Maritime History of the Great Lakes
"Agreed by all Hands": Schooner Days: XCI (91)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 10 Jun 1933
Full Text
"Agreed by all Hands"
Schooner Days, XCI (91)

"Behold how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" sang the Psalmist. The five Muir Brothers, whose Port Dalhousie drydock still flourishes, preached a lifelong sermon on this text.

One must not overlook the help and co-operation rendered by William, Bryce, David and Archibald Muir to their brother Alexander in the great enterprise. While the idea or inspiration to establish a drydock and shipyard at Port Dalhousie was due to the eldest brother, and he with his determination began the building, it was not far advanced before he saw that he could not do it alone, so he asked his brother William to help him.

William had made that long walk from Montreal to join his brother at Kingston when he was 18 years’ old. As may be remembered, he just succeeded in catching a steamer at Ogdensburg, inspired for the final spurt by "Scots Wha Hae." As the steamer neared Kingston it was seen that the city was in the grip of a noteworthy conflagration. Nevertheless, Alexander was at the steamer landing to meet his brother and took him on board his own vessel: and the next morning they sailed for Stony Creek.

Thus William’s sailing days began, in 1839.

As a lad of 16 he had volunteered in the Papineau rebellion, on the loyalist side; this was before he left his home in Montreal for the lakes. Among the volunteers were Glengarry Highlanders and St. Regis Indians in war paint, and the suppression of the rebellion was not, according to William’s remarks, entirely free from looting. There was a saying that "the Glengarry men came on foot and went home on horseback."

The first ship of which William was master was the schooner Minerva Cook, owned by the firm of Calvin & Cook, of Garden Island. In 1850, when Alexander began the drydock, he had a total capital of $4,000, his savings from 16 years of seafaring and lakefaring. William had saved money, too, and put it at the disposal of his brother. Their combined earnings made the enterprise possible

Very soon afterwards we find the three other brothers following William’s example. Aside from the monetary appeal there was probably that clan feeling of family loyalty so prevalent in the Scot. It may have played a considerable part with the Muirs, for the family in Scotland had long had possessions, each generation passing them on to a succeeding one, so that it was a point of honor with them to make an enterprise which one of them had undertaken succeed.

Among the Muir records is a receipt dated May 2nd, 1774, showing that the great grandfather of these Muir brothers was then part owner of a ship, "Gavin Hamilton, master" which he later mentioned in his will. While they were essentially land folk, with their farm of Hayocks at Kilwinning in Ayrshire, this may mark the beginning of their nautical adventures which flowered in the Port Dalhousie enterprise.

Alexander was only 30 years’ old when he began devoting his whole time to the drydock. His brothers William, Bryce, David and Archibald continued their sailing for some time after the drydock building began, turning in their savings to the Port Dalhousie establishment until they had ships of their own and sailed them as masters. They then converted greatly increased earnings to the common fund.

They continued to sail the vessels built in their own yard until, one by one they gave place to the captains whom they employed and devoted their energies to the operation of the drydock and shipyard and vessels, and the development of the extensive timber interests which the firm had acquired. Bryce took a leading part in this, travelling often to Quebec and various points on the lakes, where their interests were, while David and Archibald eventually took over the conduct of the drydock the brothers established at Port Huron.

There was a fine seagoing flavor about all the Muirs did. Minutes of the business meetings of the five brothers, partners in the great drydock and shipbuilding enterprise, read thus: "Moved by Alexander, seconded by William.... Agreed by all hands."

Alexander the Great, born in 1819, made this entry in his diary for Oct. 18th, 1902, when he was 83 years old: "Thank the Lord I was able to get up to the top of our large apple tree and pull off the apples. Wind southwest."

Alexander had planted that apple tree on the bank overlooking the shipyard 50 years before.

William died in November, 1909, and Alexander in January, 1910, within two months of him. The two elder brothers had been left alone in the Port Dalhousie enterprise for some years, Bryce having died in 1905. Near the end William sent for Alexander, who came promptly, He was then in his 91st year. And "Schooner Days," by the way, is a feature now in its 91st number, but not near its end yet, although its collector is overseas. The two brothers had been associated in their careers on the lakes for 70 seasons. The last of many interviews, this one was quiet and gentle, and, as was their custom in calm or storm, they indulged in scriptural expressions full of thankfulness and faith, which was a vital part of their strict Covenanting training.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
10 Jun 1933
Personal Name(s)
Muir, Alexander ; Muir, Bryce ; Muir ; William ; Muir, Archibald ; Muir, David
Language of Item
Ron Beaupre
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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"Agreed by all Hands": Schooner Days: XCI (91)