Footlighters take humorous look at Kootenay Lake tourism history

Actor and writer Jason Smith wanted to tell the story about paddle wheelers on Kootenay Lake.

BY LORNE ECKERSLEY

Advance staff

Actor and writer Jason Smith has wanted to tell the story about paddle wheelers on Kootenay Lake since he first learned about the Nasookin at the Creston Museum.

Now, he has teamed up with Suzanne Chubb to write a humorous play about the huge boat, and Nasookin will be presented by Creston Footlighters from June 22-24.

“When I arrived at the museum and saw pictures of the boat I was surprised at how big it was,” Smith said last week. “I then spent years learning about the paddle wheelers and their history in the BC Interior.”

“It’s one of the surprising parts of local history—you don’t usually picture boats of that size going back and forth on Kootenay Lake.”

The Nasookin (which was much bigger than the Moyie, he said) was part of a larger Canadian Pacific Railway plan to increase tourism in southeast BC early in the 1900s. The Balfour Hotel, a three-story construction with “about 50 first class rooms” was a jewel in the CP crown, and featured tennis courts, lawn bowling and a huge, toney restaurant.

“The Nasookin and Bonnington paddle wheelers were built to attract the upper crust,” Smith said.

The play written by Smith and Chubb takes place on a busy summer day in 1927, and starts out on the train, where some of the characters are introduced as they make plans to board the Nasookin, which featured 54 staterooms. It regularly plied the waters of Kootenay Lake, boarding passengers in Nelson in the morning, serving breakfast and then making the four-hour (or longer trip) toward Creston. It made stops as requested along the way, then moored near the mouth of the Kootenay River at Kootenay Landing for dinner service before heading back to Nelson.

Nasookin is a comedy, and a departure from recent summer melodramas by the Footlighters theatre group.

“It gets zany now and then, but there is a good story underneath it all,” Smith said.

Most of the story takes place on the paddle wheeler, in the dining room. In a departure from recent productions’ elaborate sets, Smith (who directs the play) has replicated dining room walls, but will make generous use of projections of historical images.

“We have lots of a pretty cool photos,” he said.

“We had so much fun writing this,” Chubb said. “The ending is fun and unexpected.”

Chubb has a role herself, and will be joined by a cast of 21 others, including feature parts by Jennifer Adams, Devon Coward, Anna Payne, Peter Simon, Brian Lawrence, Anne Deatherage and Gary Atha.

Nasookin runs from Thursday through Saturday, June 22-24, 7:30 pm at Prince Charles Theatre. Tickets are available at Black Bear Books, The Fly in the Fibre and Kingfisher Used Books and Fine Coffee.