Sea Captain, Explorer, Prospector, and Adventurer

Captain Moore's Western Slope at Yale Courtesy of Wikimedia

Captain Moore’s Western Slope at Yale Courtesy of Wikimedia

In 1858, Captain William Moore heard the news of the gold discoveries on the Fraser River. The family embarked for Victoria on his schooner, as 30,000 gold seekers from around the world would shortly do.

Upon arriving, Moore built the family home and commissioned a 15-ton barge, Blue Bird. Moore made his first fortune with Blue Bird, providing transportation for miners and their supplies from Victoria up the Fraser River to Fort Hope.

In 1859, he replaced the Blue Bird with the sternwheeler Henrietta, built by James Trahey at Victoria. Moore hired Captain John Deighton, known as “Gassy Jack” to pilot her. Gassy Jack would later become renowned as the first resident of Granville, later to become the city of Vancouver.

In the early 1870’s Moore convinced the Government of the newly formed Province of British Columbia a pack trail was required between Telegraph Creek and Dease Lake to serve the Cassiar Gold Rush. He was subsequently awarded the contract and, in partnership with Victoria merchant, Morris Lenz, constructed the trail. He then operated mule team transportation over the trail. By the fall of 1874, the gold rush was in full swing and Moore made $100,000 from his claims. Moore invested his money in a new sternwheeler, Gertrude, launched at Victoria in March 22, 1875.

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That fall, Moore took Gertrude back to his old stomping grounds on the Fraser River where he ran her against fellow Victorian John Irving’s steamship Royal City. The competition sparked a rate war lowering the fare between New Westminster and Yale to one dollar. With no profit potential Moore abandoned the Fraser River enterprise and set up the Victoria to the Telegraph Creek Gold Rush route by purchasing the surplus Royal Navy gunboat Grappler, five Victoria harbour front lots, and the sternwheeler Glenora. The route flourished as Grappler transported miners and supplies from Victoria up the coast to Fort Wrangell. There passengers and cargo were trans-shipped to Gertrude, piloted by Moore, and Glenora, piloted by his son Billie, for the final leg up the Stikine to Telegraph Creek. As the rush petered out, Moore pulled his vessels back to Victoria and sold his claims to a Chinese miners syndicate.

Along his succession of steamboat ownerships and commissions, Moore had the sternwheeler Pacific Slope built in Victoria in 1879. She served as a scheduled ferry from Victoria to New Westminster under contract from the Hudson’s Bay Company. This reignited his old rivalry with John Irving. Their sternwheelers raced up and down the Fraser, competing for passengers. Raising the stakes in 1881, Irving built a new sternwheeler, the $80,000 Elizabeth J Irving. On her second trip to Yale ,while racing Moore’s Western Slope, she caught fire and was reduced to a charred wreck. The loss was a tremendous blow to Irving, who, a week earlier, had allowed the vessel’s insurance to expire.

Moore fell into bankruptcy in 1882. In 1883 his old rival John Irving, son of his old competitor William Irving, and partners filled the transportation void with the establishment of the Canadian Pacific Navigation Company.

In 1887, guided by First Nation’s explorer Skookum Jim, who later co-discovered the Klondike Goldfields, Moore explored the White Pass route that would become famous to the Klondike Gold Rush. He then purchased the land that later became the site of the famous gold rush town of Skagway, Alaska.

In 1900, Moore made his final prospecting trip, this time to Nome, Alaska. Upon his return to Skagway he built a house with a room on the top floor fashioned in the style of a steamship pilothouse from which he could look out at the ships in Skagway bay.

William Moore died nine years later, in Victoria on 29 March 1909 at the venerable age of 87.


Captain William Moore