NEWS RELEASE · 5th March 2013
Kitimat 60th Anniversary
1st Kitimat Anniversary Story
Kitimat’s iconic Delta King is a ship with a story to tell. Even though it rested on our shores for a scant seven years, it was present for some of the most important days of our history.
The Delta King, a 285 foot (87 meter) vessel, was parked on shore at Hospital Beach for the better part of the 1950’s, right through the start-up of the Alcan/Kemano project.
The Delta King arrived here on May 8th, 1952 after a three week journey, under tow from San Francisco. The 30 year old veteran riverboat had been stripped of its paddlewheel and steam engine. After purchase by Kitimat Contractors, it was modified for maximum accommodation. Although it was built for 400, it never housed more than 250 souls. The ship’s boiler and generator supplied heat and power to the ship. At the time of the ship’s arrival in 1952, the Kitimat project was well into year two of construction.
The ship was floated in at high tide, into a man-made trench, and as the tide receded, it was cut off from the sea with rock and gravel. It remained land-locked for its entire service in Kitimat.
Its location was prime, at the centre of action where a whole new community grew up. Close to the airplane ramp, lumbering amphibious Grumman-Goose transports like, Pacific Western Airway’s Kitimat Prince would deliver more workers and also, close by at the dock, passengers would disembark from ships like the Princess Norah. The hospital, Smelter Site School, the Post Office, the bank, the Hudson Bay Store and more, were all within walking distance.
More than 10,000 people worked on the Alcan Project. At any one time, the valley’s three other camps, had to house 5,000 workers. The Delta King only got a small percentage of the lodgers.
Life aboard the Delta King with its grand staircase, wood carving, and classy appearance must have been a step up from other dormitory situations. In one of its 1956 editions, National Geographic Magazine featured Kitimat and included a picture of a bachelor’s cabin life on the Delta King. Unfortunately, summers at Hospital Beach could be deadly with their wicked doses of horseflies. The channel views from the many balconies were certainly a bonus though. By 1959, Kitimat was largely complete, and there was no longer a role for the Delta King, so it was no surprise when Alcan sold the old ship and it was towed back down the channel. Many people were nostalgic with its departure on that dreary April morning. It certainly was a boat that left its mark on our corner of the northwest.
Interestingly, at 90, the Delta King lives on. It is currently parked on the riverfront in Sacramento California. After recent renovations, it houses a theatre, two restaurants, and a hotel.
The old ship has lived a colourful life. It and its sister ship the Delta Queen were built at the Clyde shipyards in Glasgow in 1922 then shipped to San Francisco, where their pieces were welded into place. In the course of nine decades, the Delta King saw service on the Sacramento River in California and the Hudson River in New York. During WWII, it was requisitioned by the navy for troop transport around the Bay area. The boat endured a sinking
on April 3rd 1981. Fortunately, most of the bow end carving and original woodwork, survived without damage. The Delta King was also featured in the movies; in the 1960 filming of Huck Finn. In 1978 our ship the Delta King was added to the U.S.A.’s list of Historic Places.
The Delta King remains special in the memories of many Kitimat pioneers. Its name lives on in Kitimat’s assisted living facility, the Delta King Place. Some residents of that facility have fond memories of our iconic paddle-wheeler
- Walter Thorne
Delta King etc..
Comment by Leon Dumstrey-SooS on 10th March 2013
Would everyone please show more specifics on the subject and be correct.
For example: On Hospital Beach was "HOSPITAL"!!
Delta King was beached accross the road from the
Hudson's Bay and Smelter Workers Cafeteria.
At that time no single area had 10.000 people!
Smelter Site had: -Bunk Houses on the Hillside plus Bungallows torwards wharf.-
Small Camp at the Sand Hill.
Anerson Creek Trailer Court and Construction Camp.
Service Center Hotel and Some Logging Crews
River Lodge Tent Camp
My first lodgings in Kitimat
Comment by Fred Rodrigo on 5th March 2013
I arrived in Kitimat on Saturday, July 3, '54. I was put on a 2-story house boat at the "temporary wharf". It housed about 40 people,2 to a room, had a laundry room and shared washrooms. Gambling was run by the bullcook downstairs. After a few weeks the boat was sold to an Alaskan construction company. We were transferred to the Delta King. There we had a great time, but where I was put, there was a lot of noise fron the generators. so we asked for a room in the bunkhouses up the hill. Instead we were put in a tentcamp just south of Potline #1 ( which later became a baseball field). In October the rains came. We had 10 people in a tent; the bottom was wood, the upper half was canvas. a big potbelly stove kept us warm, but we had to go outside to the washroom, on wooden sidewalks.
We were then told that we were transferred to the riverlodge tentcamp. We didn't want to leave the smelterside, because new arrivals were put in the bunkhouses and we thought it was our turn. So a game started; every evening a bus arrived at the tentcamp to transfer us to the townside. We made sure we were not home. This went on for about 2 weeks! But we won; I went to bunkhouse #8, where I stayed till the smelterside accomodations were closed, I think about 1958 0r 59.
Comment by Tom on 5th March 2013
Where would we dock it if we were to get it back ? I don't think the Overlords of RTA would grant us permission to put it back where it was . They seem to own the ocean and access to it . It doesn't seem as if the federal or provincial governments care that Canadians are being shut out from our foreshore . It also doesn't seem that city council cares either . It seems few on city council care for the people more than big businesses . But then they do put on a bigger spread . When Tim hortons is the high water mark you've got to shake your head .
Comment by Tom on 5th March 2013
Thanks Walter for keeping alive the history of kitimat . Lets also not forget the only maritime kitimat namesake The HMS Warkitimat . Lets also make new history . After 60 years is it not time for us to get an Oceanside Park for all of us so we are not permanently cut off from our deep seated heritage .
Comment by CEM on 5th March 2013
Very interesting Walter. If there were 10,000 workers at any one time and more than one camp, why should we be so worried about 2000 approximate workers coming into town ? I realize the town has changed since the 50's with no road into Kitimat, and no outside entertainment. Just a thought and feel that people need work, to pay for their houses and feed their families.
Too bad we couldn't get the Delta King back, what a tourist attraction that would be !