Steam Donkey A Community Treasure

Volunteers Bring Steam Donkey Back to Life!

There were smiles all around when our steam donkey’s refurbished boiler was hoisted back into place on the Museum’s historic logging machine. With innumerable hours of volunteer labour, the boiler has been sandblasted, fitted with new crown sheet and tubes, staybolts, rivets, inspection covers, cowling, studs and fittings; welded, painted, tested, bringing us further along in achieving the donkey’s operational status.

This “volunteer spotlight” shines collectively on the people who are helping make the donkey’s restoration possible. The project has called for a huge investment of services and skills, and it is being achieved through hours of donated labour and expertise.

We gratefully acknowledge the following, for their contributions to restoring the boiler and bringing the donkey closer to operation. Thank you to Harry Bellrose, Alfie Boudreau, Bob Brind’amour, Ron Cooke, Peter Davies, Russ Davies, Beatty Davis, John Dykes, Ken Eck, Norm Fair, Maureen Gautier, Norm Grant, Al Bjorn Horst, “J.R.”, Les McCann, Bryan McCrae, Wayne Nolan, Dieter Pellman, Bob Purkiss, Steve Roberts, Eric Robertson, Steve Seidel, Bill Smith, John Smith, Paul Suarhoff, Mike Thompson, Boyd Van Ingen, Ed Visser, Bruce Visser, Ken Visser, Ron Whitlow, George Williamson, Pat Williamson, Jodie Woodland, Jim Young.

Some helpers have been anonymous in the ongoing course of this project, and our appreciation goes to them as well.
May you all feel rewarded by every whistle and puff of steam!


Check out all our Steam Donkey photos on Flickr…Click Here

Steamin’ Days Are Born…

On Labour Day, September 6, our steam donkey celebration drew a crowd of all ages. Arriving from every direction, local residents and visitors from across the island filled the Museum grounds, enjoying west coast music, hot dogs, pop and Lucky Lager as they watched our restored donkey “getting up steam.” When the donkey’s shrill whistle blew, it seemed a fitting salute to the last holiday of the summer and a return to workday routines.

Among the onlookers, many had logging memories and stories flowed as they inspected the donkey and met with old friends. The donkey was especially familiar for 85 year old Doug Boardman, who operated it when it was owned by his father’s company Dot Logging in the 1930s and 40s. “I could run it when I was 15 years old,” he said. Mr. Boardman’s sound knowledge of the machine was appreciated by those who restored the donkey, and they enjoyed his visits while the project was underway.

picture-001Check out all our Steam Donkey photos on Flickr…Click Here

The steam donkey, manufactured in Vancouver about 1916, now resides not far from where it began its career. It was first owned by logger P.B.Anderson who used it at Knox Bay on West Thurlow Island, just north of Campbell River, and then sold it to Clarence Boardman. Like many similar machines in use all over the coast, the donkey was frequently moved from one stand of timber to another. Mounted on log skids, it could be pulled onto a float and towed to another location.

Steam donkeys, which had replaced the use of horses and oxen in the logging industry, were themselves replaced by diesel machinery. In 1948 our donkey met retirement when it was abandoned at the head of Knight Inlet. It lay there for nearly 40 years, until it was brought to Campbell River by a forest company at the urging of the Rotary Club. A few years later, it was brought to the grounds of the new museum building.

Not used for more than 50 years, rusting and missing many parts, the donkey was only a relic until a dedicated effort to restore it began four and a half years ago. Spearheaded by Museum president Norm Fair and exhibit technical manager George Murdoch, the project drew amazing support and generous contributions of time, service, knowledge and skill. At the Labour Day celebration, a thank you sign was posted naming 50 individuals and 30 companies that had a part in the steam donkey’s restoration.

The fully restored donkey is currently the only one known to be operational, and it will be fired up and steaming at the Museum at Campbell River every Canada Day and Labour Day.


The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community.  For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit

April 5, 1958 – Ripple Rock Explosion

In the late 1700s, Captain George Vancouver called the channel at British Columbia’s Seymour Narrows, “one of the vilest stretches of water in the world.” Its deadliest feature: the twin peaks of Ripple Rock, lurking just below the surface of the swirling water. “Old Rip” had menaced shipping for centuries, sinking or damaging 119 vessels and claiming almost as many lives. But on April 5, 1958, the world’s largest non-nuclear peacetime explosion pulled Ripple Rock’s teeth forever.

Watch a segment of the original filmed event…


Visit our Flickr page for sequential photo’s of the blast!

Ripple Rock was an underwater, twin-peaked mountain in the Seymour Narrows of the Discovery Passage in British Columbia, Canada, a part of the marine trade route from Vancouver and coastal points north. The nearest town was Campbell River. Only 2.7 meters (9 feet) underwater at low tide, it was a marine hazard, described by the explorer George Vancouver as “one of vilest stretches of water in the world.” It was destroyed by a planned explosion on April 5, 1958. This is a National Historic Event in Canada. The Ripple Rock explosion was seen throughout Canada, live on CBC Television. It was one of the first live coast to coast television coverages of an event in Canada.

The first known large ship to fall prey to Ripple Rock was the sidewheel steamer Saranac in 1875, as it was heading north to Alaska. At least 20 large and 100 smaller vessels were badly damaged or sunk between then and 1958. At least 110 people drowned in these accidents.

As early as 1931, a Marine Commission recommended removing Ripple Rock, but it was not until 1942 that the government authorized attempts to remove it. There was political opposition to the destruction of Ripple Rock, as some felt it would serve well as a bridge support to connect Vancouver Island to the mainland.

The first attempts at planting explosive charges on Ripple Rock were made with floating drilling barges with the goal of blasting away the rock in pieces. The first, in 1943, was secured with six 3.8 cm steel cables attached to anchors that altogether weighed 998 metric tons. This approach was abandoned when one cable broke on average every 48 hours. Another attempt in 1945, involving two large overhead steel lines was similarly abandoned after only 93 (out of 1500 planned) controlled explosions were successful.

In 1953, the National Research Council of Canada commissioned a feasibility study on the idea of planting a large explosive charge underneath the peaks by drilling vertical and horizontal shafts from Maud Island in the sound. Based on the study, this approach was recommended. Dolmage and Mason Consulting Engineers were retained to plan the project, and three firms, Northern Construction Company, J.W. Stewart Limited, and Boyles Brothers Drilling Company, were granted the contract, which ended up costing in excess of 3 million Canadian dollars.

Between November 1955, and April 1958, a three-shift operation involving an average of 75 men worked to build a 174 meter vertical shaft from Maud Island, a 762 meter horizontal shaft to the base of Ripple Rock, and two main 91 meter vertical shafts into the twin peaks, from which “coyote” shafts were drilled for the explosives. 1,270 metric tons of Nitramex 2H explosives were placed in these shafts, estimated at ten times the amount needed for a similar explosion above water.

The explosion took place at 9:31:02 am on April 5, 1958. 635,000 metric tons of rock and water was displaced by the explosion, resulting in debris at least 300 meters in the air, falling on land on either side of the narrows. The blast increased the clearing at low tide to about 14 meters (45 feet).

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police cleared the area of within 3 miles of the explosion, and the engineers and TV crew that witnessed the explosion were housed in a bunker.

The explosion was noted as one of the largest non-nuclear planned explosions on record, though Soviet authorities reported a larger explosion in the Ural Mountains to carve a new channel for the Kolonga River and in China to open a copper mine.

Vancouver based punk rock band the Evaporators’ 2004 album was named after Ripple Rock and includes a song that details its history and destruction.

The first song recorded about the taming of Ripple Rock was named “Ripple Rock” and recorded by Canadian folk/country singer Stu Davis.

In 2008 Campbell River celebrated the 50th anniversary of the blast with another commemorative blast done by a Vancouver special effects company. It took place at 9:31:02 AM, April 5, 2008.

Article Sources: Wikipedia, CBC Archives, Campbell River Museum


The Campbell River Museum maintains collections and archives from Campbell River’s wide and diverse history, culture and community.  For more information about your local Campbell River Museum, call 250-287-3103 or visit