Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Finding the FOAM: Schooner Days CCLIX (259)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 26 Sep 1936
Full Text
Finding the FOAM
Schooner Days CCLIX (259)


MORE sailing vessels were moored in the mouth of the Niagara in the first week of last August than have used the river all this century, although Youngstown on the American side and Newark, or Niagara-on-the-Lake, on the Canadian, were both once busy sail ports.

Even the old eighteen-twelvers used to sail up as far as Queenston when they had a fair wind. Some of the yachts beat up against wind and current that far last month, and it was a most glorious sail, both going and coming. The reason for the recrudescence of canvas in Niagara was, of course, the Lake Yacht Racing Association regatta, which had between seventy and eighty starters in its varied races.

While there the yachtsmen made a crew of the yacht Foam, deposited wreaths, and heard a simple service. It was a dignified, unostentatious and sympathetic ceremonial. One of the smartest skippers, whose clear chorister's voice, after forty years' shouting of racing orders, blended sweetly in the reverent closing "Abide With Me," said quietly as he took a last look at the seven semicircular white headstones: "I think I'll get another pump for the yacht."

As said before, the Foam tragedy is the greatest that has ever befallen Lake Ontario yachting, and is the only one which overwhelmed an entire crew as well as their craft. Its repetition is improbable, for the type of yacht has been very much improved, yet it should be remembered that on Lake Winnipeg a couple of years ago the yacht Breeze was lost with all her crew, five in number.

While at Niagara it was possible to get first-hand the facts of the Foam disaster, as well as to clear away the accretions of legend which have, in the process of sixty-two years, grown over the record, as the moss grows over the stone.

To begin with, the noble text usually associated with the monument in St. Mark's cemetery, is not there.

"In the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea."

A beautiful text, with a beautiful thought behind it. But it is not graven on the stone above the swirling Niagara current, but on a tablet here in Toronto, in St. Paul's Church, Bloor street east, "erected by the companions of his household, in affectionate remembrance of Robert Henderson, who was lost with six others by the foundering of the yacht Foam off Niagara, July 11th, A.D. 1874, in the 31st year of his age." The text already quoted is followed by another, appropriate to us all: "Watch, therefore, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."

Another poetic touch, but unlike the first, of no intrinsic value, concerns the Niagara bell-buoy. Its mournful tolling, swelling on the north wind above the thunder of the breakers and the sobbing of the strings and brasses of the military band, is said to have been marked by the dancers at the week-end hop at the Queen's Royal, Niagara, the night the Foam went down.

The wind was east, rather than north, that fatal Saturday night in 1874 and so the bell would not be nearer than three miles south at Niagara-on-the-Lake; especially as there was no bell to toll. We were assured by Mrs. Asher, daughter of Capt. Joseph Masters, that the bell-buoy was not moored out on the bar until 1892, and that at the time of the disaster the bar was only marked by a stake-buoy. The present bell-buoy is a mile and a half north of the original one.

Her father then commanded the two-masted schooner John J. Hill of Niagara, which traded between Niagara, Oswego, Kingston and Toronto, and he was one of the last to see the Foam afloat. The Hill sailed from the river that evening, and when three or four miles out passed the Foam, beating against a fresh breeze. Capt. Masters afterwards told how "their legs were hanging over the side," possibly indicating that the young yachtsmen were hiking out, in an effort to keep their craft right side up. The Foam was a shallow centreboarder, and centreboard yachts often had to sail with all possible weight piled to windward. The yachtsmen were not at this time in distress, for they were singing. Capt. Masters saw that a squall was coming, and hailed to them to reduce canvas, but their answer indicated that they had no fear. So the two vessels parted, never to meet again.

Newspapers were no more infallible in 1874 than they are in 1936, but from the files of the Toronto Globe and the Toronto Leader, of the first year, the facts of the Foam's disappearance are gathered thus:

The Foam was a centreboard yacht of thirteen tons measurement, and carried four tons of iron ballast, inside, under her cabin floor. She had apparently been built in Kingston, where she was known as the John Powers, and had been bought by Mr. Charles Anderson and Mr. K. C. Henderson. The latter was a member of the Elmes Henderson family, of Toronto, and is said, in the Globe's account, to have bought the yacht "in Manitoba," a curious place to buy a yacht in those early days.

The Foam, as the re-christened John Powers was named, was not, according to the newspaper, considered safe for open lake navigation. She had low freeboard, and it is said that her cockpit extended to the stern, and, not being self-bailing, it involved the peril of swamping.

However, the Foam left Toronto for Niagara at half past three Saturday afternoon, July 11th, 1874, with a merry company of yachtsmen, who expected to reach the Queen's Royal in time for the Saturday night hop, and spend Sunday at Niagara, returning to Toronto in time for business Monday.

They were all young professional men, of good family; the newspaper headings, sensational for the time, giving first news of the accident four days after it happened, emphasize "Seven Gentlemen of Toronto on Board—Great Excitement." Mr. R. C. Henderson, already mentioned, was a Toronto barrister, Messrs. Charles and Weir Anderson, Jr., were sons of Weir Anderson, manager of the Trust and Loan Company, Toronto; James H. Murray was in the Merchants' Bank, and his father was a member of the firm of Moffat and Murray; Charles V. W. Vernon was also in the Trust and Loan Co.; Vincent H. Taylor was bookkeeper of the Toronto Car Company, and Phillips Braddon was connected with the Bank of British North America.

Four hours out, at half past seven that Saturday evening the Foam was passed by the steamer City of Toronto, on the course for Niagara. The yacht Ripple with Thomas Moss, M.P., on board, started for Niagara after the Foam did, and saw her within a mile of the port later in the evening, possibly after the schooner Hill had spoken her. The wind was by this time blowing hard from the eastward, so hard that the Ripple, a schooner-rigged yacht larger than the Foam, feared to cross Niagara bar in the conditions and squared away and ran for Port Dalhousie. Capt. Courneen and Mr. Moss, in the Ripple, did not feel concerned about the Foam until they returned to Toronto on Tuesday and learned that nothing had been heard of her in Niagara. They chartered the tug Young Lion—-the one Frank Jackman was later forced to leave burning in mid-lake when he and his crew nearly perished in a yawl-boat row to Lorne Park.

With the Young Lion they searched the shore from Jordan, west of Port Dalhousie, to Burlington Beach, and then along the north shore as far as Oakville, expecting that the easterly gale would toss the wreck or wreckage up in this vicinity.

They notified every steamer and every sailing vessel they encountered. The schooner yachts Oriole I, Lady Stanley and Ripple also put out from the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and made another sweep of the lake. The United States Revenue cutter Chase, then lying in Toronto Harbor, was asked to join in the search, but international courtesy was not as strong then as it is now, and the Chase did not go. (Parenthetically it may be noted that the kindness of the United States coast guards conveyed visiting yachtsmen of both nations to the memorial service in St. Mark's Cemetery over the Foam victims sixty-two years later.) Distracted relatives also applied to the owners of the steamer Clyde, when she came into Toronto from St. Catharines, and Capt. Wyatt took her out, with Capt. Ellis and T. Tinning, met the Young Lion, found what ground she had covered, and combed the shore from Jordan eastward.

The belief grew that the Foam, finding wind and sea too heavy, and noting the example of the Ripple, had given up the attempt for Niagara, and, trying to run for Port Dalhousie, and been washed and swamped by the seas filling her cockpit, and so had been carried to the bottom by her four tons of ballast; either that, or she had been capsized while trying to gain Niagara, and had filled and sunk.

A report came that the Foam's hull had been found near Grimsby, but this proved incorrect. But on Friday, July 17th, five men in a boat found her between two and three miles from shore, off the mouth of the Niagara River, lying in twenty-four feet of water. Only three feet of spar was visible. One account says this was the mast, with "three names on it," which seems strange. Another says a broken topmast was floating on the water. Still another says the spar which showed was the peak of her gaff, with the mainsail set, and that Capt. Taylor, of the steamer City of Toronto, had lowered a boat and tied a handkerchief to the spar, to mark it for salvaging operations.

The yacht was sunk "between two and three miles out in the lake," which corresponds with the location of the Niagara Bar. The sunken hull was raised. One Niagara gentleman attributed the method to Capt. Milloy and another to Capt. Wyatt and John S. Clarke. He said two boats were employed. They were moored on either side of the wreck and scuttled until almost full of water. Then plugs were driven in and the water pumped out of them, and their buoyancy lifted the hull so that it could be towed to shallower water, where the process was repeated.

It was found that the mast had carried away fifteen feet above the deck, and the topmast and outer end of the bowsprit were broken off. Contrary to current tradition, there were no bodies found in the cabin, nor near the wreck. It has grown into a legend that the Foam perished suddenly, with some of her crew asleep below, unconscious of danger. This apparently was not so.

The yacht was found on July 17th, almost a week after foundering. It was four days later when the first bodies were recovered. Those of Messrs. Vernon, Murray and the two Andersons were found near the American shore, on July 21st, and during the following weeks the other three were recovered. One had been caught in a night line set for sturgeon. Another drifted in near Wilson, N.Y. The third, Mr. Taylor's, was found six miles west of the river, twelve miles down the lake.

All the other bodies were found to the eastward of the sunken yacht, being carried down the lake by the current; but the yacht herself was west of the channel into Niagara. One account says, three miles west, but Niagara residents last month did not confirm this location. This suggests that she had foundered before she had been able to beat up sufficiently against the east gale to enter the river, or that she had swamped when, despairing of making port there, she had attempted to run for Port Dalhousie after the Ripple. Mr. Taylor may have been washed overboard before she sank, and the yacht may have been swamped in the effort to pick him up.

The fact that he alone was found on the Canadian side would indicate some difference of time or circumstances in his drowning. He was identified by his eyeglass; all the bodies were much disfigured by long exposure. One was half clad. The others had their blue shirts, pea-jackets and trousers. The time of the tragedy may be fixed at 10.30 p.m., three hours after the steamer passed the jolly yachtsmen, for the silver watch found on Mr. Vernon had stopped at that moment.

Another body, naked except for its socks, was found a hundred miles away on the shores of Prince Edward County, at the Sandbanks, and was buried in the Disciples burying ground, at West Lake. It was supposed at the time of finding to be that of one of the victims of the Foam, but as all seven were recovered elsewhere and identified this poor sailor sleeps unknown in a nameless grave.

The yacht herself was towed back to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in Toronto, either by the tug Young Lion, or the tug John S. Clarke, and for years afterwards her grey-painted bull swung like a drab ghost at moorings west of the foot of Simcoe street, where she was kept for hire. So, at least the veteran Mait Aykroyd remembers her in his boyhood. Aemilius Jarvis, who was going to Upper Ggnada College on Simcoe street at this time, rather thinks she was kept off Glendenning's boat livery at the foot of Lorne street.




(From a letter to Mr. E. J. Guy, Toronto)

138 Woodward ave.,

Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Sept. 17h, 1936.

Sir,—I am impelled to write you from the reading of the splendidly written article in The Evening Telegram of Saturday last, the 12th inst., being the 257th on "'Schooner Days," by (I understand) Mr. C. H.J. Snider, one of the proprietors and publishers of that really great newspaper, on the loss of the schooner "Bermuda," Nov. 7th, 1880.

I had great reason to remember that event, as my father, Captain John Hatherley Way, went through it with his old friend, Captain John Allen, who had asked father to go with him on the last trip of the season. He had laid up the vessel he was in, or from some other reason was able to do so.

Being but a lad at that time, I remember the great anxiety of my mother with a family of eight, living at Whitby, while that terrible gale swept the lakes, and all the excitement when we received the news about the wreck, also when my father reached home. He was laid up for some time with a fearfully heavy cold and cough, and lost his voice for a long time, but overcame it, and lived until 1908, when he passed on at over 81 years, having been at sea since a boy of 12 out of Bristol, in the British navy for years, and nearly around the world. The experience in the "Bermuda" was the first wreck he was in during those years. My mother lived until 1933, passing on at nearly 92, leaving the whole family intact, as they are to-day.

After discharge from the navy, father came to Canada in a timber ship, and began sailing the Great Lakes in 1860. My brother and I went for several years during the school holidays for trips around the lakes in different vessels in which father was sailing master, and mother also went with us in the early 70's before the family cares became too heavy. We were familiar with Oswego, Sodus, Charlotte, the Welland Canal, when the haulage was done by horses on the tow-paths. Erie, Pa., Cleveland, Toledo, O., etc., and the experiences were many and of great interest to lively boys. None of us went to sea, however, as, after living at Port Hope, where I was born, we were moved to Bowmanville, and probably sensing that a family of boys (there were only two girls in eight) would go to sea, mother moved out in the country near Columbus, six miles north of Oshawa, and about 1878 to Whitby.

The day of the sailing vessel was rapidly coming to a close. The "propellor" type crowded out the paddle-wheeler.

The U.S. tariff made the barley trade unprofitable, and sailors had a hard time of it, especially when the U.S. navigation laws prevented aliens from sailing their bottoms. Father sailed out of Chicago until 1885 as first mate on the "Oliver Mitchell," and finally came north and lived comfortably for many years. A few years ago, when across the river, I went to the great locks to see the traffic, when to my surprise the "Oliver Mitchell" was in the locks up-bound, as a barge, with topmasts removed, and small engine handling lines.

I gathered up a connected history of father's wanderings until he came to Canada, but to my very great regret did not get a story of his 25 years on the lakes, but from several sources I gleaned that he sailed for Captain Lydon, of Port Hope, your father, Mr. Guy, of Oshawa; also Mr. McLennan or McLellan, of Bowmanville. Among the vessels he sailed as master were the following: Ariadne, Garibaldi, Mary Ann Lydon, Gladstone, Eliza White and E. Hall. With his brother they bought the schooner "Enterprise," but for reasons above the venture was a failure, and he lost all he had, which, occurring so late in life, afforded no opportunity of recovery.

I trust that Mr. Snider will write up "Schooner Days" in book form, to keep a history of a very interesting period in navigation for future seamen.

If you have not read his "Under the Red Jack," may I suggest that you have missed a great treat. An old friend in Liverpool, N.S., Col. C. H. L. Jones, tells me that the book is invaluable in getting exact information on the days of 1812. I do not know if you will remember, but my mother was the eldest daughter of William Beall, of Columbus, who was very well known in East Whitby for many years. Believe me, yours sincerely,

J. B. WAY.


Sir—Being a constant reader of The Tely for years I read last week your article on the W. T. Robb, and as I worked on her when I was about twenty years old. I guess I am the only one living of the crew and the youngest of the crew then. I am now eighty-five this month. I worked on her all summer till the fall. We towed rafts then from all ports on the lake and took them down to Prescott on the St. Lawrence River. We burnt up a lot of wood and soft coal and only made about two miles an hour down the lake to Prescott when we had rafts in tow, although she was a powerful tug. We would tie up there and the raftsmen would take them down the river to Montreal, to be loaded on ocean-going vessels for England. The captain at this time was named Smithers, and he lived at Dunnville on the Grand River, where the tug was registered.

Yours respectfully,


571 College Street West.


ONE OF THE SEARCHERS FOR THE MISSING FOAM—The schooner yacht Oriole, first of a proud line of Orioles owned by the Gooderham family. This picture, the property of Miss Thompson, 348 Ontario street, Toronto, shows the Oriole winning a race from the Annie Cuthbert in 1874, the year of the Foam disaster. The original painting is so clear that the faces of the crew are recognizable. It has the notation, "This race was sailed immediately after return of the Annie Cuthbert from her victories on Lakes Michigan and Erie." The Oriole was a "schooner days" product, being built by the late Louis Shickluna at St. Catharines. She was sailed by Capt. Peter Thompson, a saltwater captain who had come to the lakes. She was owned at this time by Mr. William Cooper Campbell and others, and Sir William Mulock sailed in her. Mr. George Gooderham later acquired her and followed her with Oriole II.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
26 Sep 1936
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.3038664304494 Longitude: -79.1044380566406
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Finding the FOAM: Schooner Days CCLIX (259)