After two decades aboard Heritage Park’s S.S. Moyie paddle wheeler, Captain Andrew Hooper has sailed his final voyage.
Hooper is originally from England and immigrated to Canada in early 1982. He worked for an overseas oil and gas company, but his very first career was as a professional mariner.
For several months after retiring from the oil industry in 2001, Hooper kept busy with handywork and renovations.
“In spring of 2002, I saw an ad that Heritage Park needed someone to help sail the Moyie around Glenmore Reservoir,” he says.
“I felt, well, I’ll go right back to square one and become a sailor again.”
Out of practice
Hooper was a bit out of practice — the last time he walked down a ship’s gangway as a mariner was in 1977.
Nonetheless, Hooper applied for the position and got an interview. He explained that his qualifications were out of date but the hiring team liked the cut of his jib.
Hooper landed the gig after Transport Canada reviewed his experience and, for the first few years, he worked on the ship as one of the assistant captains.
He was eventually moved up to the helm of the vessel as senior captain.
Hooper is turning 81 this year and although he is still fit, able, and capable, he decided he was ready to hang up his captain’s hat.
“I can do anything on the ship and probably better than anyone else on the ship,” he says, but he wanted to retire on his own terms.
Time to set sail
For the past 20 years, Hooper has had to take his holidays in the spring and fall months since he was committed to Heritage Park full-time in the summer.
“It has totally ruined my golf game,” he says with a laugh.
“I’m looking forward next year to a holiday in England with my daughter and grandson. Going back to see some of the places that she grew up in, [and] my childhood places with an excited little 11-year-old in tow.”
While Hooper is excited about the future, there are things he will miss about captaining the S.S. Moyie.
“Overall, 99.9 per cent of the time it was a super job, as retirement jobs go,” he says.
“There’ve been days [when] I have been looking around, it’s been a blue sky, a few white clouds, a really gentle breeze, sailboats everywhere, lots of happy people on board, and I’ve been paid to do this.”
Hooper says he will miss the views of the mountains, especially when the leaves start changing to fall colours.
“It really has been a blissful position to be up there sailing the ship around the reservoir.”
Reflecting on his time as captain of the S.S. Moyie, Hooper recalls an interesting moment about 15 years ago that led to a minor mishap.
The paddle wheeler was approaching the dock and, despite applying the braking procedure, the engine didn’t stop.
“We missed the dock but we couldn’t miss the bank on the other side of the dock. So we ploughed into the bank,” Hooper says.
The boat control pulled the vessel off the bank and towed it back to the dock and the problem with the engine was sorted out.
“It hasn’t happened since,” Hooper says.
Crew becomes family
Most of the colleagues Hooper worked with were either retirees like himself or college students.
The team was like a family and Hooper says it was always sad when an older member of the crew would pass away.
He says he enjoyed working with the younger generation as well, many of whom got jobs at Heritage Park right out of high school.
“I’m amazed at how bright and intelligent the young people are that come forward that I’ve been able to hire. I’m blown away sometimes by the quality and the work ethic,” he says.
“They’ve been outgoing and take the job seriously and learn new skills. It’s been a real pleasure working with them, but also watching them grow up has been a pleasure.”
A budding romance
Hooper remembers a love story that formed between one of his crew members and a young woman on the housekeeping staff.
He says the two worked together at Heritage Park for a few years when they were college students and fell in love.
Eventually, the two got married and started a family.
“A couple of years later, they bring down their first baby,” Hooper says, adding the couple now has two children — a boy and girl around eight and six years old.
Hooper recently had a visit from his former crew member.
“He came down to say farewell, he’d heard that I was retiring.”
Making friends with passengers
Hooper says he will also miss the passengers of the S.S. Moyie, many of whom he’s formed bonds and friendships with.
“There’s a guy who comes out every Sunday during the season, and he’s been doing so for at least 15 years, probably 20,” Hooper says, adding the man always waves good morning and knows all the names of the crew.
Hooper also recalls watching a young girl growing up who would come onboard with her grandmother every week.
“There were little marks on a particular point on one of the door jams where we’ve marked up her height.”
Hooper has many fond memories from his time as captain of the S.S. Moyie, and he says he’s looking forward to returning to Heritage Park as a visitor.
“I should go back next year and ask all sorts of awkward questions that I know the answer to,” he laughs.
Fair winds and following seas, Captain Andrew!
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