McLure Ferry’s 100th brings back memories of a river tragedy

The Mclure Ferry. Photo supplied

The 100th anniversary of the McLure Ferry is being celebrated this summer, though it’s actually been in operation almost 20 years longer than that.

The date being used as the official launch of the popular two-car reaction ferry is 1919, the year the provincial government took over from private operators who started it in the early 1990s. Current Transportation Minister Claire Trevena even came up to take a ceremonial ride.

The crossing between Ferry Road at McLure on the east side of the North Thompson, and Westsyde Road on the west, is all of about three minutes long but it’s both a practical connection for locals and a diversion for weekenders who enjoy the quaintness of the experience.

I often take the ferry when driving between Black Pines and McLure or up to Barriere or Clearwater. Every time I’m on that ferry I think of the personal connection I have with it through my family history — the death of a great uncle while operating the ferry.

My family and I live in the old McLean family ranch house in Black Pines, built in 1892 by my great-grandparents Alexander and Margaret McLean. They had a large family of seven sons and four daughters.

One of the sons was my mother Nora’s father, Duncan. One of the daughters was named Matilda, known as Tillie. All of them lived on the Black Pines farm for at least part of their lives.

In 1905, Tillie married a man named George Mill Brown, another local rancher, and they continued to live and work in the area. From here, I’ll pick up the entry in The Kamloops McLeans, a family genealogy I wrote in 1993:

“In 1920 he (George Mill Brown) lost a hand while working with a hay press with Art Connine at the Connine Ranch in McLure. After that he worked as the postmaster and ferryman at McLure.

“On Saturday, 16 June 1928, he met the Canadian National Railway train to get the mail, which he sorted at the post office. He then boarded his ferry to cross to the west side of the North Thompson River. With him was Edward Williams of the W&W Ranch.

“Part way across, the cable fouled, causing the ferry to swamp. Williams managed to hang on to the ferry and make it to shore, but Brown was thrown into the water. He swam a short distance and suddenly sank. It was felt the combination of his injuries, and having only one hand, made it impossible for him to fight the current.

“Police failed to recover his body, but his family continued searching. Several weeks later his mother, brother Bill Gordon and a sister found his decomposed body a mile and a half below the ferry.

“He was described as ‘well-known in this country, being born and raised here. He had no superior as a woodsman and knew the country around here as few others do…To know Mr. Brown was to know a real man. He was a loving husband and father, and first-class citizen.’ His funeral was called ‘one of the largest in a long time.’”

Tillie McLean Brown later remarried, but the death of George Mill Brown remains a sad chapter in both the McLean and Brown families’ histories, told and retold as the generations have passed.

To my knowledge, it’s the only fatality connected with the operation of the McLure Ferry.

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