The Niagara Queen

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Jack Jenkins and I were recently granted the honour of personally delivering a refitted and refinished clinker-built model freight dingy up the east arm of Quesnel Lake to the legendary Hattie Banks.

Eagle View Lodge, the wilderness excursion and heliskiing operation, had commissioned work on Hattie’s boat, who as a woman of 73 still hunts and prowls her trap line in the wilds of central BC’s mountains. She often works for the lodge, delivering tourists to bears fishing creek mouths, guiding hikers up into the surrounding peaks and ridges of the nearby park and what have you. She regularly hauls supplies and mail into the lodge in her old 14-foot wooden workhorse, that by now is about ready to take its rightful place amongst the driftwood history of the east Cariboo lakes.

Illustration by Keith Milne and Gord Coulthart.
Illustration by Keith Milne and Gord Coulthart.

On a rare trip out of the bush, to consult with government officials in Victoria about the movements of endangered mountain caribou in the south/central mountains, the lodge hijacked her old boat and shipped her down to Four Point Marine’s wooden boat craftsmen. They put a rush on the project, sealing joints, refinishing planks and installing a brand-new Italian one lung marine diesel inboard. Restoration included her re-christening under the name Niagara Queen, out of deference to the mountainous territory of that name that Hattie loved, not to that gushy tourist trap in southern Ontario. Jack and I had her back on the trailer to the Cariboo while Hattie was still indulging in the sights of the city.

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We arrived with her boat at Ellison’s Fishing Resort, at the end of a rough road and the start of the east arm of the lake. The weather was impeccable, the water calm, and Jack waved at the small crowd gathered to witness the spectacle of the launch. And spectacle it was.

Grinning from stem to stern, Jack backed the trailer down the boat launch. When the wheels dipped the water’s edge Jack gave the orders. Hah!

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“Okay Esther, here we go. I’m going to back in about six feet and stomp on the binders. The Queen is going to roll right in off the trailer. Here, take the end of this rope and go stand over on the dock with it.”

“Okay, ah, what for?” I ask.

Jack didn’t answer. He was too busy loosening the tie downs and the grapple hook from the bow.

“Okay, she’s clear, Esther.”

“Well, yeah, but Jack, what am I supposed to do with…”

“Just hang on and pull her over to the dock. Careful, don’t scratch her.”

“Okay, but Jack…”

Too late. I don’t know if it was the distraction of the crowd cheering or a few too many years on the road playing bass with Fast Buck and the All Steers. He gunned the pickup in reverse, jammed on the brakes and the Niagara Queen shot off the trailer.

“Okay, Esther, pull her in.”

“Pull what in? I was trying to tell you. Wasn’t my rope supposed to be tied to the boat?”

“!&!!?.” The boat was already down the lake into the weeds.

There was a round of applause and a few guffaws.

Jack, red faced, stripped to his Stanfields. That put an end to the laughing. He marched into the lake with the bow line, trying to get to the boat before it got out of sight up the lake.

The crowd’s hollering followed Jack as he waddled out into the weeds. He got back to the dock with the Queen, just as Hattie Banks arrived.

As he was tying up, I noticed that he was covered in these black wormy things.

“Jack, what are those things, lurches or something?”

“Oh! Esther, get ’em off me, get ’em off me!”

“Sure, don’t worry. They’re not like those flesh-eating blobs on Bogart in that old movie.”

“What’s going on, where’s my boat?” says Hattie.

Vera Weinstein, manager of Eagle View, tried to make a show of it.

“It’s a token of our appreciation, Hattie. We hope you like her.”

“Ah, well, she is pretty, but where’s my boat?”

“That’s her Hattie. What do you think?”

“What? I can’t use that prissy thing to haul my firewood.”

“Darn,” says Vera.

“Darn is right, Vera,” I say as I pluck off the last of the lurches. Goes to show you, one woman’s junk is another woman’s jewel.