During the heady years of the Fraser River and Cariboo gold rushes, sternwheeler accidents were not uncommon. Between 1860 and 1861 the British Colonist reported that 25 people were killed from steamship explosions and sinkings. The story of the sternwheeler Fort Yale disaster was another reminder how hazardous it could be both as a captain and as a passenger.
Under the direction of Captain Smith Baird Jamieson, the Fort Yale had a regular run on the Fraser River from New Westminster to Fort Yale – a trip which normally took between 8 and 9 hours. On its initial voyage on November 26, 1860, the ship managed to do the trip in just 7 1/2 hours.
On April 14, 1861 tragedy struck.
The steamer Fort Yale, while passing Union Bar [2 1/2 miles north of Hope] on her upward trip…was blown up by the explosion of her boiler. Fortunately the passengers had just sat down to dinner, thus removing them from the immediate vicinity of the boiler, otherwise the list of casualties would doubtless have been much larger.”
Four people were killed by the blast including Captain Jamieson. Several more people suffered injuries.
“The boat…was now a sinking mass of ruins from stem to stern- scarcely anything remaining in sight above water, but a small portion of her bow and the after part of her saloon, and those gradually disappearing below water…Five or six human beings…were struggling for life.. After the explosion, several canoes manned by Indians were seen coming from Union Bar and vicinity were soon alongside, receiving the wounded and others who wished to go ashore.”