A little piece of Arrow Lakes history returned to Nakusp last weekend.
A whistle from the SS Bonnington, a paddlewheeler that plied the Arrow Lakes in the first half of the last century, has been donated to the Nakusp Rail Society.
“I was immediately excited, and when we found out it was the whistle from the SS Bonnington, we were even more excited,” says Tracy Fetters of the Rail Society. “We’re so grateful, and absolutely honoured to get it.”
The artifact’s return came out of the blue: no one was expecting to see anything of the old boat ever again – it sank to the bottom of the lake sometime around 1960. But it seemed a small piece of the boat remained – in a shed of an inveterate collector from Procter, Derek Pollard.
“My dad was a picker before there were pickers,” says Shawn Pollard, his son. “He was one of those guys, if he’d see an old shed he’d go in and see what was in there.
“He found that in an old shed in Galena Bay, along with a few other things. The guy he was dealing with who had the old shed said he got it off the Bonnington.”
It remained in Pollard’s collection for the rest of his life. But as the end drew near, he asked his son to bring it back home, to Nakusp.
“It was one of his last wishes,” recalls Pollard. His father died in December of last year. “He felt it really belong to Nakusp, it really belonged to the Arrow Lakes. The Bonnington was really something special for that area, and he knew that.”
The SS Bonningtonwas indeed part of the village’s history. The last paddlewheeler built on the Arrow Lakes, it plied the waters from 1911 to about 1931 as part of the CPR system. It was a tourist attraction in its time, and shuttled supplies and people up and down the lakes.
But as the region developed, and roads and rail lines improved transportation, the fortunes of the paddlewheelers dimmed. Sold for parts in the ’40s, it eventually changed owners and was neglected until it sank. But it seems before that, someone pulled the old whistle from the boat.
So last Saturday, Pollard drove to Nakusp and dropped off the whistle – along with a ‘Notice to Passengers’ from the Bonnington and some historical photos of the vessel – to the Rail Society.
“Because I thought it was such a big thing, a piece of original history coming back, I wanted to give it some pomp and ceremony,” says Fetters. So she called up Mayor Tom Zelznik to come receive the whistle on behalf of the town.
Fetters says they’re still trying to confirm the whistle’s provenance – the proof it came from the Bonnington – but the evidence seems very strong that it was. While the whistle’s not functional now, she says they may try to repair it to sound again.
In the longer term, she says the society will discuss plans for the whistle at its October 4 annual general meeting.
“Our first thought would be we’ll offer it to the Archives – they’ve been very supportive of the Rail Society,” she says. “And if they can’t hang it in the Archives, we’ll offer it to the Museum.”
As for Pollard, he says the hand-off ceremony would have made his dad proud.
“It makes me very happy, and my dad would have been just beaming yesterday,” Pollard told the Valley Voice after the event. “My dad would have been living it up in the limelight. He didn’t seek it, but if it came his way he loved it.”
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice