People who regularly watch the Fraser River viewed something earlier this month that is seldom seen actually sailing on the river like it once did. As there was dredging work being carried out in the area off the docks near Westminster Quay, the Samson V paddlewheel steamboat – now a maritime museum – had to be moved out of its moored position at the Quay while the work was being completed.
The Samson V was taken upstream by a tugboat to a dock location just above the railway and Pattullo bridges, where it safely remained until the dredging needs downstream were taken care of.
This storied historical vessel looked good on the river and no doubt sparked many memories in those who can look back to those years of its service as a government snag-puller and general hard-worker for an array of river tasks.
The letter “V” in the vessel’s name, the Roman numeral for five, tells us that there were five Samsons. From the late 1880s to 1980, when the fifth was retired, these stern-wheel steamboats provided great service on the river and were known in the communities all along its banks.
The Samsons were steamboats and with that came a certain recognizable sound from their engines. The steam whistle was certainly highly recognized as its sound would often linger in the air long after the ship was out of sight or before it had come into view. The Samsons were also paddlewheelers and, once again there was a distinct sound associated with the paddles churning through the water, slapping the paddles as the vessel worked through the river’s current.
Memories of the Samson include watching it tend to marker buoys, gather in the stray logs and dead heads that could cause so much grief to other boats on the river, assist fishing boats when they had problems with their nets, and any number of tasks that might have arisen day by day. Watching that huge “A-frame” on her foredeck lift aboard a large snag out of the river and then deposit it in a better, less problematic spot, was an impressive thing to see.
Many people have memories of receiving treats from the cooks on board the Samsons. There are stories of cookies, cupcakes, and tarts that were enjoyed by people, often youngsters, who would venture down to the floats and docks where the Samsons might stop during a work run along the river’s shoreline.
Over the years that the Samson V has been on the New Westminster waterfront as an historical attraction, there have been many occasions when folks with Samson memories have come by for a visit. There have been former Captains, crewmembers, and simple river observers who have happily reminisced with tales of this fine piece of steam heritage and riverboat history.
Watch for the Samson V Maritime Museum to reopen later in the year – worth a visit – great history.
– Archie and Dale Miller do historical research, writing, walking tours and presentations about BC, especially New Westminster and area. Twitter: @senseofhistory