Victor Helgason Interview Transcript

This is Nadine Kulikowski and Kim Horbaty, and it is March 11, 1983.  I’m in the office of a person who worked on the S.S. Keenora.


May I have your name please?


Victor Helgason.


Could you please tell me when and where you were born (if not from Canada or Manitoba, when did you arrive here)?


I was born in Arnes, Manitoba on August 30th, 1931.


When did you first start working on the Keenora and how long did you work on it?


I worked on the renovations of the steam engine to the diesel engine in the winter of 1959 and 1960.  I was Chief Engineer on her the year of 1965, the last year that she sailed.


Those years you were working on the Keenora, were they enjoyable and interesting years for you?  Why or why not?  


Yes it was very interesting to change over from steam power to diesel power and being Chief Engineer on the Keenora was the most memorable years that I sailed on Lake Winnipeg.


What types of engines or power did the boat operate on?  


The diesel engines were Rolls Royce, 8 cylinder, with capital gear transmission.


What types of maintenance did you do?  


Anything from overhauling to general maintenance.  


Were they expensive to maintain?


No, we had very good service out of the Rolls Royce engines.


Did you steer and operate the boat alone, or did you have an assistant?


My job was Chief Engineer, the Captain’s job was to steer the boat.


How many hours did you work pre day? 


We worked shift work, six hours on, six hours off, 24 hours per day.


What did you do in your spare time?


Well, as Chief Engineer there was never much spare time.  Usually when you were off shift, you slept or toured the vessel for maintenance, and such things.


While the boat was operating, did you run into any difficulties?


I never experienced any difficulties other than we lost power on the main generator one time but we carried an auxiliary generator, so we didn’t run into difficulties.


Did it happen any time that the motor failed on the middle of the lake?


No, we never lost power totally, we were down to one engine one time we had injector problems, but other than that no.  


So then the motors didn’t break down?


No, never while I was on the ship.


Where did you get the parts from when you needed them?


We carried certain spares, but we went to the dealer.  The dealer at that time was Pritchard Engineering, in Winnipeg.


What types of repairs did you have to do on the Keenora?


Various, from repairs to pumps, pressure systems, lubricating, just general maintenance in the summer months.


In order to become an engineer, did you have to study any special courses?  If so, what did you study, and how long did you have to study?


In order to qualify for Engineer you must have 12 months sea time as Engineer or Oiler or helper and first you write for your 4th class ticket, then you must spend another 12 additional months on a vessel over 400 horsepower to qualify for 3rd class Engineer and then you sit and write for your 3rd class.


Where did you go and what did you do when you discovered that a storm was up ahead? 


Well, we always tried to watch the weather as closely as we can, it was mainly up to the captain on the bridge whether we sailed or not.


Was the Keenora ever caught in a storm?


Oh yes she had been through quite a few of them.  

Anything terrible occur?  


No I was very fortunate, we never ran into any difficulties, although in prior years to my sailing on her, she had run into a few difficulties.


When you’re travelling on a lake, does the water have to be a certain depth?


Yes, her draft was 8 ½ feet, so normally you would try to stay away from any shallow areas and mainly to the channeled routes and the deeper parts of the lake.


How did you know where the rocks are?  What did you do when you approached some?


Well, you try to stick mainly to the channels that have been buoyed or charted to avoid hitting any rocks.

For navigation on the Keenora, what types of instruments did you use, and what were each used for? 


Well, the navigating end of it wasn’t my department, but normally there is a compass and also there is a radar device which is only an aid to navigation.


From today and from the past, could you describe the changes in the instruments.  Are there any of them that are computerized?  If so which ones?  


No, we had no computerized instruments on the Keenora.  She was all manual, there were a few systems that were operated, but most of the equipment was hand operated.


About how many people were on the crew and what were they like?


The crew at the time I sailed was I believe 17 people on the crew.  There was the Captain, the Mate, the Wheelsman, Engineering staff, the Cooks, the Waitresses, the Purser.  I believe the total crew was around 17 or 18.

Were they easy to get along with?

Oh yes, we always got along well on the Keenora.


What types of tools and equipment did you work with, and what was each used for? 


Tools primarily were mechanical, hand tools.  Any major repairs were normally done in Selkirk on the dry dock.  They were contracted out to the boat builders or machine shops.


While working, could you describe your conditions around you?


The conditions were good as far as accommodations.  The food was always good.  I would say that the conditions on the Keenora at the time that I sailed were excellent.


From what I hear, I understand that there were no medical services on the boat.  If so, could you tell me what you did when an accident happened?


First aid was normally administered, and you would head for the nearest port and someone would possibly be there with an aircraft or you possibly went to a port where there was a hospital.  


Did anything ever happen to you?


No, other than a few cuts and bruises.


Was the equipment you were working with safe?  Did anything happen to you while you were working with your tools?  


Yes, all the equipment aboard the vessel came under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard steamship inspectors, which we had an annual inspection of the complete vessel.

Can you recall any specific emergencies that you had to handle? If so, can you tell me about them.


No, I can’t recall any special emergencies at the time I sailed on the vessel.


Now we would like to get an idea of the general living conditions in the area at that time.


What type of education was offered?

Pertaining to what part of the area?

The part that you lived in.


We had a grade school in the town I was born in, High School in Gimli.  I would say education was general at the time.


Was church going an important factor?




What kind of services were available?

Medical on the boat you mean?


No, on shore.


In the general area?  


On the lake there was nursing stations in such places as Grand Rapids, Berens River, Norway House.  Norway House had a hospital but normally at these Indian Reservations, wherever the boat would stop was a nursing station.


Is there a big difference in the cost of living?


I would say there is a great difference between the time we were sailing and today. 
Can you tell us about it?

Well I couldn’t really say too much about it other than the wages today are higher and of course the cost of living is higher.


What types of recreational activities did you enjoy?


Hockey and basketball.

Could you tell us a bit about the picnics they used to have?


Well, Saturday and Sunday were normally the days that the Keenora would take church groups or groups just in general on a cruise- what they called a Sports Day Cruise.  We would leave Selkirk around one o’clock in the afternoon, go as far as the mouth of the river and return at approximately 7 or 8 in the evening.


Was politics very important?


Well I guess, politics are always important but not really in them days, no.


Do you recall any major catastrophes?


No, the only major catastrophe I could think of offhand would be when the Suzanne E. sunk off Grey Stone Point. 


Would you like to tell us about that?


I was in a severe northwest storm, we had just arrived in Selkirk that same evening, it was on a Friday evening, and the following morning the storm had subdued some and was when we heard the reports that the Suzanne E had sunk.


Thank you Mr. Helgason for your time.

You are welcome.

Posted in Interviews & Transcripts.