Ex-Forest Service Boats of British Columbia - West Wind Hardwood

They are everywhere.  It’s somewhat like being pregnant; all of a sudden everyone is pregnant.  The many years Jan and I have been on the water we’ll pass one, Jan will comment, I’ll forget and there you have it.  Now all of a sudden there’s meaning and they literally are everywhere.  I’d feel comfortable saying this squadron is the largest association in BC dedicated to wood boats. In the early days of coastal logging in B.C., most of the logging operations were accessible only by water. Starting in 1912, B.C. Forest Service acquired a fleet of “Ranger launches”, which were used by Rangers and Assistant Rangers to patrol and police logging operations in the B.C. coastal forest “water districts”. They started out with three wooden boats that were used to patrol the Canada-US border to prevent the illegal export of logs, inspect timber applications, examine hand loggers’ licenses, deal with timber theft, fire suppression and enforce the Timber Mark Act.

These were mostly wooden vessels, bought as private yachts and converted, built under contract for the Forest Service, or built by the Forest Service in its own boatyard. Due to an increasing workload, six custom-built boats were ordered in 1913 from the Hinton Electric Co. of Victoria. The Forestry Service later began building their own boats at the Marine Station at Thurston Bay and later on the Fraser River. Over a hundred boats were built between 1924 and 1968. Other boats were acquired and extensively rebuilt to suit the changing needs of the Forestry Service. Over the years, boats were built or acquired for timber cruising, inspections, transporting equipment and tree seedlings, and as accommodation for inventory and other crews.

Doug Mitchell is the Proud Custodian of Forest Ranger I

Several of these vessels were stationed in Pender Harbour, including the Cherry II and the Wells Gray.  Forestry boats stationed at Pender Harbour travelled throughout local waters to fight fires —to Egmont (to Skookumchuk Rapids), Jervis Inlet, Princess Louisa Inlet and Texada Island. They saw lots of weather and were often out for three or four days at a time.  The fleet reached its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, but wooden boat construction began to decline. By the 1970s, labour-intensive construction of wooden vessels was giving way to mass-produced fibreglass and aluminum vessels. Helicopters and floatplanes provided more expedient access to coastal logging operations. Ranger launches were taken out of service and sold at auction in 1974 and again in 1984/85, ending a very proud history of service by these Forestry rangers. The purchasers understood that they were now custodians of a living piece of BC’s coastal heritage.

The Ex-Forestry Service Squadron was formed in 1992 after a reunion of Ex-Forestry Service vessels in the Pender Harbour Area. The Ex-Forestry Service Vessel Squadron consists of Ex-Forestry Service vessels that were once used by the B. C. Forestry Service.  Vessels that also served in Fisheries, Public Works, Police, Coast Guard and Hospital/Mission were invited to join the Squadron as Associate Members.

You can also get a good idea of the heritage of these vessels by watching “Against the Tide”, a colourful sixteen-minute video of their 1995 Squadron Rendezvous at the Vancouver Maritime Museum:  http://youtu.be/LVcZbtewpSM – as provided by Doug Mitchell; owner of the Forest Ranger II.

In the late ’70s, my father-in-law (and mother-in-law) built a fibreglass Fisheries replica called the “Lene Marie” —which in my mind’s eye looks identical to the those used by Forestry.  You be the judge.  He was not allowed ‘associate’ membership as the boat was simply a replica……….and OMG……fibreglass to boot. And in hindsight, I find this admittedly quite understandable.  They sold her about 20 years ago to become landlubbers after a “family” disputed 16-18 years of living aboard.  LOL

Here is the Lene Marie “For Sale” in Anacortes, WA – June 2018; liking her blue haul.

Rendezvous are held annually with their Centenary rendezvous in 2012 which was attended by former and current BC Forest Service employees.  My Uncle, Donald Ferrier skippered one of these vessels in the ’60s.  He’s written an autobiography for family consumption.   I’m hoping to sweet-talk him into sharing his stories.  If successful I’ll post them to the blog.

Never needing an excuse to get together, and 2017 being Canada’s Sesquicentennial year (150th Anniversary of Confederation), the 40th Anniversary of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival and the 25th Anniversary of the Ex-Forest Service Vessel Squadron another rendezvous was held in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. 

Typically the Squadron meets over the August long weekend, and that’s where we met up with the attendees in Ladysmith.  Hosted by the Ladysmith Maritime Society (LMS); visitors were encouraged to come down and take advantage of the opportunity to visit the vessels and speak with their owners.  Ladysmith has a proud and interesting marine history, and the Ladysmith Maritime Society (LMS) is committed to capturing and sharing that waterfront.

When LMS was established in 1985, one of its goals was to build a maritime museum. In 2007 that dream became a reality.  A floating museum houses authentic artifacts and nautical displays. You’ll find interesting displays of local maritime history, marine communication and safety, shipwright tools and the Rainbow’s Skiff dinghy.

A workboat off the renowned deep-sea tug Sudbury II was restored in 2007.

In 1988 the proprietor of a local marine company donated $500 and the woefully timeworn wooden tug Saravan to the Society. Provincial lottery funds were obtained to train wood-workers in restoration skills. Qualified members of LMS provided the expertise and the Town of Ladysmith provided workspace in the “machine shop” on the Expo Legacy Site. Three years later, on June 1, 1991, Saravan was returned to the sea and has been in service ever since.

And then wouldn’t you know it, Jan and I were on the water again and look what we stumbled upon; Arbutus II on a mooring buoy in Ganges Harbour, and the White Spruce up from the Seattle on holiday.  We chatted with the owner and gave him our business card in hope that he would follow up, as suggested, with an email and a link to this e-Newsletter.  I’m hoping the owners connect and share some stories…..if you’re reading this.  Pretty Please!

All Photos are Copyright Jan T. Nielsen – Usage by permission only.

9 Comments

  1. Thanks for your focus on our Squadron vessels and 2019 Rendezvous in this issue! We love our ‘old woodies’, and they are indeed part of our BC coastal heritage.

  2. Thanks for your focus on our retired BC Forest Service vessels, our Squadron and this year’s Rendezvous. We are proud of our respective vessels, and they are indeed part of our BC coastal heritage.

  3. I was a cook/deckhand for 7 years aboard these boats in the late 1970’s. I’ve been looking to locate the forest surveyor. That was the boat I spent some of the years on and would love to see it again. I also still have the wheelhouse skeleton key on the original wood key ring.

  4. Hello. my name is mike and i have owned the 1955 forestry boat named the Forest Supervisor for over 15 years. She has been in dry storage where i have been doing a complete retrofit. The hull is yellow cedar with marine ply. Powered by 2 4-53 detroit diesels. If any of this interests you feel free to contact me anytime.

  5. Can Any of you ‘Canooks’ Tell me IF / Where I can Find a Former Canadian Forestry Service Boat ???
    Most Recently ‘Hecate Ranger’ is being Sold by Waterline boats Seattle for $140K /USD Under contract as of 8/18/21
    I See advertising for ‘Coast Ranger’ in various Canadian sites, but think they are Outdated ? Would Purchase Coast Ranger in a Flash ..if Available… Please Help ….Thanks Mates !!! 🇺🇸⚓️🐾☕️🇨🇦

  6. Hello! I’m looking for a 45 ft ex-Forestry vessel, Turtle. Decommissioned in, I think, the early 60’s, she was purchased by International Utilities, my father’s employer, and moored on the Okanagan at Vernon Yacht Club. We spent summers on her in the 60’s. Is there a list I could access to check if she’s still afloat? Thank you, and thanks all of you for caring about these lovely old girls.

    Kindest regards
    Nancy Spratt

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