Maritime History of the Great Lakes
More About Muirs': Schooner Days LXXXVIII (88)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 20 May 1933
Full Text
More About Muirs'

Continuing the tale of the dynamic Alexander and his sturdy brethren, who made Port Dalhousie famous by their shipyard and drydock, we come upon their barque Advance and her adventures.

STILL another of the staunch bluff-bowed wooden warriors which the Muir brothers brought into being from their shipyard and drydock at Port Dalhousie went overseas.

This was the “barque” Advance, which they launched in 1862; she was 397 tons register, slightly smaller than their Niagara of 1860, and more closely calculated for the limits of lake navigation as then established by the size of the Welland Canal.

First hand information regarding the Advance is unfortunately not available, for the fire which destroyed the shipyard stables and store wiped out a collection of models that would be priceless to-day and with them many of the firm’s books and records. Reminiscence of Capt. George Huston of Port, Dalhousie in August, 1930, is that the Muir Brothers sent the Advance to Liverpool from Port Dalhousie in 1867 or 1868, with a cargo of grain, and that David Muir was the brother who took her over, with James Neil of Port Dalhousie as navigator.

David, fourth of the Muir brethren, did not want to go, according to Capt. Huston. Little wonder, after what happened to brother Archibald in the Alexander, and the black wrath of that Alexander after whom she was named.

Before starting he made his will, which was a sensible thing to do anyway, if it had not been done earlier. He got across the Atlantic without mishap, and loaded a return cargo of iron bars and coarse salt in bags. On the voyage home the Advance began leaking, and he had to return to Liverpool and drydock her there. When she at last reached Canada again she unloaded some of the salt in Montreal, and the iron and the remainder of the salt in Port Dalhousie; and Alexander the Great was so incensed at David that he would not speak to him.

That was not the Muirs’ way, for the brethren were anything but inarticulate. Strong men they were, but not silent, and when things went amiss they vied with the comminatory and imprecatory psalmists in calling down sea-blessings on one another’s heads. They had not read the Old Testament for nothing, and were letter-perfect in all the curses from Deuteronomy to Proverbs. Moreover, they had voices like foghorns, and Alexander could stand in the shipyard and call down to the watchers on the pier ends, half a mile away: "Can ye no see the Antelope yet, comin’ up the lake?"

So if words failed the redoubtable elder brother of the Muirs on this occasion, he must have felt deeply indeed. There is more than a possibility that the recollections of the Advance’s voyage have been confused with those of the Alexander, nine or ten years earlier. The accounts have a very similar ring. Moreover, there is no mention of a loss incurred by the Advance, in that Domesday Book where Alexander recorded all the evils that befell in fifty years of lakefaring. On the contrary, the Advance is credited with net profits of $6,976 in 1862, her first year, and this was almost one-half of her building cost.

It was following this ocean voyage that the firm, increasing its operations, established the shipyard and drydock at Port Huron, where they built the Groton. David and Archibald took over the Port Huron enterprise, and with it some of the vessels. The Advance fell to David. Capt. Carus lists her as foundering with all hands off Cheboygan in 1885; but David Muir was not in her. He lived until 1913, dying in his 85th year. Like all the Muirs, he was long-lived and of commanding presence; quite patriarchal as his beard whitened.

The Groton, 350 tons measurement, was registered in Chicago, and long engaged in the grain trade between Chicago and Collingwood, where she frequently reported at the elevator with 23,000 bushels. One of George Moberley’s numerous “protests,” as these documents made before notaries public in insurance cases are called, tells of the Groton of Chicago, Wm. Anderson, master, arriving in Collingwood Nov. 27th, 1874, after an eight-day passage from Chicago, heavy weather all the way, and the worst being on Nov. 24th, in Lake Huron, when she blew out two jibs and the cargo shifted.

Other Muir vessels figure in the long sheaf of blue foolscap protests which George Moberley, notary public in Collingwood, patiently recorded for weatherworn captains and mates; among them “the Asia, of St. Catharines, Archibald Muir, master,” which arrived in Collingwood Oct. 23rd, 1863, nine days out from Chicago, with 23,000 bushels of corn and 50 barrels of pork from the new packing houses. The cargo had shifted in heavy weather on Lake Michigan, and she had put back and anchored on the bar off Chicago, sailing again on the 16th. Next day in Lake Michigan the sea ran high and swept the yawl boat off the davits, and two days later, near the Beavers, she blew out all her headsails and afterwards she limped into port.

It was not all profits and dividends for the Muir brothers, even in the hey-day of sail. The bones of the Arctic, the smallest schooner they built, lie bedded deep in the sands of Long Point, on Lake Erie. She got ashore there in a gale, when laden with square oak timber from Georgian Bay, with the space between the top of the oak sticks in her hold and her deck-beams filled in with waney pine to keep the cargo from shifting. So stoutly built was she that her hull withstood the buffetings of the gale, but, alas, her hold filled with water, and the waney pine dunnaging swelled and burst her decks off, and then the sand filled her. She was almost as long as the other Muir schooners, but shoal; her dimensions were 130 feet length, 21 feet beam and 8 feet 2 inches depth of hold. She only registered 172 tons in consequence, while her sisters ran to double that.

Asia is a name of ill-omen in lake history, for eighty lives went out when the steamer Asia was lost near the Bustard Islands Sept. 14, 1882.

Muir Brothers’ schooner Asia did not escape the bane, although she never drowned anyone. Once she struck an abutment of the bridge at Port Robinson, on the Welland Canal, and promptly sank, costing the brothers $4,000 for salvage. After repairs she was making her way up Lake Huron with a cargo of coal under command of Capt. Nicholson when she struck on the Spectacle Reef. Through heroic efforts, she was floated by a wrecking plant brought from afar and an attempt was made to get her to the drydock at Port Huron. But a heavy storm blew that night, and after all the efforts of the salvagers—$7,000 was spent on refloating her—the Asia went down like a stone in the middle of Lake Huron. Alexander Muir computed the loss on her at $25,000, in addition to the wasted salvage bill.

Other heavy set backs which she firm encountered were after they had bought and rebuilt steamers to tow their later schooners and barges. One of their steamers, the Albion, was burned, rebuilt at a cost of $10,000, and then got ashore and was totally wrecked. Another, the Enterprise, wrecked at Alpena, was a loss of $30,000. At Port Dalhousie they suffered heavily when fire destroyed the shipyard stables, and the “store,” 190 feet long, where were stowed seven suits of sails and rigging for seven vessels. Alexander Muir believed this fire incendiary, and offered $1,000 reward for the name of the man who did the wicked deed. The reward was never claimed. The loss was $40,000.

Nevertheless the drydock prospered, and is still going strong, although Alexander and his brothers have passed on. The secret of its prosperity has been its keeping abreast of the times. It survived the transition from sail to steam, from wood to steel, from literal horsepower to electricity.


Five Brothers, Master Shipwrights And Master Who Famous

Alexander Muir


Who founded the drydock and shipyard.

WILLIAM MUIR (1821-1909)

Who walked a hundred miles to join his brother.

BRYCE MUIR (1824-1905)

Business agent as enteprise progressed.

DAVID MUIR (1828-1913)

Who took the “Advance” overseas.

ARCHIBALD MUIR (1833-1892)

Who took the “Alexander” overseas.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
20 May 1933
Personal Name(s)
Muir, Archibald ; Muir, David ; Muir, Alexander ; Muir, William ; Muir, Bryce
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.2002351354044 Longitude: -79.2671483068848
Ron Beaupre
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
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More About Muirs': Schooner Days LXXXVIII (88)