The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), July 29, 1881

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Methods of Grain Transportation - Their Cost and Advantages

Transhipment at Kingston


At least four fifths of the grain destined for Montreal by water is transhipped at Kingston to river barges. The remainder is chiefly carried by propellers, which, for special reasons, find it profitable not to adopt the cheaper plan of transhipment. One of the principal reasons is that consignees sometimes want the grain sooner than sailing vessels or steam barges could bring it and yet do not wish to pay the freights which the railway demands. The owners of the propellers, too, often find western bound cargoes requiring like expedition and comparative cheapness. In such cases the expensiveness of the method is compensated by the returns; but they are not of sufficiently frequent occurrence to have any great influence on the river barge trade. For the carriage of grain propellers are now considered the most unprofitable of vessels, and the proportion engaged in the carrying trade is sure to become smaller and smaller every year.

Cost Of A Propeller.

They rarely carry more than 14,000 bushels of grain. A boat of this capacity costs on an average $38,000, while a schooner of like capacity can be built for only $14,000, and a lake barge for $10,500. And while a barge can be managed by six men, and a schooner by but a few more, the following is the wages bill for a season's work with a propeller:

Captain $600

1st mate 320

2nd mate 250

1st engineer 480

2nd engineer 320

3 firemen 420

cook 150

3 deck hands 400

purser 400

Total for wages $9,600

To this must be added $2,980 as interest at 6 % on the original cost, besides insurance, provisions, the heavy bill for fuel, and various other items of expense, which altogether, with wages, make the cost for a single season total up, according to the best information I can obtain, almost $22,500 per annum, or nearly $100 a day for the season of navigation. In return for this large original outlay, and subsequent cost of running, the average rates for grain received by a propeller are said not to exceed by more than one cent per bushel the rates obtained by barges and schooners.

The Trade By Schooners.

Most of the transportation to Kingston is done by schooners of small capacity, few of them carrying more than 20,000 bushels. The Lake Ontario craft of this class do not average more than 13,000 bushels. These small schooners are practically excluded from the Buffalo trade by the large boats, which not having to pass through the Welland Canal, have a very large capacity and can consequently afford to carry grain at rates which the small boats would find unprofitable.

Schooners are built at an average cost of one dollar per bushel of their capacity. A boat carrying 20,000 bushels will thus cost $20,000, making the allowance for interest at 6 %, $1,200 per season. Seven men are generally a sufficient crew, and the wages bill rarely exceeds $2,500 a season, although the "union" rates this summer will make the expenditure on this account a few hundred dollars above that figure. The total expense of a schooner of this capacity does not exceed $11,000 per annum, or an average of less than $50 a day, every charge included. Of course these vessels take nearly twice as long as propellers to make the trip from Chicago to Kingston, but while a propeller goes through the Welland Canal with only 14,000 bushels of grain a schooner will pass with 20,000 or 21,000 bushels, and can therefore make greater profits on a season's business.

Lake Barges.

Barges are not yet extensively employed in carrying grain to Kingston, although between the Western ports and Buffalo they have of late years been used in large numbers and of immense size. The reason for their not doing more a larger share of the St. Lawrence carrying trade is that the class of barges which will be used on the opening of the new Welland Canal will be of a size which could not be used at present, and it would have been foolish for builders to construct smaller barges for temporary use with the knowledge that on the enlargement taking effect these small barges could not enter into competition with the large ones which must shortly be employed.

Barges for lake navigation can be built for 75 cents per bushel of capacity. They can be handled by five to seven men, whose wages are not nearly so high as those paid to employees on schooners, barge work being unskilled labour not beyond the capacity of a railway navvy or a dock labourer. The comparative absence of expenditure for new ropes and tackle, which is a constant bill of expense in the case of a schooner, constitutes another point in favour of a barge, while its shape permits of the storage of a larger quantity of grain than can be stored away in a schooner of like dimensions. When speed is compared, a barge in tow of a tug boat or of a steambarge far surpasses a schooner, making the trip from Chicago to Kingston in a third less time than a schooner usually occupies, and only two days to two days and a half more than a propeller. The cost of transportation by a lake barge carrying 20,000 bushels is said to amount to much less than by a schooner.

Steambarges rival the ordinary barges in cheap transportation, for though the expense of building one is much greater than that of a schooner, they carry more grain than propellers, and the receipts lost for the room given up to engine, boiler, and fire-hold, are fairly compensated by the receipts for taking ordinary barges in tow. Their use in the Kingston trade has not yet attained dimensions of consequence, for the reasons which have prevented the extensive employment of ordinary barges. The carrying trade of the future is, however, certain to be done by steambarges and consorts, a fact which has a most important relation to the expansion of the St. Lawrence trade, and the policy which the Government should pursue in regard to our canals. I shall hereafter give some attention to its bearing on these subjects.

Transhipment at Kingston.

Most of the vessels engaged in the St. Lawrence grain trade are built for a draft of ten feet, the utmost allowed by the old Welland Canal, and cannot therefore descend the St. Lawrence, on which only one of the canals will pass a vessel drawing more than nine feet going down, or 8 feet 8 inches coming up. In some instances during low water caused by north-east winds vessels have had much difficulty in getting through with a draft of only 8 feet. Hence lightering at Kingston is a matter of necessity, if a vessel intends to go through to Montreal, and this in the case of a schooner carrying 20,000 bushels means a reduction to 15,000 bushels as its river cargo. Under these circumstances, it is apparent that with moderate elevating charges and rates from Kingston to Montreal, it would pay a vessel better to return to a western port at once for a fresh cargo. There are, however, weightier reasons for transhipping. The forwarding companies, which have their western offices at Kingston, employ for river navigation a class of barges which cost but 50 cents per bushel to build, or 25 cents per bushel less than the lake barges. They are navigated by French Canadian barge-men of most economical habits, who manage to live and save money on wages of six, eight, and ten dollars a month, and on board which does not cost them more than ten cents a day. Lake sailors get $2 per day this season, and generally $1.50. The captain of the river barge is allowed from $120 to $150 a month, and out of this he employs men and furnishes everything, so that the cost of barge navigation on the river, apart from interest on the capital invested and tolls and towage, is only $5 a day at the outside figures. The barges are uninsured, the forwarding companies finding that river navigation is so safe that the companies find it pays better to lose a barge occasionally than to pay the insurance premiums demanded. The average cargo of one of these barges is nearly 19,000 bushels, so that the cost per bushel of river navigation to Montreal must, under the circumstances, be very much less with river barges than with the cheapest of lake craft. Grain dealers therefore find it to their advantage to tranship at Kingston.

In a future letter I will refer to the drawbacks to the St. Lawrence route and the probable effect of the opening of the Welland Canal on the future direction of the grain trade.

(** This article originally appeared in the Globe of July 28th p.5 - editor)



Capt. J.F. Allen's new tug will be unusually strong iin build.

The schr. Laura is loading 500 tons iron rails for Chicago at $1.50 per ton f.o.b.

The schr. Watertown, with 600 tons of iron ore, ran on the rocks on Plum Island during a heavy fog on Friday night. She is not leaking.

A forwarder informs us that this is the dullest season he has experienced since 1877. But for the trade in coal he said the transportation companies would have reason to feel reasonable indeed.

The captain of the Baltic is putting a new fore topmast in the Jessie Mcdonald, in consequence of the fouling of the vessels at Toronto. Still it is not yet settled who has to pay for it, but the captain of the Jessie won't.


Sr. Gipsy, Ottawa, pass. and fgt.

Str. Algerian, Montreal, pass. and fgt.

Str. Spartan, Hamilton, pass. and fgt.

Prop. Armenia, Ogdensburg, pass. and fgt.

Prop. Cuba, Toronto, pass. and fgt.

Prop. California, Montreal, pass. and fgt.

Prop. Scotia, Montreal, pass. and fgt.

Prop. Ocean, Chicago, pass. and fgt.

Schr. J. White, Cleveland, 150 tons coal.

Welland Canal - Bound Down.

Nevada, Chicago, Kingston, corn.

T.R. Merritt, Chicago, Kingston, wheat.

A New Lake Steamer.

Mr. T.W. Hugo, an old Kingstonian and Chief Engineer of the City of Owen Sound, has passed east on business in connection with the conveyance to Owen Sound of a Clyde built steamer, which has arrived at Montreal. It is to be run on the Lake Superior and Georgian Bay route, in connection with the line to which the City of Owen Sound, the Frances Smith and the Winnipeg (burned a few days ago) have belonged. The new boat is so large that she cannot be taken through the canals until cut in two.

The Direct Propeller Line.

The new Canadian transportation company, to be known as the North-western Express Company, having a regular line from Montreal to Duluth, will have three good boats, Acadia, Shickluna and Niagara, which will run direct between Montreal and Duluth. The saving on ocean bound freight is estimated at $11 per ton. Owing to the enlargement of the Welland Canal, forty feet can be added to the length of the present boats, which will be done next winter.

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July 29, 1881
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), July 29, 1881