SS Master History​

For over a century, the “tugboat” has played a major role in BC’s maritime history. From massive Deep Sea tugs to tiny Boom Boats, the venerable tugboat can be seen every day towing chip barges, log booms, rail cars, transport trucks, fuel barges and so much more. The tug is also the final link as ocean going freighters, bulk carriers, and container ships are guided gently into their berths in BC’s ports.

Many wood hulled steam tugboats worked tirelessly up and down the coast of BC for many decades. By the early 1920’s, the simplicity of diesel power had become the power of choice for the commercial marine industry, replacing steam. Many of the old steam powered ships were converted to diesel power or scrapped. The Steam Ship Master is the sole survivor of the long forgotten steam tug era.

SS Master
Length Overall 85 ft
Beam 19.5 ft
Tonnage 225
Power Triple Expansion Steam Engine
Propeller 8′ – 9 pitch
Horse Power 330 hp
Normal Cruise 7 knots @ 100 rpm

The SS Master was built in 1922 for Captain Herman Thorsen. Very few ships were being built in the province during this period, only 6 over 40′, and the Master was just about the last tug launched with a triple expansion steam engine installed.

The Master was one of a trio of wood hulled tugs that were turned out at the Beach Avenue Shipyard in False Creek. Although 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.
RCMP St. Roch

RCMP St.Roch

The Master is the sole Moscrop built tug that is still close to her original design and which still operates with her original steam engine, a Royal Navy World War 1 surplus engine built in 1916. While several of Moscrop’s hulls are still around, they have been heavily modified structurally and all have been re-engined. Moscrop went on to design and build a large number of outstanding wood hulled tugboats for coastal use. He also supervised the construction of the R.C.M.P.’s Arctic explorer, the ST. ROCH.

The Master’s original cost is believed to have been around $34,000. 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.

The Master with Marpole colours

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. The stack was painted with the Marpole colours, black diamonds on a white band on an orange stack. Master wears these colours 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, 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 the public an awareness of the now vanished era of marine steam. (see New Life for The Master)