Franz Ferdinand’s trip down the Columbia

The man whose assassination sparked the First World War was unimpressed with ruffians he encountered on a voyage down the Columbia River.

Nearly 20 years before Franz Ferdinand’s assassination precipitated the war to end all wars

Second in a series marking the centennial of the First World War

The man whose assassination sparked the First World War was unimpressed with ruffians he encountered on a voyage down the Arrow Lakes and Columbia River.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, whose sudden death in Sarajevo in 1914 plunged Europe into a deadly four-year conflict, made a world tour in 1892-93 that took him to India, Australia, Japan, the US, and Canada.

His two-volume travelogue was published in German in 1896 as Tagebuch Meiner Reise um die Erde (Diary of My Trip Around the World), but has never been translated into English until now. An online project at franzferdinandsworld.com has been posting one entry per day, corresponding to the date of his original journey. His brief visit to West Kootenay occurred 121 years ago this week.

The archduke arrived in Vancouver from Japan on September 5, 1893 and departed two days later for Banff. He then backtracked to Penticton, and reached Revelstoke late on the evening on the 17th, where his party left its wagons and boarded the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company’s steamer Columbia, en route for Northport, Wash.

He noted the ship could accommodate 100 first class passengers, but despite being launched only two years earlier, “it seems to be quite old and in need of repairs, as everywhere it was posted that the life-belts were to be found under the beds in each cabin. In my cabin I discovered that I could look through yawning gaps in the ship’s side while it directly rained through the deck on the bed of one of the other gentlemen.”

At 4 a.m. the following day, “Noise, rumbling and the whiny howls of the steamer’s whistle” announced the boat’s departure. Ferdinand admired “the skill and audacity” of the captain who drove his “hard-to-steer ship” at full speed through the narrow valley.

But again he mentioned the “numerous life-belts” which were “apparently deemed sufficient for all eventualities as it is well known that human lives do not count for all that much in America.”

The ship passed by a forest that had suffered a fire, and then came upon an area that had been spared but where a railway was planned, “thus putting an end to the splendid forest.”

Ferdinand noted this part of BC was “one of the least known and explored parts” of North America by Europeans. Most new residents were prospectors who panned for gold and combed the mountains for minerals, although there were also farmers, for whom the ship was transporting a plow.

At some point, the steamer dropped a group of prospectors off in the middle of nowhere. Ferdinand wasn’t sorry to see them go.

“One can … imagine without difficulty the strange company assembled on board. Ugly and rough fellows were milling around on deck and in the salons in threadbare torn clothes with large hats on their heads and a revolver near their hands. This gave us the opportunity to acquaint ourselves already here with the American ruthlessness. Everywhere these fellows were lounging around, putting their feet upon couches and chairs, spitting everywhere and taking possession of books that had been left for just a moment in the salon.”

Ferdinand noted only one settlement along the way, which “owes its existence to a silver mine that had been opened in the Selkirk Range and is said to be quite rich.” This might have been Nakusp or Trail. Castlegar didn’t yet exist.

He continued: “In this settlement that consisted of multiple small log huts with the inescapable shop and a steam saw we saw all workers united at the landing pier as it just was pay day for which our steamer brought the money.”

Ferdinand complained that loading wood into the ship’s boiler ”seemed to go on forever.” Logs were stacked at the forest’s edge, and the ship landed in the mud nearby so the crew could retrieve them.

A dense fog that morning prevented a clear view of the river and it started to rain that afternoon, turning so bitterly cold that Ferdinand had to huddle in the salon with the “spitting sons of the wilderness.”

Fortunately for him, an American woman “who was by the way very pretty had sufficient mercy with us and permitted us to smoke for which we were greatly thankful.”

Did his fellow passengers realize who Ferdinand was? Possibly not, as his head chamberlain, Count Wumbrand, wrote in a telegram that they were “Traveling in strict incognito.”

We know one other person on that voyage was W.A. Jowett, as the Nelson Miner reported the mining man went down river with the ”Crown prince of Austria.” The newspaper also related something that supposedly occurred on board the ship at lunchtime: Ferdinand’s entourage was standing behind their chairs, waiting for him to seat himself, when the steward, surprised at their modesty, exclaimed “Sit down! Sit down! Anywhere you like.”

It’s unclear where the steamer tied up for the night, but it crossed the international boundary at about 10 a.m. the next day and a few minutes later landed at the Northport wharf, where Ferdinand’s party was whisked to a special train bound for Spokane. According to the Spokane Daily Chronicle, “It took nearly half an hour to crowd the load of trunks, satchels and bundles into the baggage car.”

Ferdinand continued on his way, gazing through the window at the trees and villages along the way, and chatting with his companions, blissfully unaware his name would become inextricably linked with one of the worst conflicts of the 20th century.

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