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History of the Columbia III

Many guests are touched by the history of the Columbia III and some are moved to action. One of our favourite returning guests has personally created and performed this tribute to the role the Columbia III has played on the her home waters of the British Columbia coast.

Columbia at Kingcome Inlet 1960s
At Kingcome Inlet in the 1960s (#11710)
Columbia III with the M.V. John Antle at Cortes Island
With the M.V. John Antle
at Cortes Island (#17890)
For sixty-four years, from 1905 to 1969, people living in the remote settlements, logging camps, inlets and lonely bays of British Columbia's coast grew to depend on the ships and crews of the Columbia Coast Mission, founded in 1904 by the Rev John Antle.

These ships, seventeen in all, (including a "Columbia I" built in 1905 and a "Columbia II" built in 1910) plied the hundreds of miles of rugged Canada coastline year-round, bringing much needed medical and social care to the isolated outposts. Often braving severe weather and unpredictable seas, the ships pushed through to provide their important services.

Columbia in Frederick Arm near Bute Inlet
In Frederick Arm near Bute Inlet (#17893)
Some of the boats were equipped as "hospital ships" and carried a doctor and a nurse …babies were born, logging accidents attended to, and painful teeth pulled, all in a day's work. As well, the ships and crew were welcomed as communication links, bringing news and supplies and fostering a sense of community between coastal BC settlers who otherwise couldn't stay "in touch".


"… On her final run to Vancouver, the Columbia III started off from Hardy Bay on December 2, into very rough seas. She battled wild seas all the way but she kept on going, though bigger vessels were running for shelter. She stopped at Half Moon Bay overnight so Alan Greene could see her one last time. Around five a.m. the waves were banging the ship so hard against the wharf that the crew had to let her go and steam around in the bay until seven a.m., when they continued on to Vancouver. Reverend Ivan Futter said of the trip, "The seas were just fantastic and no matter which way you turned they seemed to come from every direction at once. But the Columbia III rode each one proudly and bravely and never once shipped green water over her bow! She rolled, she pitched, she tossed, everything that could move on board, moved! But still she came up for more! "When we say the Columbia is coming, she comes!" said Futter. It was the ship's unofficial motto …"
from "THE COLUMBIA IS COMING!" By Doris Anderson

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Columbia at Hardwick Island
At Hardwick Island (#17894)
Weddings, Christmas parties, libraries, social visits, spiritual support …all were offered on the Columbia and became a very essential and appreciated part of life on the coast.

"Year in and year out …the mission boat has patrolled a route of over 10,000 miles, now proceeding in the face of tempestuous seas, now in sunshine and under kindlier skies, now antlike in the shadow of massive impending mountains, and often through waves that set the decks awash- but always forward with her message of comfort and relief. Vigilant, her wireless catches a cry of distress and, her bow pointed in a new direction and under full speed, the Columbia rushes to the scene of some fresh mountain, forest or marine mishap. …She becomes the hospital ship, serving all equally, irrespective of creed or nationality."
(by Ben Drew from "The Log", the bulletin of the Columbia Coast Mission)

Columbia Launching Day, October 13, 1956
Launching Day, October 13, 1956 (#18323)
The Columbia III was designed in 1955 by renowned naval architect Robert Allan of Vancouver B.C. She was built the following year at Star Shipyards in New Westminster B.C. and still has her original Gardner diesel engine. She serviced the coast as a hospital ship, answering emergency calls until 1968, when it became evident that float planes met the needs of the logging camps and coastal villages much faster than a ship traveling at 8 knots. Also, the coastal population was dwindling as people left the hardships of isolated living and moved to urban areas. The Columbia III was restored to its present immaculate condition in 1990 by Bill McKechnie of Victoria B.C. and since then she's been used as a charter boat, especially as a kayaking "mothership". Today still, wherever we go, she is welcomed and recognized, and many stop to reminisce, relive and share their personal experiences aboard the Columbia III.

Columbia Wheelhouse
Robert Allan, the grandson of the architect of the Columbia III, has provided the original (1955) engineering drawings:
Midship Section: Low Resolution High Resolution
Outboard Profile and Deck Plan: Low Resolution High Resolution
Joiner Sections: Low Resolution High Resolution
Inboard Profile and Hold Plan: Low Resolution High Resolution
Framing Plan: Low Resolution High Resolution
Rudder Details: Low Resolution High Resolution
Lines Plan: Low Resolution High Resolution

For further reading, see "The Columbia is Coming" by Doris Anderson, "I Heard The Owl Call My Name" by Margaret Craven, and "God's Little Ships" by Michael Hadley.

Columbia III underway
Columbia III Underway (#17888)

"… Generations of settlers in all walks of life up and down the British Columbia coast will remember the stanch little ships that fought their way through dense fog, wild rapids and stormy seas. The ships came to small rock bound islands and traveled up the long, beautiful inlets, bringing laughter and companionship, consolation and spiritual inspiration to the camps and settlements, and to the men and women struggling against privation and loneliness in log cabins hidden in the forest wilderness…"
from "THE COLUMBIA IS COMING!" By Doris Anderson

All photos are courtesy of the Campbell River Museum.

Columbia III 2007 Historical Journal Entry:

When our family purchased the Columbia III in 2005 we had no idea how much good- will the boat and the Columbia Coast Mission still carried on this coast. The very first time we fueled up, the dock attendant cried out even before we were tied up, "My parents were married on that boat!", and the stories seem to never end. The list has become too long to itemize but we bump into personal tales of wonderful memories relating to the CCM fleet of vessels wherever we go. And because of this it wasn't long before we realized that we don't really "own" the Columbia III, but rather, we are her current caretakers. I like to say "we are the custodians of a piece of B.C.'s maritime history".

This summer, as usual, we had numerous people walk down the dock to see the boat, to tell their personal stories, and to marvel at the beautiful condition of the Columbia III. And as usual, we invited many casual passersby's in for a quick tour, after all, this isn't "our" boat but B.C.'s! But four particular stories deserved special mention and that is the reason for this unique addition to our history web page.

1. We were very lucky to have the grandson of Robert Allan join us this summer with his wife. The Allan family is very well known in B.C. for their Naval Architecture company that has spanned three generations here designing many of B.C.'s most prominent boats. Robert Allan III is still President of their company and he was thrilled to travel on a vessel designed by his grand-dad. As a thank-you, he later sent us a complete set of the original blueprints nicely bound for easy viewing on the boat. I have added these to this history page for reference purposes.

Columbia Bell 1
Receiving the gift, mid trip in the Great Bear Rainforest

2. We were touring in the Great Bear rainforest with a group of 10 guests, several of whom had joined us in 2006, when one couple asked the crew to gather in the salon. All the other guests gathered with cameras at the ready. I really didn't know what to expect! But out from a day pack was pulled the most BEAUTIFUL brass bell, hand-made by our guest, and engraved with a picture of the Columbia III and the words, "Columbia III Celebrating 50 years".

Columbia Bell 2

I mounted the new bell on the front of the wheel house the next day as the guests were off paddling. When I asked our guest why he made the bell he said he simply wanted to participate in the living history of this vessel and the B.C. coast. Now I ask you, as the host of such a generous guest, how could I respond? With a very heartfelt, "Thank-you!"

3. Our season was nearly over for 2007 and we were headed south with a group on our Settler's History tour. I usually give a short talk one evening on the history of the boat and I try to convey to our guests (that can come from so far away) the sense of good-will and acceptance the boat enjoys on this coast. As an example I referred to the new bell mounted on the wheelhouse! But to my surprise, one of our guests interrupted my talk, and presented me with an original oil painting. The couple once owned the publishing company that printed the much loved book, "The Columbia is Coming!" (we have three copies on board) and they still had the original painting that was used for the cover of the book. Not surprisingly (once we get use to all this) they had brought the painting with them to donate it to the Columbia III!.

Columbia Painting 1
Here I receive another surprise gift for the boat. We have since had the painting professionally framed with archive quality glass and the painting has a place of honour in the salon on the Columbia III.
Columbia Is Coming
Here is a look at one of our well-read copies of the book that is no longer in print.

4. So... maybe you are getting a sense of the trend here. On our final engagement of the year in mid December, we hosted a "Christmas Tea and Cruise" (by donation) for anyone interested in the Columbia III. Of course, the turn out was good and many guests had personal experiences with the Columbia Coast Mission. During my brief talk on the history of the boat I mentioned the new bell and pointed out the new painting on the wall.

Columbia Platter

And you guessed it... I was interrupted again by a guest wanting to donate something to the boat! This time I was nearly brought to tears, Marjorie Greene, daughter of Rev. Alan Greene, who had worked with the Columbia Coast Mission for most of his life, presented me with a gleaming silver platter.

It was the custom in 1956 for the shipyard to present the wife of the owner of a new vessel with a gift. Although the Columbia III wasn't "owned" by Rev. Alan Greene, his wife, ( Marjorie's mother) was presented with a commemorative platter engraved with theses words,

Presented by
on the occasion of the
Oct. 13 - 1956

Columbia Is Coming

It is hard to capture the engraving with the camera.

Marjorie had come to the "Christmas Tea and Cruise" thinking to display her family heirloom, but upon hearing my stories of the other gifts to the Columbia III she spontaneously decided to present me with the platter!

So, that's the story. Each of these special gifts to the Columbia III were very generous and I wanted to formally acknowledge them here. I really get the sense that the gifts are not being made to our family but to the boat and the larger community of the BC coast. The Columbia III strikes a special chord in many people on this coast. Thank-you.