Steam tug under way.

Steaming Ahead

SS Master and the Tugs that Worked the Coast

On view March 11 to May 29, 2022

This year marks the 100th  anniversary of SS Master, the oldest wooden steam-operated tugboat in the world. Steaming Ahead: SS Master and the Tugs that Built B.C. celebrates this important milestone and looks at the role steam powered tugboats like the Master played in making British Columbia what it is today. 

Steam tugs became integral to the development of the province when SS Beaver arrived at Fort Vancouver in 1836. Tugs were vital in connecting B.C. settler communities to one another and to the rest of the world. The earliest tugboats had large wooden hulls and steam-powered engines. They brought sailing ships into the main ports of Vancouver and Victoria. They also carried passengers and cargo to remote communities.

Tugboats were critical to industries such as

  • logging
  • mining
  • railways
  • fishing

Water transport is the most effective way to move large amounts of materials and natural resources through the province.  These powerful vessels provided access to natural resources for trade across Canada and internationally. Tugs supported the growth of communities and industry by towing log booms and other wood products for making pulp and paper, coal, fuel and large machinery.

Early steam tugs in the province had some fascinating features. For example, they used echo-location for navigating through foggy conditions. The first steam tugs in BC came from England, but by the early 20th century, vessels like SS Master were built locally. These tugs were designed to meet the unique landscape and towing requirements of the province.

Steaming Ahead features archival images of tugs. Models of tugboats from the VMM Collection and the SS Master Society will also be on display. This exhibition covers the history of tugs in British Columbia up to the 1950s.

steam tug towing a barge loaded with tugs