Albert Savoie brought the first car-ferry service to Hornby Island in the 1950s. Before that, all supplies were brought to the island by steamship or small boats including a fish boat called the Water Lily which was owned by Albert and used as early as the 1930s to bring supplies from Comox, about 20 miles away on Vancouver Island. By the 1950s, it was clear that there was demand for the ability to bring cars and trucks to the island but the government was not interested in operating one themselves but said they would consider giving a subsidy for the service if a ferry was already in place. Albert, with community support went ahead and built a two-car ferry and then received the much needed government subsidy to run it. This was 1953.
Over time, demand grew so a larger ship was built that held six cars. The Lorraine SII was in service during the 1960s as more people came to the island, especially in the summer for holidaying. I first came in 1962 though I was too young to remember but for several years my family would stay for three weeks in cabins that looked out to the ferry dock.
As a small child I was enamoured of the little ferry and was in awe of the Savoie brothers who ran it (Albert, Leo and George). Hornby became very popular and it was clear given Albert’s age and the limitations of the ferry’s capacity that he would need to retire himself along with the ship. In 1971, he sailed the last crossing of Lambert Channel and ended his career of many years of service to Hornby Island. A new dock was built and the early 1970s saw a new ferry as well, Albert J Savoie, named after Albert. Eventually, even its capacity was not sufficient and larger ferries have come.
I wrote the song after visiting Albert and his wife Margaret at their house at Phipps Point in 1992. We sat and he told me stories of his life running the ferries as we looked at old black and white photographs. I took my notes away, wrote this song, and returned the next year to play it for him. I believe he felt honoured though he was very humble and probably didn’t think what he’d accomplished was worthy of a song. His dedication to running the service for so many years in all kinds of adverse conditions makes him a local hero and someone I don’t think should be forgotten.
Albert J Savoie
I am Albert J. Savoie. When I was twenty-three
Never thought I’d have a ship named after me.
Hornby back in ’twenty-nine sure was different then.
Sit down in this parlour now as I remember when.
T’would please me well if you had an ear to lend.
Look upon these photographs all weathered black and white.
To me they’re living color to me they are my life.
For though I am an old man now and it’s all just history,
I pray my spirit lives on and you’ll remember me.
I am Albert J. Savoie, hope you’ll remember me.
She was named the Water Lily, first ship I ever made.
I’d ferry people and produce and pick up the sacks of feed.
This kept up through the 30s, held on through the war,
Then the call came for a ferryboat so cars could come ashore.
This changed for evermore.
I took a gamble — the biggest I’d ever known.
I mortgaged everything I had, built one on my own.
With hope that the government would give a subsidy;
There I was upon the bridge of my new two car ferry.
The 60s brought more changes with tourists from afar
So I built the Lorraine S – she held six cars.
Demand kept on growing, by 1971,
I had to give my notice that I’d no longer run.
My ferryboat days were done.
What makes a man work his fingers to the bone,
And get so little recompense each day when he goes home?
I’ll tell you what It is pride in what you do,
And knowing that you’ve done your best when your life is through.
To your own self, you’ve been true.
Additional optional verse
Every morning at seven o’clock
My brother and I would drive,
Down to the ferry slip and the Hornby Island V
I was the captain. Leo was deckhand.
We got to know who came and went to the island,
Every women, child and man
© John McLachlan (SOCAN)