Shipping has been an enormous part of our history, from the Salish and Pacheedaht canoes, sailing schooners, ocean liners, tugboats, freighters, log barges, container ships and right on to luxury yachts.
In the luxury department, perhaps no one was more outstanding as a ship owner than the Honourable James Dunsmuir. Dunsmuir’s flagship was the 218 foot steel-hulled steam yacht Dolaura, on which he cruised the coast of Vancouver Island, entertaining millionaire friends and indulging in stops for trout fishing and hunting.
His wealth as a coal baron, together with his power and influence as Premier of B.C. and later Lieutenant Governor of B.C. allowed what was indeed a unique lifestyle.
The photo shows his tug boat Lorne, built at Victoria in 1889. As the photo illustrates, tugs of that era tended to be long and narrow with a deep draft; the Lorne was 151 feet in length, with a 25 foot beam.
Somewhat similar, a wooden hulled tug named Pilot was built in Chemainus and later purchased by Dunsmuir for his fleet.
At the time of her launch, the Lorne was the largest, and considered the finest, vessel to have been produced by Victoria shipyards and later on, under different ownership she continued to serve the coast for many decades. Both the Lorne and the Pilot are connected to Sooke area history, as each of them had masters with Sooke connections. Captain Oscar Scarf of Otter Point served on both vessels, as did James Christensen, great grandfather of Sooke’s Lorne Christensen.
The legacy left by Captain James Christensen and his family has been substantial. After arriving from Denmark in 1864, he became master of the HBC’s steamship Beaver, and then captained the sealing schooner Surprise, becoming one of the leaders in the coastal industry hunting fur seals.
He went on to serve as the first master of the fine new ship Lorne. He also served as a coast pilot, guiding vessels in to port.
Christensen’s son Andy became a master on the tug Lorne as well, in addition to piloting, but Andy’s son Bill changed course, becoming a B.C. Provincial Police officer. Sooke’s own Lorne Christensen of today, changed the family route as well, for he became an airline pilot.
It seems like the blood of challenge must run in the Christensen veins, and it’s easy to see why Lorne was given the name of this vessel, an important part of our maritime history.
Elida Peers is the historian of Sooke Region Museum.