The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), Sept. 28, 1852

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Tugboats On the St. Lawrence

On Tuesday last the House went into Committee on the St. Lawrence Tug Boats.

Mr. Robinson need not go into a statement to prove the importance which had been attached by the House to the employment of Government Tug Boats on the St. Lawrence. This was well known, and it was also known that similar importance was attached to it in the country generally. It was therefore not without astonishment, that it was heard by the trade that these boats were to be withdrawn, and that without any notice which might enable the trade to make other provisions for towage. He then went over the history of the withdrawal of these boats, and the remonstrance of the Board of Trade of Montreal, upon the subject. He held that the reasoning of the Board of Trade was conclusive against the withdrawal without notice, and he knew that the forwarders, though they had the whole trade in their hands, refused to make any contracts at fixed prices for conveying flour through the season. Mr. Robinson then read Mr. Young's reply to the Board of Trade. He proceeded to say that it was at present impossible for ship-owners to know whether they could get towed up after coming down; so that one with a heavy cargo was obliged to discharge at Kingston; others would not come down at all with flour; and of those that did come many had been exposed to great inconvenience. He had heard of one instance in which a valuable cargo was detained for three weeks. The effect was that to the end of the first week in August, thirty-seven sailing vessels only had come to Montreal, instead of ninety-seven the year before. Freights had increased (as we understood) from 10s. per ton to 10d. per cwt., and the conveyance of railroad iron had been driven from the St. Lawrence to the New York routes. He thought, considering the large expenditures on Spencer Wood and elsewhere, a few thousand might have been spent here without inconvenience. The true policy was to improve the system if bad, not to destroy it. He then stated that up to a certain day in June last year, not a barrel of flour had reached Ogdensburg for reshipment, while up to the same time this year 68,000 bbls. had reached that port. Last year the Board of Works reported that though the tug-boats required some improvement in their arrangement, the result of putting them on the service had on the whole been most satisfactory. How was it Government had changed its opinion? He went on to say that the increased size of the steamers using the Canals, might account for the increased tonnage passing the canals, while the quantity of produce reaching Montreal being equal to that of last year, might be accounted for by the fact that the quantity of land in Upper Canada was much larger than had ever been known; so that great quantities were diverted by other routes. Another thing which was justly complained of was, that while the intention of the Board of Works was not generally known till the spring, it was said to have been known by some persons in the fall, who had made their business arrangements accordingly by engaging all the steamers. After some observations which were very indistinctly heard, Mr. Robinson impressed on hon. members for Lower Canada the importance of this question to the trade of their ports, which, unless something were done, would he said, be speedily deserted. He was not bringing this matter forward as a party movement; but for the advantage of the trade of the country. He concluded by moving the resolutions of which he had given notice.

Mr. Hincks had always greatly doubted the expediency of adopting the tug-boat system. The hon. member who had just spoken warmly about the essential necessity of these tugboats, was, however, chairman of the Board of Works, when the scheme was first proposed. Why did he not put them on?

Mr. Robinson said the canals were not then navigable.

Mr. Hinck heard that reason for the first time. But while he was opposed to the tug-boats from the first, he did not object to the thing being tried. The object which it was attempted to gain was to give sailing vessels the advantages which naturally belonged to steam vessels. The thing, however, was but an experiment, and there were constant complaints of the service that was performed during the first years. Another year's trial was given; still the complaints continued; so that it was clear the parties who had contracted for the service could not be again advantageously employed. No other boats could be found to supply their place, and the only course left open was for the Government to build steamers itself. That, however, he feared would have involved the government in an immense amount of useless expense; and the only course left was to try and do without them. As to the charges of corruption insinuated on "it is said," and so forth, no one who knew the hon. member for Montreal would attach the slightest credit to them. That hon. member was away on public business a short time before the determination was arrived at, therefore he could not give the notice to the trade which was perhaps desirable; nor did he (Mr. H.) believe that notice was of any consequence to the public service whatever. H. declared on the authority of a mercantile letter, which he read, that the freights this year were cheaper than ever; and doubting whether it would be proper to put steam-tugs on the river at all, certainly would not do so by employing the parties heretofore employed.

Mr. Young, in reply to the charges which had been made of collusion with the forwarders, stated that so far from that being true, his friend Mr. Holton had written to him, dissuading him from the step which he afterwards took. No man was more interested than himself in the trade of the St. Lawrence. He had sent the first vessel that had ever went from Montreal to Chicago, and he had in other ways forwarded the trade of the West with the St. Lawrence. Now, from the first year the tug-boats were put on, there were constant complaints of the detention of vessels. He had about half the schooners which came down in the year 1849, consigned to himself, and he was very particular in ascertaining all the particulars respecting the cost and manner of towing. He had one vessel consigned to him, which was detained six weeks at Prescott, and which, after that took a smaller tug, owing to the insufficiency of which the cargo of Pork which she contained was damaged to the extent of £400, and the vessel cost £1100 to repair. During three years enormous losses were suffered from the inefficiency of the tugs. He therefore came into the government with a full knowledge of the facts, and after much inquiry he thought it was better to discontinue the boats altogether. To show the character of these complaints, Mr. Young read a large number of letters, from persons connected with sailing vessels, all complaining of the insufficiency of the service performed by the tug-boats. He then went on to contend that by the tug-boat system which had formerly prevailed competition was excluded, and the work was naturally done badly. If the boats were wanted they would be supplied by private enterprize. Then turning to the cost of conveyance, he stated that in the spring of 1851, up to the 5th of July, there was no flour brought to Montreal at less than 1s. 3d., though the rate subsequently fell to 10d. per bbl. Now he held documents which proved that in the previous year freight on the American side of the lake was 25 per cent higher than last year; there was also a greater demand of produce to move, and the spring began 11 days later. He had gone to the forwarders' books, and had found that in spite of these things freights in 1851 were, up to 12th of July, 1s. 3d. then 1s.; 11 1/2 d.; 10 d., late in the season. This year to 7th July, the highest rate was 1s. 6d. for two cargoes only. On July 12th the rate was down to 1s., just as early as last year. It remained at that rate till the 19th of August, and went down at that time to 10 1/2 d., and one cargo at 9d., which latter rate had continued throughout August - the month in which last year it cost 11 1/2 d. The average rate this year throughout the season was 1s. 3d., and last year 1s. 4d. Upwards freights this year had also been rather lower than last year, wheat was lower than ever before. These were the prices of real transactions, and were taken from the books of all the forwarders, and signed by those gentlemen. He then read the returns, which have already appeared in the papers, showing that up to the 31st July the movement per day through the St. Lawrence Canals had been greater than last year; the number of days, however, being 80 this year to 99 last year. In answer to the statement that our flour was being driven to Ogdensburgh, in consequence of the high freight, he said he had shown that these freights were lower this year than last; but there were other causes operating to the result that was complained of, the chief of which was the superiority of the terms on which produce could be supplied at Boston and New York. Throughout the hon. gentleman's speech, the noise of putting up stove pipes completely drowned his voice.

Mr. Merritt desired to place the House in possession of information as to the necessity of tug boats. The hon. member said that they were for cheapening freights; but that was not the only object. Upon the Rideau Canal being opened it was found that the freights in that direction were dearer than by the St. Lawrence where there was no canal at all. The navigation of the canal without this plan was incomplete and fell into the hands of monopolists; and the same thing happened on the St. Lawrence canals. In New York harbor a man with a vessel, could, by waiting a little while, obtain a wind; but this was not the way on the canals, and if you put the motive power into the hands of any company, you would always have the work badly done. What was wanted was a tow path which anybody could use, and the tug boats were to the river between the canals what the tow path was to the canals themselves. There were however great complaints of the service as it had been performed; for the boats employed were bad and old; but that might have been remedied, and he had desired the government to build boats of great power, which would have secured to vessels motive power as securely as the tow path on the Welland Canal. He knew in spite of what had been said, that freights were higher than last year; he wanted no calculation about it. On the Erie Canal there was a tow path provided by those who built the canal, and the same thing was required on the St. Lawrence to secure competition between vessel and vessel. Under Mr. Draper's administration he had urged this plan, and the tug boats were just about to be built; but the hon. Inspector General who then wielded another power, raised such a noise by talking about Government becoming forwarders and monopolists, that the Government was fairly frightened and gave up the plan. He believed that a barrel of flour, when the St. Lawrence was deepened and tug boats employed, might be taken from Kingston to Montreal for three pence.

Mr. Langton, in answer to the Inspector General, said it appeared to him inasmuch as sailing vessels, which were most fit for the lake, were not well fitted for the river, it was only right that they should be put on an equality with the steamers so far as concerned the river. Justice to the canals demanded this. The steamboat trade required so large a capital that it was impossible for any real competition to arise, so long as the trade was confined to them. Therefore to withdraw aid from the sailing vessels was to leave a monopoly to the great forwarding companies. As to the arguments of the hon. member for Montreal, put forward in his report it went to this effect that there were unfavorable circumstances this year; but that in spite of them more produce per day had been moved this year than last. But the fact was that in proportion as the time during which the navigation was going on was short, in that proportion would the average movement per day be increased, unless it could be shown that last year the canal had done as much as it could possibly do. As it was there appeared to be an increase of the movement on the canals amounting to about 1500 tons per day, which seemed to him not to be equal to what the shortness of the season ought naturally to have produced. This increase amounted to the large augmentation of nearly one per cent. But if the increase this year had gone on in the same ratio as in the preceding years, the movement, instead of 1500 per day, ought to have amounted to 2200 tons. Now, he himself knew that there were gentlemen in the trade, not only who had to pay higher freight than last year, but who absolutely could not send their produce to market by the St. Lawrence at all. There is no doubt that the produce of Upper Canada had increased as rapidly as ever; what then had become of the surplus which ought to have descended the St. Lawrence? Much had gone to the United States and much more would have gone, had not the persons who had to send, been bound, in consequence of advances from Montreal Houses, to send it to them.

Mr. Hinks now advised the hon. member for Simcoe as there was no responsible head of the Public Works Department, to allow the Committee to rise. There was an insuperable difficulty in the way of the government owning steamers, or in engaging with the same persons who had failed before, but he had no insuperable objection to having tug boats on the St. Lawrence.

Mr. Smith said that he thought the great error committed before, was in giving the contract to a firm, who being engaged in towing rafts and also their own vessels, were frequently inclined to give preferences which they ought not to give. Besides, the steamers which had been employed to tow rafts were not the sort of thing for this service. He thought the service ought to be divided among several contractors, and that each one ought to be held liable for damages which delays might cause to any individuals. Heretofore it had happened that they contended they were not liable in that way and that they knew no one in the transaction but the Government.

The Committee then rose and reported progress.

The Tugboats - an editorial - more political discussion of the issue.

Toronto Regatta - First Day - The Kingston boats appear to have had easy work of it in taking the prizes for which they contended at Toronto. In the yacht race, open to all, the Prima Donna carried off the first prize, the Challenge coming in second, and the Kate Hayes third, all leading considerably the most advanced of the Toronto yachts. These are the three which, it will be recollected, left this port for Toronto to enter for the race. The four-oared race was won by a Kingston boat; the two-oared by Toronto, and the championship of the bay, by Medley from this city, the winner of the Kingston championship in the late regatta here.

Second Day - Mr. Street, the President of the Agricultural Association, having offered a prize of £7 10s. to four-oared boats, the contest for it came off on the second day of the Regatta. There were three competitors, but Kingston won easily. The yacht race on the second day was confined to boats owned by members of the Toronto Yacht Club on or before the 16th August last. The steamer left before its conclusion, so that we have no definite information as to the result, but at the time our informant saw the race the Jenny Lind and Rover (formerly Kingston boats) were leading handsomely.

A correspondent has favored us with the following note upon the first day's race:-

Toronto Regatta

On the morning of the 24th instant, about 11 a.m., the yachts entered for the contest could be seen taking their respective stations off Maitland wharf, the wind blowing freshly from the eastward. After waiting about an hour and a half the starting gun was fired, when the Prima Donna took the lead, followed by the Jenny Lind, Inconstant and Challenge, the other boats tailing off; in which position they remained till the buoy at the Queen's wharf had been rounded, when the Challenge passed the Inconstant and closed rapidly with the Jenny Lind, and when in the act of passing her, whether by accident or purposely, her bob-stay carried away, and she returned home and gave up the contest. The race then was altogether between the P.D. and Challenge (the other boats being about two miles in the rear). When at the buoy in the lake opposite to Privat's, the Challenge passed the P.D. and led her round about half a length. The course then steered was for a buoy off the Light House, before the wind, much in the same manner, the Challenge having increased the distance to about four lengths. They then hauled on a wind and steered for a buoy, keeping the same distance from each other until the last stretch, when the Prima Donna passed her competitor to windward, leading her home by thirty-seven seconds, making the run of twenty-five miles in two hours and fifty minutes. The Inconstant came in about half an hour afterwards, followed in about ten minutes by the Undine; the other boats being nowhere. The race between the P.D. and Challenge, owing to their continued proximity, was really one of the most exciting ever witnessed.

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Sept. 28, 1852
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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.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Daily News (Kingston, ON), Sept. 28, 1852