Lytton Study Group - The Ship "Lytton"

The Lytton Study Group
The Ship "Lytton"

"Paddlewheel Steamers" by Robert F Harrington
Canadian Geographical Journal - February 1966

"In 1889 business was booming on the Arrow Lakes and Captain Armstrong brought the "Marion" over to Revelstoke (by flat car) to aid in the supply line along the river route. The members of the Columbia Transportation Company began to look about for more capital, seeing expansion as the only way to handle the growth in trade as the wealth of the mineral-rich Kootenays began to grow more evident. Late in 1889 backers were found in the form of three veterans of the Fraser River and Cariboo Trail eras. Frank Barnard of the Barnard Pony Express, Fraser riverboat Captain John Irving, and J.A. Mara, steamboat operator of the Kamloops-Shuswap waterways became partners with Hume, Cowan and Sanderson; and from the Columbia Transportation Company was formed the new Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Company, capitalized at $100,000.

"J.A. Mara was a driving force in the C.K.S.N., as it became known, and he set about development with energy. Alexander Watson, a well known Victoria ship-builder, was brought to Revelstoke. Watson laid the keel of the "Lytton" in Revelstoke in December, 1889, and launched the 131 feet by 25 1/2 feet vessel in May, 1890. This ship, of 125 tons burden, cost the company about $40,000. But haste was in order, for the mineral output of the Kootenays was to rise from under $74,000 in 1890 to more than $731,000 in 1894 and to more than $6,500,000 in 1898.

"The Lytton, under Captain Frank Odin, made her maiden voyage on July 2, 1890, with distinguished Canadian Pacific officials aboard, including W.C. Van Home. Even as the Lytton was under construction, the C.K.S.N. purchased the stern-wheeler "Kootenai" as a running mate for the Lytton. The Kootenai was about 140 feet long, of 371 gross tons and was rated slower than the Lytton's 12 1/2 miles per hour average speed. The Kootenai was used mostly on the 150 mile route between Robson, near where the Kootenay River joins the Columbia, to Revelstoke; and the Lytton steamed the swifter water south from Robson to Little Dalles, connecting there with the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway.

"By 1891, expanding business forced the C.K.S.N. to put another stern-wheeler, the "Columbia", on the western route; and at the same time the C.K.S.N. entered the steamboat competition on Kootenay Lake with the 496-ton "Nelson", the largest ship to that date on Kootenay Lake.

"The Columbia was designed to relieve the Lytton on the tricky run south from Robson and was built at Little Dalles by Alexander Watson. She was 152 1/2 feet long, 38 feet wide and 554 gross tons. At the time the Columbia was queen of the river. She was fitted with electric lights, plushly furnished and cost the C.K.S.N. $75,000.

"Steamboating on the Arrow Lakes was not without its tragedies, however, and 1894-95 seem singular in this respect. First in a series of disasters for the C.K.S.N. occurred on July 26, 1894, when the Lytton was caught in a squall in Nakusp Bay. Before lines to the barge she was towing could be cast off, she was washed into the rocks along the shore. The hull stood the shock but the upperworks were knocked out of line. Though badly needed to haul steel for the Nakusp and Slocan Railway extension beyond Slocan Lake, she had to be laid up at Nakusp for overhauling.

"The Lytton saw heroic service on the Columbia and was not laid up permanently until 1902."

Notes from Daryl Lytton

So...why was the ship named, "Lytton"? Perhaps a clue may be found in the diary of John Andrew Mara (the J.A. Mara mentioned above) who was born Jul 21 1840 in Toronto, Canada, son of John Mara born Ireland:

May 4, 1898
"Launched the steamer at 5 p.m. She slid off the ways easy and gracefully and as she entered the water Nellie christened her "Stikine Chief". Besides Alice, Nellie and Lytton, a few friends were on board and after launching we drank success to her in champagne."

Photos of the SS Lytton from the British Columbia Archives:

The SS Lytton at Nakusp
Photographer: Richard Maynard [ca. 1880]

SS Lytton at Sproats Landing
Photographer: Neelands Brothers (Firm) [ca.1892]

SS Lytton at Sproats Landing
Photographer: Neelands Brothers 1893

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