Steamboats rarely used the South Saskatchewan River because the shallow waters made for unreliable service. Not to be deterred, the Medicine Hat hotelier and Scottish nobleman Horatio Ross commissioned a new boat in 1906-07 to connect the newly completed railway at Medicine Hat to points downstream. The sternwheeler, the S.S. City of Medicine Hat, was 40 m long and had a draft of only 0.6 m.
On June 7, 1908 the boat proceeded downstream during the high water and tricky currents of the spring flood. It cleared the Grand Trunk Railway Bridge at Saskatoon and was gingerly attempting the passage under the Canadian Northern Railway Bridge when its rudder and sternwheel became entangled in a submerged telegraph line. The captain lost control and the ship drifted downstream striking the pier of the Traffic Bridge. The ship rode up the pier and wrecked. All on board but the shipâ€™s engineer clambered on to the bridge. He took to the water and swam to shore downstream. Some remnants of the wreck have been recovered recently.
It’s a great story for two reasons.
- No one was hurt.
- We actually use the term “The Greatest Marine Disaster in the History of Saskatoon” with a straight face.