Schooner Days XC (90)
It has been suggested, and with reason, that a suitable recognition of the enterprise of the Muir brothers, pioneer lake mariners, who did so much to develop the marine industry on fresh water, would be to name the new Lake Ontario terminal of the Welland Canal Port Muir, after them, instead of Port Weller, after the engineer who constructed it for the Dominion Government.
The suggestion is not inapt, as the site of the existing Muir industry, established in 1850 in Port Dalhousie, is within three miles of the new canal, and the Muir property at one time extended right to the present canal, and, indeed, some of it still borders it. Mr. Weller, after whom the new port was named, has since died. Not even a post office has yet been established at the canal terminal, so that it would produce no confusion to give it a new name now at the beginning of its career.
To the writer, Muirhaven seems a better name than either Port Muir or Port Weller, because Lake Ontario's shore are already strewn thickly with "Port" names, many of which are not the names of ports at all. The subject is mentioned, not to fan again embers of controversy, but to indicate the esteem in which those five valiant brethren from Ayrshire, the Muir brothers, whose fortunes we have been following in "Schooner Days" are held.
ARGUMENT over which is first deserving of honor, the engineer or the mariner, is as endless as which came first—the egg or the hen?
Suggestion to make the name of Port Weller Port Muir, produced an amusing controversy between canal -builders and sailors. The former held that they were the real "pioneers," as canals were a pre-necessity to navigation; but sailors smote back by asking where would the whole institution of engineers and canals be without shipbuilders and mariners to use them?
To this one engineer came back with a quotation from Genesis VI, 14-16, proving that the ark, built according to plans and of specified dimension, was a product of the engineering profession.
Nothing daunted, the sailor replied that the Muir Brothers themselves built the Ark, in 1875, and no engineer had anything to do with it! Which, as Euclid says, has already been shown, in Article No. LXXXVII of Schooner Days.
Much favorable comment has been, made upon the proposal to commemorate the Muir Brothers’ enterprise by calling the new port after them. Lock No. 1 of the new canal was entirely the Muirs’ property at one time, and the family still owns land there. As a matter of fact the new harbor and first lock were carved out of what were at one time Muir farm lands, with the exception of a small lot which fitted into their holdings. But mere prior ownership of part of the site is not in itself sufficient to justify pinning a name upon a public institution.
"Another Mariner" put the case very well in the St. Catharines Standard not long ago, when he wrote: "Marine industry is fundamentally made up of Shipbuilding, ship operating, drydock building, drydock owning, drydock operating... The pioneer Muir Brothers ... were not merely ship-builders. They operated all the ships they built, they bought others and operated them, and their operations covered a vast area of water. They were freight carriers not only of other firms' goods, but of their own, in their ex-porting of timber to the Old Country and nearer ports. That their work was much more lastingly constructive than that of shipbuilders of their era—and all honor is due them—is evidenced by the fact that their establishment, has continued for eighty years, and is still carrying on. "
It assuredly would be fitting to honor these pioneers of the lake marine with the name of a port; particularly when the new canal entrance passes through the old Muir farm, which once supplied the families of the pioneers of the shipbuilding enterprise at Port Dalhousie, and fed the horses which worked their pumps and towed their vessels through the canal. The general contribution to industry as a Whole, made by the Muir Brothers, included, as "Another Mariner" pointed out, every imaginable phase. They sailed vessels; they owned vessels; they built vessels; they provided drydocks and shipyards; they developed timber limits; they sent the vessels they built overseas with cargoes of timber they themselves cut, and although the brothers have passed on, their drydock, completely modernized, is still going strong.
It is true that there was a dry-dock in St. Catharines before there was one in Port Dalhousie. Alexander Muir noted in his journal that when he was captain of the three-masted schooner Liverpool, and of the Marion, he had to wait several times in order to get on Shickluna’s drydock in St. Catharines; this was, about 1850, the only drydock in Upper Canada; there was a marine railway at Kingston, and there had been one at Niagara.
Melancthon Simpson also had a shipyard later at Lock 5 of the old Welland Canal, where he employed as many as 80 hands. By 1874 he had built 5,000 tons of shipping on the Welland Canal, and had never built a second-class vessel. The first vessel in the Dominion to rate A1 under the new regulations, was built by him. He commenced building at Oakville with his brother, in 1848, and after turning out many fine schooners there went to Port Robinson on the Welland Canal, in 1871. Here he built the steamers Cumberland and Manitoba.
Next year he established his yard in St. Catharines and in three years built the steamers Lake Michigan, Lincoln, Lothair, Lake Erie, Persia, Africa, a "barque" for Capt. P. Larkin, and a steam barge for Capt. Norris, the latter the first in America to have timber ports. These 10 vessels cost $452,000.
Melancthon Simpson and his brother, John, built many others, both before and since, in Oakville, Toronto, and St. Catharines. One of their early creations was the "barque" Jessie Drummond, 1864, which crossed the ocean to Hamburg, and the brigantine Sea Gull, same year, which went to South Africa. The Sea Gull was built in Oakville, and the Drummond is generally remembered as an Oakville vessel, having been owned there later by Capt. James Quinn. But it is understood that the Simpsons, being travelling shipwrights at the time, built her in St. Catharines.
The Simpson yard, and the Shickluna yard and the Abbey yard and the Andrews yard, and many another that once produced their thousands of tons of shipping in the canal zone have all disappeared, but the Muir enterprise goes on perennially.
"Muir Bros." at Port Dalhousie, as the concern is still known, has confined its work largely to repairing and drydocking of late, but has continued building. The most recent products have been steel contractor’s plant. In recent years the yard has built two of the largest steel scows on the lakes and several smaller ones, and has one on hand now. Its completion has been delayed by the rush of outside orders and emergency work.