taken by his mother, Victoria Donaldson. At that time, Len Clay was a teenager living on the Donaldson farm at the end of East Sooke Road.

This view of the harbour appears to have been taken looking southwest from near the government wharf. Rowboats were the chief form of transportation between East Sooke and the village centre. Gillespie Road was not put through until 1929.

In B.C. history, the Robert Dunsmuir and James Dunsmuir families were recognized for their ships, besides their fame in the coal industry and the building of castles. Foremost was the 218-foot steam yacht Dolaura, the flagship of James Dunsmuir, the luxurious vessel he used for cruising B.C. waters and entertaining wealthy guests.

The two tugboats the Dunsmuirs were known by were the Pilot, shown here, and the Lorne. The wooden-hulled Pilot was built in Chemainus.

One of the responsibilities of tugboats was the shepherding of loaded sailing vessels past Cape Flattery out to sea. Two captains connected to Sooke history, which served as master of both the Pilot and the Lorne, were Oscar Scarf and James Christensen.

One of the coal enterprises of the Dunsmuir family was called Wellington Collieries, and we found it interesting to note that on April 15, 1904, Oscar Scarf wrote a testimonial on the colliery’s letterhead about another Sooke man, William Sheilds:

“To Whom It May Concern:

This is to certify that Wm Sheilds has served as quartermaster 2nd mate and mate on S.W. Pilot from the 7th day of July 1902 until the 12th day of April 1904. During that time, he has given entire satisfaction and proved himself to be a first-class man.” Oscar Scarf, Master.”

On the other tug – when you next run into Sooke’s Lorne Christensen, it might be interesting to mention that you now understand how he got his name and interest in west coast history from his great-grandfather’s experience with the Dunsmuir tug Lorne.


Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum. Email historian@sookeregionmuseum.com.



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