Master was built in 1922 for Captain Herman Thorsen as a
replacement for an earlier vessel. Very few ships were being
built in the province during this period, (only 6 over 40'),
and these were just about the last designed and launched
with a steam plant installed; everywhere else steam and
gasoline engines were being replaced by diesel engines. One
of a trio of wood hulled tugs that were turned out at the
Beach Avenue Shipyard in False Creek which were almost
identical in design and size, the MASTER was, however, 5'
shorter than the other two, the SEA SWELL and the R.F.M.
Arthur Moscrop, their builder, was Vancouver's and British
Columbia's most notable tugboat builder, a man who had
received his initial training from Arthur Wallace in his
pioneer False Creek shipyard.
Moscrop went on to design and build a large number of
outstanding wood hulled tugboats for coastal use, plus
supervising the construction of the R.C.M.P.'s Arctic
explorer, the ST. ROCH.
While several of Moscrop's hulls are still around, they have
been heavily modified structurally and all have been
re-engined. The MASTER is the sole Moscrop built tug that is
still close to her original design and which still operates
with her original steam engine, and Royal Navy World War 1
surplus. The MASTER's original cost is believed to have been
around $34,000 and Captain Thorsen retained full ownership
until 1927 when the Master Towing Company was incorporated
and took title of the ship along with a mortgage for $23,000
back to Thorsen (This mortgage was transferred to the Home
Oil Company in 1933).
First working for Fraser Mills and later chartered to the
Lamb Logging Company, she put in general log and barge
towing service from up coast to the mills in False Creek and
elsewhere. In 1940, she was purchased by the Marpole Towing
Company (joining her sister ship, the R.F.M.), and the
Marpole colours, black diamonds on a white band on an orange
stack were now painted on her colours that she wears to this
day. The black diamonds, which had been the insignia of the
firm since shortly after the turn of the century, signified
the towing of coal barges from Vancouver Island to the
company's plant in Coal Harbor in Vancouver.
In 1947, control of the Marpole Towing Company was assumed
by Evans, Coleman and Evans - although actual title to the
ship was not transferred until 1959. Around 1951, she had
become part of the operations of the Gilley Bros. fleet,
another subsidiary of Evans, Coleman but her Marpole colours
remained unchanged. By 1959, the parent company decided to
dispense with its old timers and tied up a clutch of them,
including the MASTER, at the mouth of the Brunette River and
left them. Dilapidated and stripped, she was finally put up
for sale or scrap. "Where is, as is", in 1962. Here she was
spotted by some members of the World Ship Society of Western
Canada, a branch of an English based organization of
ship-lovers. They decided to rescue and restore her as a
tribute to the tugboat industry of British Columbia. For the
full payment of $500, raised quickly among some members, the
Society took over the MASTER on August 14, 1962.
Thousands of hours of volunteer labor, scrounged and donated
materials, along with money raised by all sorts of means,
resulted in the ship being cleaned up and repaired,
equipment restored and replaced and steam being raised on
April 23, 1963, the first time in several years. The MASTER
now commenced a new career as the Society's flagship,
bringing to a new and old public, an awareness of the now
vanished era of marine steam.
In April 1971, the World Ship Society, finding it
increasingly difficult under its charter to maintain the
MASTER, turned her over to a newly formed group called the
Society for the Preservation of the Steam Towboat Master (in
May, 1985, the name was changed to the 'S.S. Master
Society'), who have been her exclusive owners and operators
Many thousands of hours are put in each year to maintain her
in a condition good enough to pass her obligatory annual
Canadian Ship Inspection, and thanks to her faithful
volunteer crew, she always passes with flying colours.
the MASTER has been in the forefront of marine happenings in
the Port of Vancouver. She has participated in Vancouver’s
Sea Festival and Nanaimo's Bathtub Races for many years. She
has served the Sun Fishing Derby and the Polar Bear Swim.
She has carried the Canadian flag to steam meets in the San
Juan Islands, to marine conventions in Seattle, and has
raced American steamboats -- and won! She started
Vancouver's now famed Christmas Carol Ship Parade by towing
a scow with a lighted tree and recorded carols amongst ships
at anchor off Spanish Banks in the early 1960's. She has
appeared on television on occasions, and in films shot on
location in BC waters, once disguised as a paddle wheeler.
She has carried groups of sponsors and friends on cruises.
And, largely because she was the quietest ship available,
she has also been employed as a hydrographic survey vessel.
In 1986, after a five year refit, she arrived at EXPO 86,
taking her place as flagship of the Marine Plaza. That year
she led more than 45 ships in the first Work Boat Parade in
the Fraser River Festival, and she has missed only one
The MASTER is now more than the tribute to the tugboat
industry that was envisioned by the World Ship Society in
1962. She is that, certainly, but she is also...
The only surviving steam powered, locally built, wood hulled
tugboat in British Columbia, and (we believe) in North
America. The closest to original state of any of the
surviving hulls produced by BC's master tugboat builder,
Arthur Moscrop of Vancouver. Designated as a "Heritage
Object" by the Province of BC, and the City of Vancouver.
The MASTER has survived by luck, not by planning, to become
the sole representative early era of the tugboat industry
and its concomitants, the forest and mining industries.
Before there was truck logging - there was just logging! And
the essential component of logging was water transport of
the logs to the mills. Whether by rafts or by barges,
whether they were pushed or pulled, the raw material and
by-products were moved by tugs. And the raw material from
coastal mining operations was also moved by tugs. Tugs were,
and in many aspects still are, the backbone of coastal
industries, the industries that make up the raw foundation
of our economy. The men, women and children who serve, and
who have served, on them, are as much a part of our history
and heritage as the ships they worked. In saving and
restoring even one of these veteran craft, we are simply
acknowledging our indebtedness to our pioneer industries and
But, as our pioneers well knew, wood - especially wood
boats, do not last forever. They need constant renewal and
replacement; this is a basic fact of industrial life.
Obsolescence planned or otherwise, is always just around the
corner. There comes the day, to all man-made objects, when
the cost of maintenance and repair has to be balanced
against the cost of replacement. In most cases, the only
sound course is to opt for replacement. But in some
situations, cost is no longer a factor; other values come
into effect - values such as history, record, survival,
tribute, education, and entertainment. All these attributes
are part of the intrinsic value of the old tug, the MASTER.
She has long outlived her original designed service. With
interest and witch are, she can, in her new role, survive
for many more years and bring to generations down the years,
the unique delight and information that is contained in the
operation of a steam engined, wood hulled tug.
What was Master used for?
The tug Master worked from 1922 to 1959 and was a common
site in Vancouver waters. It was originally built for
Captain Herman Thorsen who was going to use it in a one-tug
operation towing log booms from up the coast to the mills in
False Creek, Vancouver. In1940 the tug was purchased by the
Marpole Towing Company, and was used to tow coal barges
around Prince Rupert and the Queen Charlotte Islands, as
well as across the Strait of Georgia to Coal Harbor in
What happened to the tug?
After 37 years of service Master had traveled over a million
miles. In 1963, after years of sitting unattended and
dilapidated, it was put up for sale for scrap. Two members
from a local branch of the World Ship Society purchased the
historic tug and sold shares to help cover their costs.
After thousands of volunteer hours and generous donations
from local marine industries, the tug was restored and made
sea worthy. Master was transferred to the SS Master Society.
With the generous support of a dedicated crew of volunteers,
and financial contributions, the Society keeps the historic
wooden tug afloat.
Was Master the first Carol Ship?
Before the Carol Ships started their parade of decorated
ships, Master made 'Christmas Voyages' out to the ships
anchored in the harbor. The tradition started in 1963 when
Master towed a large decorated Christmas tree out to the
ships anchored in Burrard Inlet.
The intent was to bring a little Christmas to the many ships
and their crew who were far from home during the holidays.
Where is Master today?
This tug still operates on the original steam engine and its
distinctive whistle can be heard when it steams to various
festivals and events. When Master is not participating in
maritime festivals around B.C., it can be found at the
Vancouver Maritime Museums Heritage Harbor from May to
September. Look for its distinctive black diamond painted
funnel, the signature logo of the Marpole Towing Company.