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YOUR HISTORY: Capt. Bill made a life on the waters off PoCo
For Heritage Week 2014, communities across B.C. were encouraged to promote the history of their rivers and waterways.
What better topic for a city aptly named Port Coquitlam, where the founding fathers in 1913 believed we would become a great deep-river port. Although these dreams of industrial grandeur never fully developed, there are still many stories to be told of the rich maritime history of the rivers that surround us.
One such story concerns the life and times of Capt. Bill Benneck.
William Eugene Benneck was born May 8, 1899 in Moose Creek, Ont., the son of a retired deep sea master who later followed in his father’s footsteps and spent his life in or around the water. During the First World War, he joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1916 at age 17, and served on the cruiser HMCS Rainbow.
Young Bill Benneck left the navy after the war and soon acquired his masters papers. By 1921, he was captain of the MV Delta, a steam-driven tug built in 1889, then owned by the Abernathy Lougheed Logging Co. This vessel would figure prominently later in his life.
Bill formed the Swan Towing Company in 1924 and operated out of New Westminster until 1946, when he arrived in Port Coquitlam. That year, Bill Benneck, along with son-in-law Herb Nordgren and Capt. Walter Oliver, began the Pitt Lake Ferries service, running mail, passengers and freight back and forth from Pitt Lake to their dock beside the Government Wharf. Located nearby was the Wild Duck Inn, from which many a hunter or fisher was taken on a thrilling ride up the Pitt on Capt. Bill’s water taxi, the Teresa Benneck, or Wally Oliver’s Pitt Lake Flyer.
Bill Benneck was also instrumental in the founding of the Pitt River Boat Club in 1954, and became its first commodore. Some may recall the regattas and boat races that were held on the Pitt during that time, when pleasure boating locally was just beginning to become popular. In 1963, he began Bennecks Marina, right outside his home’s front door beside the Pitt River. This is where he spent the rest of his days.
It was around 1980 that the MV Delta re-entered Capt. Bill’s life, having been resurrected and restored by Maple Ridge residents Jim Chidley and Gayle Champion after sitting as an abandoned hulk along the banks of the Fraser River. The Delta was built in Victoria as a cannery tugboat and launched in May 1889; it was also active as a logging tug and fishing boat for almost 90 years.
When Bill Benneck passed away on April 14, 1982 at age 82, his last wish was to have his ashes returned to the waters in front of his home at Bennecks Marina. In a brief ceremony conducted by the Rev. William Pike on board the MV Delta, family and friends paid tribute as his ashes were committed to the sea from the stern of the first vessel he had ever commanded.
Captain Bill was finally home one last time.
Your History is a column in which, once a month, representatives of the Tri-Cities’ heritage groups write about local history. Bryan Ness is with the Port Coquitlam Heritage Society.