Chris Sholberg

Chris Sholberg

Timeless Tales: Ship’s anchor signifies Nanaimo’s maritime history

NANAIMO – The anchor located near the Nanaimo Bastion is a giant reminder of the Harbour City's history.

The anchor located near the Nanaimo Bastion is a giant reminder of the Harbour City’s history.

Legend has it the SS Northland, a three-masted sailing ship with a steam engine, was headed to load up on coal, but came on strong winds and dropped anchor to reduce speed. The anchor got caught on a reef and part of the winch may have broken. The ship is said to have run into the dock.

The anchor was salvaged 20 years ago from Boat Harbour, which was the shipping port for South Wellington and Mordern Collieries, said David Hill-Turner, former Nanaimo Museum curator.

It has been displayed near Nanaimo’s waterfront since June 1985.

Hill-Turner said the anchor is of forged iron and probably dates from sometime in the 19th century.

It’s a fairly standard pattern of anchor used on sailing ships well into the 20th century.

“They were useful for other purposes and I suspect at Boat Harbour, it was used as a warping anchor so ships could move themselves to and from the dock without the aid of a tug. There would be chain from it to a buoy on the surface. Often, there was more than one,” said Hill-Turner in an e-mail.

However the anchor was placed prior to the Nanaimo Archives and information wasn’t always verified, according to Christine Meutzner, Nanaimo Archives’ community archivist.

While it is plausible the ship came into Nanaimo’s waters, the only thing for certain, via documents, is the SS Northlands operated out of Washington state, she said.

“[The SS Northland] likely did, because at that time there were hundreds of different ships that came in, but there’s no actual record of it and I don’t believe there’s any identification on the anchor. So someone, who was either there at the time or had some direct connection to retrieving that anchor, would’ve had to provide this information because it’s so very specific.

“It makes some assumptions you would only know if you were somehow involved in that story,” said Meutzner.

Regardless of origin, the anchor serves as a monument representing Nanaimo’s past, said Chris Sholberg, City of Nanaimo culture and heritage planner.

“The anchor’s representative of the type of ships that would’ve plied the waters of Nanaimo’s harbour over 100 years ago, so it’s a good example of that period in our history as a harbour and that history of shipping as a means of transportation,” Sholberg said.

TIMELESS TALES is a regular feature on Nanaimo’s history, which is published on the third Tuesday of each month. Last month’s story was about Vancouver Island’s flag.