When you think about shipwrecks, chances are you don’t think about Medicine Hat, or Alberta at all really. Well, the truth is that Alberta has its own shipwreck and it comes in the story of the steamboat Lily.
In 1877, the Lily, a 100-foot steamship, was launched from Grand Rapids and began to cruise the waters of the Saskatchewan River, traveling from Medicine Hat to Prince Albert in a regular run. At the time, there were more than 100 steamboats on the rivers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, in an era long before highways and even before plentiful railroads for people to travel on.
The Lily was owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company, as many steamships were at the time due to the need to transport people and supplies throughout the river highways.
The Lily proved to be one of the most important ships on the waterways of the prairies. This was proven in 1879 when the Lily arrived in Edmonton on Aug. 5, carrying cargo but also the Lt. Governor of the Northwest Territories on an official visit to the community. Two days later, the Lily was back traveling on the river but it soon ran into trouble. Near Fort Saskatchewan, the Lily struck an underwater rock and was damaged heavily. She was steered into the shore as the stern began to take on water. She was raised and then repaired for a return to Edmonton. The Lily would remain there for the winter.
This column isn’t about the life of the Lily though, it is about its death.
By 1882, the Winnipeg and Western Transportation Company was moving 1,468 tons of freight up the Saskatchewan River. This company had bought the Lily, and several other ships, from the Hudson’s Bay Company the year before and now there was a glut of new steamships on the river.
With the new company owning the ship, she was taken out of service to conduct a major overhaul in preparation for the high traffic of freight on the river.
Unfortunately, on Aug. 28, 1883, on the Lily had reached Medicine Hat from Saskatoon. Unfortunately, on the return voyage that day from the city to Prince Albert, she would be wrecked and sink on the river only 40 miles outside of Medicine Hat near Drowning Ford, North West Territories. It would be the last time the Lily would ever sail. The incident mirrored the one near Fort Saskatchewan almost a decade earlier. This time, she ran aground in only three feet of water. The cargo she was carrying was fifty tons of bacon destined for the North Saskatchewan. In the incident, all 50 sacks suffered water damage. The pork would be salvaged and be sent to Battleford’s Indian Department.
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Information for this article comes from the Northern Prairie Steamboats, Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, Kalyan Country, Prairie River and Clearing The Plains.