City of Ainsworth (paddle steamer)

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City of Ainsworth on Kootenay Lake 1894
Career (Canada) Flag of Canada-1868-Red
Name: City of Ainsworth
Launched: May 4, 1892
In service: 1892-1898
Fate: Sank on Kootenay Lake November 29, 1898
Notes: Captain Lean
General characteristics
Length: 84 feet (25.6 m)

The City of Ainsworth was a paddle steamer sternwheeler that worked on Kootenay Lake in British Columbia, Canada from 1892 to 1898.

In November 1898, she sank during a storm in the worst sternwheeler disaster in Kootenay Lake history. She sank to such a great depth that her wreck would go undiscovered for nearly a century.


The City of Ainsworth was launched on May 4, 1892,[1] the third sternwheeler built for service on Kootenay Lake, the first two being the Nelson, launched in June 1891, followed by the Spokane which worked for the Great Northern Railway. The Ainsworth's route was from Kaslo to Nelson, stopping along the way at Ainsworth, Pilot Bay and Balfour. In the years following her launch several more sternwheelers were built for Kootenay Lake, among them, the Kokanee, Kuskanook and the famous Moyie, which would serve the area for 59 years and be the last commercial sternwheeler to operate in the province as well as one of the very few that were preserved and can still be viewed today.[2][3] The City of Ainsworth, however, faced a far grimmer future.

On November 29th, 1898, the City of Ainsworth left Nelson for Bonner's Ferry and was caught in a gale force storm. Loaded down with eight cords of wood on her bow, she began to founder. Passengers and crew were quick to throw the firewood overboard, but then the water rushed down onto her stern and she turned broadside and began to roll in the waves. At one point she rolled over so far that water rushed into her smokestack. The first officer put down one of the two lifeboats, but as soon as five people got in it, it was swamped and four of them were lost in the waves. The second lifeboat was launched with worse results, and another five people were lost. One of the lifeboats was regained and Captain Lean, joined by Seaman Donnelly and Engineer Kale rowed four passengers two miles through the storm-tossed water and deposited them safely at the shore. The three men made this trip twice more, rescuing all of the remaining passengers, but the final death toll, seven crew members and two passengers, made it the worst sternwheeler disaster on Kootenay Lake.[3] The City of Ainsworth sank in 360 feet of water and its wreckage would not be discovered until 1990, nearly a century later. Once discovered the wreck was designated an underwater heritage site.[4]

Diving the wreck

In September, 1997, several members of the Cambrian Foundation successfully conducted two dives to the City of Ainsworth. No previous attempts to dive down to the wreck had been conducted due to its extreme depth, the low visibility in the water and the dangerous surface conditions on Kootenay Lake. The dive team had to decompress for 75 minutes after spending only 10 minutes at the bottom, but they managed to film the City of Ainsworth and reported that she was mostly intact and sitting upright.[4]

Further reading

  • Art Downs (1971). Paddlewheels on the Frontier, Volume Two. Foremost Publishing. ISBN 0888260334. 
  • Downs, Art (1979). Pioneer Days in British Columbia Volume 4. Heritage House and main author Edna Hanic. ISBN 0-9690546-8-8. 


  1. Downs, Art (1979). Pioneer Days in British Columbia Volume 4. Heritage House and main author Edna Hanic. pp. 117. ISBN 0-9690546-8-8. 
  2. Kootenay Lake Historical Society. "SS Moyie National Historic Site". Retrieved 2007-07-01. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Downs, Art (1971). Paddlewheels on the Frontier Volume 2. Foremost Publishing. pp. 52. ISBN 0888260334. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "S.S. City of Ainsworth". Retrieved 2007-07-01. 

See also

External links