p.2 THE GRAIN TRADE
In a recent issue of the News under the above caption, an article was published commenting at considerable length on the unsatisfactory manner in which the forwarding business was conducted during the past season; the lack of proper accommodation for the storage and transhipment of cargoes, the detention of craft and its usual attendant consequences - the presentation of large claims for demurrage; the possibility of the western trade finding an exit to the ocean by another and more expeditious route, and the means of remedying the existing "defects" in the rapidly increasing trade. The subject is greatly agitated in commercial circles at the present time, and a wide diversity of opinion prevails relative thereto. The forwarders especially hold a somewhat adverse view to that conceived by the writer of the article in question, and in order to thoroughly ventilate and give full publicity to the matter, our reporter made it the object of a visit to the principal agencies in the city yesterday afternoon, and we give the substance of his interviews as below:-
Captain L. Putnam, representing the Montreal Transportation Company, says:- "With regard to the alleged "shameful apathy of those who pretend to handle grain," and the exertions necessary on the part of the merchants to "retrieve the credit of the city," and maintain the activity afforded by extensive shipping, no statement could be more absurd. It must not be understood that Kingston has the influence to divert or attract the trade; such is not the case. Not one bushel of grain is shipped from the far west via Kingston and the St. Lawrence Canals to the Maritime provinces on consignment. It is purchased by Lower Canadians who have their interests centred in Montreal, and fully one-half of it is controlled by the M.T. Company. A grave error appears in the statement respecting the detention of vessels, and the cause of the same. At no time within the season was there over twenty vessels in the harbour waiting for barges that would not come, but which could not come, owing to breaks in the Beauharnois and Cornwall canals. The barge stock certainly was occasionally limited for the simple reason that the trade had to a very large extent exceeded anticipations, a fact that none could foresee. Forwarders are fully alive to the necessities of the trade, and the M.T. Company confidently think that they have made ample provision for the ensuing summer's operations, having added sixteen new barges of a carrying capacity of 180,000 bushels, giving the line a total capacity of 500,000 bushels a trip. As to the higher rates asked for cargoes to Kingston than Oswego, no singularity is noticeable. Such has always been the case, and today with the experience of detention and "humbugging," peculiar to Kingston forwarders, vessel captains prefer coming to this port at half a cent more per bushel than sail for Oswego. When the News said that "to our own knowledge $30,000 demurrage was paid last season by two firms alone," it is, he avers, terrible mistaken. The precise figures are never made known, but covering the entire expenditure in this respect of the different forwarding companies, that amount is exceedingly over-estimated. Kingston is dissimilar to Oswego - the former is merely a transhipping port, while the latter is a distributing port, that is in receiving the grain in storage on order. No fault can be found with the elevating power. It was on no occasion inadequate to the requirements. But the M.T. Company, with the increase of floating stock (barges) have likewise provided two new elevators, one capable of discharging 7,000 bushels per hour, and the other 6,000 bushels an hour, besides the old Hope, which will return here as soon as rebuilt at Montreal. There can be no question but that if a stationary elevator were erected, it would receive a fair patronage, but it has its disadvantages. Supposing it is estimated to hold half a million bushels of grain, how is it to relieve the incapacity of the forwarders in the event of a scarcity of barges? Then again another formidable difficulty presents itself to retain the brands from admixture. It will be easily perceived that to effectually prevent this a separate bin would have to be set apart for each vessel cargo, which could hardly be accomplished to give satisfaction; and the Montrealers, it is very well known, are positively opposed to the scheme. They even refuse to utilize the Welland Railway, so careful are they to avoid mixture; and if the road is brought into requisition, it is stipulated that the cargoes and brands shall be preserved intact, distinctly manifesting the particularity manifested by shippers. A good market will always be found in Europe, so long as the growth of grain is productive of such immense quantities in the western States; and it is ridiculous to presume for one moment, that the acute Yankees of the neighbouring republic would transmit one bushel via Kingston to Montreal were it at their discretion. They are too fond of national advancement, and the 10,000,000 bushels annually which pass down the St. Lawrence River are purchased by Canadians with Canadian money, and consequently at the disposal of the buyers - the Montreal capitalists. Under the circumstances, therefore, little fear need be entertained of the trade seeking an outlet to the frontier by way of St. Louis and the Mississippi River; that he considers would simply be preposterous. Present indicators point to a large trade from the west this year. The grain movement cannot be definitely ascertained as yet. Large quantities of corn await shipment, a goodly portion of which will come here.
Mr. A. Macphie, Manager for Messrs. Coulthurst and Macphie, of Quebec, says that with one exception the grain trade is carried on by Montreal capitalists, and not one pound of grain or other produce is shipped via the great lakes and the St. Lawrence river on consignment - all is arranged on contract. There were never forty or fifty vessels in the harbour at one time, and no deficiency was exhibited in the elevating power, which is nearly equal to Oswego. No instance is on record of a vessel being detained for a month; the longest time was fifteen days, and the average three or four days, in most cases being on account of delays at Montreal and breaks in the canals. Freights to Oswego almost always average a half cent lower than those to Kingston, and such was the range last season. He admits that some demurrage was paid, but $30,000 is in excess of the sum paid by the forwarders collectively. Two additonal barges have been made to the line in which Mr. Macphie is interested, making the total capacity 280,000 bushels each trip. The elevating power is sufficient for the demand.
Mr. James T. Thompson, of the firm of Messrs. Jones and Miller, remarked that last year was the most active among forwarders since 1863, the intervening period between '63 and '68 being comparatively dull and lifeless, and unremunerative to stockholders; and last season, at no time, he contends, were there as many as fifty vessels in the harbour, laden, at once. And even if so, the elevating power was competent to unload them in four days at least. The elevator of Messrs. Jones and Miller is capable of lightening 40,000 bushels per diem. It is not the elevating power that is most felt, but barge capacity. And the numerous shortcomings of the forwarders could be met, if in cases of emergency they displayed a little charity one to another; those having plenty of grain and no barges, and those with barges and no grain, acting in concert for the benefit of both. He does not approve of the stationary elevator, because the same sum paid for the storage, insurance and spouting of the grain would pay several days demurrage of vessels detained thereby.