More than 40 years after it left service, a Kootenay Lake relic is about to make a comeback. The restored wheelhouse of the MV Anscomb will be unveiled at the Balfour ferry landing on Saturday, June 15 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.
The surviving piece of the old ferry was removed during a 1972 retrofit, but didn’t go far — the Ogilvie family took it off the government’s hands and moved it into a shed about a block from the ferry landing, where it was used as a playhouse, chicken coop, and storage area.
Upon learning of its existence in 2008, Truus Zelonka of the Balfour and District Business and Historical Association thought it might help give Balfour a stronger community identity.
“We’re a ferry town, but nothing showed that or identified us as the western terminal,” she says. “We were looking for something, before we even knew it was there, to bring Balfour together.”
Kevin and Shayla Harding, who bought the Ogilvie property, sold the wheelhouse to the association for $1. Then the hard part began. The first challenge was moving it, for it was cemented to the ground. It was placed on a customized flat deck, with much of the bottom removed, and exhibited for a while at the Gill and Gift, “to show this poor, sad looking thing off.” Then it moved into rented storage as restoration got underway in earnest.
Because the wooden structure was enclosed all those years, it hadn’t completely rotted, but its floors, roof, and windows needed to be redone.
“At the bottom, where the wheelhouse joined the deck, were layers and layers of canvas nailed down as a covering and then painted,” Zelonka says. “There was no way we could [keep] that. The rest is very much the way it was. We tried to be as true to the original as possible.”
Roofers charged for materials, but donated their labour. The association’s heritage committee also put in hundreds of volunteer hours. “We’ve been working on it for three years,” Zelonka says. “Many thousands of dollars later, we’re done. It’s just getting its final coat of paint.”
For now, the wheelhouse will be placed in the ferry landing’s rest area, near a series of storyboards about its history. During the grand unveiling, you’ll be able to go inside, but afterward it will be fenced off.
Zelonka says they’re inviting donors and everyone involved with the project to the ribbon cutting, as well as a handful of mariners who worked aboard the ferry before the old wheelhouse was removed.
Small but cozy
The Anscomb, launched in 1947, received a major overhaul on its 25th birthday. It was stripped to its car deck and rebuilt, its old Vivien engines replaced with a more efficient diesel set. The wheelhouse and captain’s quarters were also substituted with a larger, steel deck.
Jim Heuston, who worked on the ferry from 1951 to 1986 and retired as senior captain, recalls the old wheelhouse had a seat and cupboard behind its steering wheel, and a doorway with a step down into the cabin behind it. However, he didn’t lament the change: “The new one was quite open and about three times larger. Much more practical and much better.”
Fellow captain Tony Taylor, who worked on the Anscomb in 1954-55 and again from 1970 to 1994, says the old wheelhouse “was cozy. It was always comfortable. We didn’t have near the equipment the new wheelhouse had, but the old vessel had a heckuva good compass — right on the button.”
The original boat was well balanced, he adds, but once the yellow pine superstructure was removed, it was always nose heavy.
Taylor, who also worked on the sternwheelers Minto and Moyie, may have been the last person to pilot the Anscomb using the old wheelhouse. He was there on the last day, but can’t remember if he had the final shift. He’s since been an adviser on the restoration.
“I thought in the beginning it was impossible. But they’ve done a good job. They spent lots of time on it and rebuilt it piece by piece. It would have been easier to start from the ground up.”
The Anscomb itself sank off Woodbury in 2004, a few years after being retired.