Docked in the channel at the end of Finlayson Street, the Phoebe Ann is undergoing a bit of work to get it ready for a return to service next summer, when new owner Mike Helfrick hopes to offer dinner cruises on Shuswap Lake. (Lachlan Labere/Eagle Valley News)

Iconic Shuswap sternwheeler undergoes work for return to service

Sicamous business owner Mike Helfrick hopes to offer dinner tours on historic vessel

An iconic vintage vessel of Shuswap Lake is being made shipshape and ready for a return to service by new owner Mike Helfrick.

The Phoebe Ann was recently purchased by the Reds Rentals owner, who is fixing the former sternwheeler up to make it a special part of his Sicamous-based business’ fleet.

The boat has become a bit of a conversation piece at Reds’ Finlayson Street location on the channel, where he said it used to be docked when operated by former Narrows Village owners Peter Steiner and Ellen Visser.

“I’d been looking at it and it was a bit of an impulse buy,” said Helfrick. “I’d seen it always on the lake and I’ve been on the lake my whole life and it is kind of a cool piece of heritage… it used to run out of right at Reds there, that’s where it always was based out of. It was a good place to bring it back home.”

Despite being out of use for a number of years, Helfrick says the Phoebe Ann, built in 1971, is in pretty good shape. He’s been updating the interior and safety equipment onboard, and plans on having the vessel dry docked for various inspections needed before it’s put to commercial use.

Related: New life wanted for MV Phoebe Ann

“I need to get it recertified because the last time it was actually commercially certified was 2004,” said Helfrick.

Once the Phoebe Ann seaworthy and approved for use, Helfrick’s vision is to get the boat back out on Shuswap Lake for dinner cruises.

“We’ll start off with just Friday/Saturday dinner cruises and see how it goes,” said Helfrick.

The Phoebe Ann was built in Vancouver and named after the grandmother of it’s original owner/operator, and Sicamous’ former mayor, Gordon Mackie.

Initially, the boat operated as a sternwheeler, but in 1976, the sternwheeler portion was disabled and two Olympic drive propellers were added, providing more power and speed.

Mackie captained the vessel for a little over two decades, using it to push barges loaded with cars and later, to ferry people from Sicamous to Seymour Arm, as well as carry the local mail. When the road was extended to Seymour Arm, the Phoebe Ann continued doing tours on the lake and delivering freight, capable of holding up to 100 tonnes.

Mackie enjoyed operating the Phoebe Ann on her run to Seymour Arm, a voyage that took between three-and-a-half to five hours, depending on the number of stops along the way.

“We’d leave here at 8 a.m. and usually get there at 12:30 or 1 p.m.,” Mackie explained in a 2014 News interview, noting travellers were given an hour or so to get some lunch or go for a swim. “It was a long day, a good 10-hour day when we ran the ferry and we always had a pretty good crowd on it.”

Steiner purchased the Phoebe Ann in 1998 and made the boat available for chartered trips for people to enjoy a unique lake experience.

“She’s a piece of history and what I would like is for her to keep on being historical,” Steiner told the News in 2014, when he had put the Phoebe Ann on the market, hoping it would be picked up by someone who would continue to honour the vessel’s historical significance to the Shuswap.

Related: This year’s flooding doesn’t rival 1948

Steiner passed away in November 2015 and the vessel remained in the family until Helfrick decided to make an offer.

“The son was in town and I’ve known him forever, so he came down here chatting and I’d seen the boat sideways on the beach up the lake and I just kind of mentioned it to him, ‘you know your boat is sideways…,’” said Helfrick. “So I made an offer and they took it.”

Helfrick said he knew some of the Phoebe Ann’s local history when he bought it, and is learning more as people stop by his business to check out the familiar vessel.

“People have been stopping by and telling me all their stories and memories, like people who got married on it back in the day,” said Helfrick. “I think a lot of people are excited to see it go.”

More can be learned about the Phoebe Ann at the Sicamous Museum, located at 446 Main Street.


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