The First Motorboat Club Organized in Canada [1908]

The Kootenay Lake Launch Club

A Story of the First Motorboat Club Organized in Canada

By A. N. Wolverton

When in 1902, a scant half-dozen old sailing yachtsmen and pioneer sportsmen in Nelson, British Columbia, put their heads together and decided to import some of the new, and at that time largely experimental gasolene-propelled launches, little did they think that their little squadron would form the nucleus of a fleet of more than one hundred and twenty-five motorboats on Kootenay lake--boats of every size and speed--and that within the short span of six years. Beautiful Kootenay Lake had for many years been known as a fisherman's paradise, but was but little utilized for other purposes. A few fresh-water sailing yachtsmen had drifted to the young city of Nelson, but their efforts along that line were handicapped by the unreliability of the winds among the mountains, in fact, the very reliable absence of wind during the Summer season. For that reason their love for water sports must languish or be turned to other branches.

About the same time that the first motor-propelled craft made their bow, the Nelson Boat Club was organized by a coterie of good sportsmen whose hearts were bound up in the rowing game. Application was made by that club for membership in the North Pacific Association of Amateur Oarsmen and accepted. Since that time every annual meet of the Association has seen Nelson well represented, usually capturing more than her share of trophies against such prominent clubs as Vancouver, Victoria and Portland. In 1902 and again in 1906 the annual meets were held in Nelson and all the visiting crews united in stating that Nelson's water course was second to none on the continent. The Nelson Boat Club's many successes culminated in 1908, when the annual meeting was held in Seattle on the well-known Lake Washington course, in the winning by popular T. D. DesBrisay of the Senior Singles Championship of the Pacific Coast, the highest honors in the rowing game in the West. Not only did Mr. DesBrisay defeat all other competitors with ease, but he rowed the mile and a half course on Lake Washington faster than it had ever been done before, beating the former champion more than fifteen lengths, and bringing joy to the hearts of is ardent supporters who had hardly dared to believe their watches marking a trial run on Kootenay Lake in 1907. It may be interesting to note that that time is 19 seconds faster than the same race was rowed at Henley this year. In addition to this popular win, Nelson's other candidates at the meet, Alex Poole and Frank Nott, loaded themselves with honors and applause by winning the Junior Double Sculls, and a short time later, coming within a short boat length of landing the Senior Doubles.

The impetus given to water sports on Kootenay Lake by such signal successes has nearly doubled the membership role of the Nelson Boat Club, and already steps are on foot looking toward the amalgamation of the Nelson Boat Club and the Kootenay Lake Launch Club.

Returning again to the sister club, the Kootenay Lake Launch Club, the half-dozen pioneer motorboat men decided, early in the Spring of 1903, that it was meet that they organize themselves into a club at once. In May of that year, Messrs. S. S. Taylor, C. W. Busk, Dr. T. F. Stoddart, S. M. Brydges, T. C. Schermerhorn, A. D. Emory, C. Jarvis, R. M. Jarvis, Geo. Hale, Dr. LaBau and James McPhee, met and formally organized the Kootenay Lake Launch Club--the first organization of its kind in the Dominion of Canada. Officers were elected as follows: Commodore, S. S. Taylor; captain, C. W. Busk; secretary, Dr. T. F. Stoddart. The first honorary member elected was the veteran Col. Wm. Jarvis, ex-Commander of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.

Several more boats came in during the season of 1903, and the initial races were held in July of that year, with twelve entries--the entire fleet at that time. George Hale's steam launch managed to win the event by several lengths over the gasolene boats; accurate distances and timing were unknown or long since have been forgotten. Of the boats that took part in that historic event, most are still in commission on Kootenay Lake and others scattered all over British Columbia.

In 1904 Captain Busk was elected Commodore and George A, Hunter secretary and treasurer, which positions they have held ever since. Every year has sent he fleet substantially added to, and early in the history of the club a part of the city water front was leased from the city of Nelson. Approaches and berths were constructed at a cost of some seven hundred dollars, and the membership has increased so rapidly during the recent years that the entire club frontage is now in use and must be enlarged again next year.

During the seasons of 1904, 5, 6 and 7, desultory races were held on occasion, with varying interest. Early in 1908, however several enthusiastic members undertook to organize and carry out a series of weekly races over a 2 1/2-mile course, under the actual time handicap system. These have proven wonderfully successful and an average of some twenty boats have entered in each of these races. Thirty seconds' limit was put on each boat's time, and accurate timing resulted in many disqualifications in the first few races. Latterly the handicapping has been so accurate that is has been no uncommon spectacle to see a dozen boats finish within one hundred yards. Points have been awarded as follows: Five points for first, four for second, three for third and one point for every boat which finished the course.

The first race of the series was run on the afternoon of Labor Day and the final scores showed L. B. DeVeber's Laugh- a-lot, W. Rutherford's Skidoo and Brown's No Name tied for first prize, with nineteen points each, attesting the accuracy of the handicapping.

To-day a careful census of the motorboats on the west arm of Kootenay Lake shows the very creditable number of more than one hundred and twenty-five. This, I believe, constitutes an American record for a city of only seventeen thousand population--with the possible exception of some temporary Summer communities in the East. Prominent among the motorboats of the Kootenay lake Launch Club may be mentioned L. B. DeVeber's Laugh-a-lot, a 35-foot Electric Launch Co. boat, which in 1905-6 was shown at the Madison Square Garden Show in New York; Commodore Busk's 140-hp. Wenonah, built by Thornycroft, of England; the new 45-foot cabin cruiser recently completed in Nelson by George hale for F. E. Grosvenor; A. N. Wolverton's Meteor, 22 feet long, 17-hp., all of which are capable of better than fifteen miles an hour.

On account of the former high price of gasolene, we have few high-powered craft and consequently few records for speed. We have one record, however, which the maker earnestly hopes will stand for some time, that is, for distance rowing a motorboat. In the Summer of 1906 W. Bard rowed his boat forty-five miles, on account of a leaking gasolene tank.

Many of the boats owned in Nelson are the creditable product of local shops, some four plants now being engaged in this industry. Two boats are already under order for next year. A 25-foot racer to carry 20-hp. has been started for James McPhee by Thomas Cunningham, and a 30-foot boat on the lines of General II for the writer, to carry a 20-29-hp. Smalley, and guaranteed to make 22 miles an hour. In addition to these, many others are under construction.

Each year, in connection with the Fourth of July celebration, an illuminated parade of decorated motorboats has been held. With the dark background of mountain scenery a procession of a hundred or more brilliantly illuminated craft has formed a scene od indescribable beauty.

Those in position to know have no doubt that the popularity of Nelson's most individual sport (in British Columbia) will increase from year to year and that next year will see the Kootenay Lake Launch Club the home of at least one hundred and fifty motorboats of probable value of at least seventy-five thousand dollars. Many of the newer boats coming in are of a better class than the first launches, and almost without exception owner's second boats are larger, heavier-powered and faster, than their first venture. Several very fast boats are already being designed for next year, and through the kindness and sportsmanship of several gentlemen and manufacturers of marine goods, many new trophies are promised, and 1909 bids fair to be a banner year in the history of the Kootenay Lake Launch Club in the cleanest and best sport on Kootenay Lake, or, for that matter, any other lake.

(Transcribed from MotorBoat, Oct. 25, 1908, pp. 12-16. )

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page — LF]