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The History of Captain Large and The Empress of Ireland
From April 28, 1977 New Era, as written by Roy Brown


Hunt Johnston Rolston Large was born in Shelbourne, Ontario on June 17,1876 and died April 10,1947. According to information received from his son William in Saulte Ste. Marie, Ontario, he came west at the turn of the century. He probably came with the C.P.R. as it moved west along the southern route through Waskada, Coulter, and Lyleton be¬tween 1900 and 1903. In any case he did start a business in the village of Coulter under the name South Antler Steel Works. His business cards and announcements indicate that he ran a general repair and machine works, making many different types of farm implements and small items such as whiffletrees, doubletrees and cement mixers.

According to people like Mr. Wesley Mallo, 82 year old pioneer of the Coulter district, Rolston was very well liked. He apparently had a winning person¬ality and even people with whom he had dealings and may never have paid, all had a good word for him.
One thing for certain is that H. J. R. Large was extremely clever. He was a first class steam engineer, a blacksmith and a master mechanic of no mean ability.
When automobiles started making their ap¬pearance on the main roads, Rolston, according to articles in the Melita newspaper accounts of that era, was given credit for repairing cars left on the side of the roads because the driver knew very little about the new means of transportation. One article of 1909 states that an American visitor to Coulter could have been left stranded had not Rolston come to his aid and made repairs and adjustments to his car.

Although Rolston Large may not have been blessed with many worldly possessions, he did have a big Irish heart. There are many stories of how he tramped through the snow drifts in cold weather to take some of the pioneers their weekly mail, receiv¬ing in return a sincere thanks and a hot meal.

There was a time too, when Rolston saved the life of a man who had become tangled in the wheel of a threshing machine. Rolston coolly took a heavy ham¬mer and broke enough of the large wheel, which was endangering the man's life, to free him. The victim, although badly injured and somewhat marred by the accident, was forever grateful to Rolston, who thought nothing at all of the incident, even though he himself could have been injured. It was incidents like this that made people like him and it is little wonder that he was able to get financial backing for his boat building enterprises.
Many people have asked "Why would a man build a big boat in a small village like Coulter?" The answer would probably be much the same as the one given by the man when he was asked why he wanted to climb a high mountain — it was the challenge.
After spending several weeks in the research of the boat building activities of Captain Large, I have come to the conclusion that, while the boat built in Coulter, with the help of Andy and William McKague, was not a masterpiece, it was seaworthy. Large, having little money but plenty of courage, wrecked an old C.RR. box car. The heavy plank flooring was used in the boat and some lumber taken from the inside of an old house, along with some new lumber, gave him sufficient material to build the hull and the superstructure. The boat was propelled by a large one-cylinder gasoline threshing engine at¬tached to the belt drive-shaft of the two large side-wheel paddles. The paddle wheels were about nine feet in diameter and were made of steel. It must be remembered that electric arc and acetylene welding had not been invented in 1908, when Large made his first boat, and all metal parts were made in the forge in his little workshop. The workmanship in the pad-die wheels and other parts used in giving the boat structural strength, was the work of a man who was a master tradesman. While the superstructure lacked the professional touch of the boats built in boat build¬ing establishments, it was, nevertheless a good look¬ing craft. It was painted white and green and her name was an indication that Captain Large, being an Irishman, was not ashamed of his "Empress of Ire¬land".

The boat was built not too far from the old church in Coulter and the story goes that on the lovely Sunday mornings in spring, when the minister was giving his sermon, Captain Large would start up his noisy machines and disrupt the church service. The elder of the church finally suggested to the minister that he have a little chat with Captain Large and ask him to either come to church or not operate his noisemakers during the service. The minister did call on Captain Large and when asked by some of the elders next day as to how the meeting had turned out, the minister replied, "It was the biggest mistake I have ever made. He knows more about the Bible than I do". Large, however, did not operate his machines during the service thereafter.

Then there is the story of how Captain Large kept one of his children warm in the old house in which they lived. They had an old fashioned cook stove with a high back. He fashioned a cradle out of wire and hooked it over the back above the stove, to keep the baby warm on cold winter days.

The Large family lived in the village for some time and they also lived on the high plateau overlook¬ing the Souris and South Antler rivers. Rolston had a team of mules and used to tether them out at night. He drove two iron pipes into the ground beside the house for the purposes of tying up the mules. The two pipes are still there beside the basement of his old home.

"The Empress of Ireland" was built in 1908-9 and was launched that year on the Souris river, just below the town. There was considerable difficulty in getting the big craft to the river, according to reports, many people were present to see whether the "thing" would float or go to the bottom. One skeptic was alleged to have said, "You don't expect that thing to float, do you Rolston?" Captain Large painted a water line along the hull and the skeptic was quite surprised when the boat drew just enough water to come up to the line. He never doubted for one minute that the "Empress" would be seaworthy, and he was right.
According to the passenger tickets for the year 1910, still in the possession of Miss Margaret Elliott of Melita, the "Empress" was built to ply the Souris between Napinka and Scotia, North Dakota. How many trips were made is not known. One thing
however, still in the mind of Mr. Mallo, is that the boat was built narrow in order to pass between the piling of the C.P.R. bridge. He recalls too, that he often steered the boat while Captain Large would sing lively songs and accompany himself on the banjo, to the delight of the passengers, who had taken along their picnic baskets full of goodies, to make a day of it. Large's charming personality did indeed overshadow anything that may have been left to be desired, as far as the workmanship of the boat was concerned.

The Melita Progress reported on October 17, 1907 and September 23, 1909, that Captain Large was the proud father of another girl, and that his friends were looking for cigars.

"The Empress of Ireland" was beached in the fall of 1909. She was used in the spring of 1910 for a short time, then Rolston decided to move her to a more lucrative area. Consequently she was loaded on huge truck wheels and transported to the C.P.R. track, where she was placed on two flatcars and taken to Brandon in July. She was used as an excursion boat on the Assiniboine river during the Brandon Fair. How she was taken from the train to the river is not known, but Large's ingenuity would soon overcome any problems he may have encountered.

"The Empress" plied the Assiniboine for the balance of 1910, between Currie's Landing, east of Brandon, and Curran Park, west of the city . . .

The "Empress" was tied down for the winter in the fall of 1911, at the mouth of the Syne river. She burned to the ice that winter, and all that was left in the spring was her big boilers, the paddle wheels and a portion of the hull . . .

Captain Large found a group of men in Brandon who listened to his story about how money could be made by hauling coal down the river. The charred hull of the "Empress" was taken up the Syne behind a gasoline powerboat to Large's shop, where she was rebuilt and converted to carry coal and other cargo.

Captain Large could not bear the thought of painting "Empress of Ireland" on a coal barge, so she was renamed "Assiniboine Queen". She was used for the summer and fall of 1912 to haul coal and materials downstream to where the bridge was being built over the Assiniboine. She was caught in the late fall in the ice, and was tied up with two logging chains on the north shore, about 200' downstream from the north abutment of the bridge. The spring of 1913 brought a very severe flood and torrential rains. "The Queen" finally went to the bottom, and there she remained until the Jaycees of Brandon moved about six feet of silt and took her big paddle wheels, the engines and two logging chains which were still  good as new. The two boilers had been removed during World War I to make war machines.

After losing the "Assiniboine Queen", Captain Large and Art Mansoff opened a garage and repair shop in the Village of Waskada, where they remained until the winter of 1914. When war broke out that fall, Large went back east, where he worked in a munitions factory.