It’s an interesting story of how the Empire Steam Donkey came to the Museum. Manufactured in Vancouver in 1916, it was originally owned by P.B. Anderson who operated a camp at Knox Bay on West Thurlow Island. It was then sold in 1932 to Clarence Boardman and used at Hardwicke Island, Doughey Bay, Chatham Channel, Lull Bay and Glendale Cove, demonstrating how versatile they were and easy to move around. At one point, steam donkeys were seen all over the coast, used for yarding, hauling, and loading logs.
In 1948, it was retired and left by the side of the road at the top of Knight Inlet. Over the next 40 years, it sat rusting away in the bush. In its day, steam technology drastically increased productivity in logging by replacing horse and oxen teams that were slow at pulling huge old-growth logs along skids out of the forest. There were numerous steam donkeys along the coast from 1900 to 1940’s, but by the late 1940’s, steam technology was being replaced by diesel machinery.
In late 80’s, its heritage value was established, and a plan was hatched between Fletcher Challenge and the Campbell River Rotary Club to extract the donkey from its resting place. In 1994, they worked together to transport this steam donkey from Knight Inlet to the location of the new Museum.
From there, led by Norm Fair and George Murdoch, the restoration process began. The 8-ton boiler needed to be removed and repaired, parts needed to be fabricated, a new roof and skids were needed. The list of work that was required was long, but many individuals and organizations pitched in to help. It was an astounding show of generosity.
It took 5 years and 100’s of volunteer hours and many material donations from the community to bring the machine back to life. On Labour Day, 2004, the donkey “got up steam” for the first time in over 50 years.
The Museum runs the donkey at least three times a year to keep it’s operating certificates current. Come see the donkey fired up on Labour Day every September. Bring a lunch, have some steam donkey coffee and a piece of pie and listen to the whistle signals of this unique part of BC history in action.