About SS MASTER
The SS Master was built in 1922 for Captain Herman Thorsen as a replacement for an earlier vessel. Very few ships were being built in the province during this period, (only 6 over 40′), and these were just about the last designed and launched with a steam plant installed; everywhere else steam and gasoline engines were being replaced by diesel engines. One of a trio of wood hulled tugs that were turned out at the Beach Avenue Shipyard in False Creek which were almost identical in design and size, the MASTER was, however, 5′ shorter than the other two, the SEA SWELL and the R.F.M. Arthur Moscrop, their builder, was Vancouver’s and British Columbia’s most notable tugboat builder, a man who had received his initial training from Arthur Wallace in his pioneer False Creek shipyard.
Moscrop went on to design and build a large number of outstanding wood hulled tugboats for coastal use, plus supervising the construction ofthe R.C.M.P.’s Arctic explorer, the ST. ROCH.
While several of Moscrop’s hulls are still around, they have been heavily modified structurally and all have been re-engined. The MASTER is the sole Moscrop built tug that is still close to her original design and which still operates with her 4riginal steam engine, and Royal Navy World War 1 surplus. The MASTER’s original cost is believed to have been around $34,000 and Captain Thorsen retained full ownership until 1927 when the Master Towing Company was incorporated and took title of the ship along with a mortgage for $23,000 back to Thorsen (This mortgage was transferred to the Home Oil Company in 1933).
First working for Fraser Mills and later chartered to the Lamb Logging Company, she put in general log and barge towing service from up coast to the mills in False Creek and elsewhere. In 1940, she was purchased by the Marpole Towing Company (joining her sister ship, the R.F.M.), and the Marpole colours, black diamonds on a white band on an orange stack were now painted on her colours that she wears to this day. The black diamonds, which had been the insignia of the firm since shortly after the turn of the century, signified the towing of coal barges from Vancouver Island to the company’s plant in Coal Harbor in Vancouver.
In 1947, control of the Marpole Towing Company was assumed by Evans, Coleman and Evans – although actual title to the ship was not transferred until 1959. Around 1951, she had become part of the operations of the Gilley Bros. fleet, another subsidiary of Evans, Coleman but her Marpole colours remained unchanged. By 1959, the parent company decided to dispense with its old timers and tied up a clutch of them, including the MASTER, at the mouth of the Brunette River and left them. Dilapidated and stripped, she was finally put up for sale or scrap. “Where is, as is”, in 1962. Here she was spotted by some members of the World Ship Society of Western Canada, a branch of an English based organization of ship-lovers. They decided to rescue and restore her as a tribute to the tugboat industry of British Columbia. For the full payment of $500, raised quickly among some members, the Society took over the MASTER on August 14, 1962.
Thousands of hours of volunteer labor, scrounged and donated materials, along with money raised by all sorts of means, resulted in the ship being cleaned up and repaired, equipment restored and replaced and steam being raised on April 23, 1963, the first time in several years. The Master now commenced a new career as the Society’s flagship, bringing to a new and old public, an awareness of the now vanished era of marine steam.
In April 1971, the World Ship Society, finding it increasingly difficult under its charter to maintain the MASTER, turned her over to a newly formed group called the Society for the Preservation of the Steam Towboat Master (in May, 1985, the name was changed to the ‘S.S. Master Society’), who have been her exclusive owners and operators ever since.
Many hundreds of hours are put in each year by volunteer crew members of the SS Master Society to preserve this important piece of British Columbia’s maritime past. The general public are encouraged to drop by on a Saturday at either Granville Island in the Summer or Britannia Heritage Shipyards in the winter months and lend a hand wherever they can with painting, polishing brass, or assisting the crew with repairs etc.