The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Colonist (Toronto, ON), June 2, 1841

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[London Journal of Commerce, 1st May]

There are but few things on the American Continent which form so striking a contrast, as the trade on the United States side and the Canadian side of Lake Erie. Whatever may be the causes, the contrast, in the view of all persons who have had an opportunity of witnessing it, is extremely discreditable to Canada.

Among the causes that have kept in such miserable backwardness our trade on Lake Erie, the laws that influence and regulate our agriculture are, in our view at least, the principle ones; and lie deeply seated among those that have occasioned most of the evils that Canada has now to struggle with. Had the agricultural interests of the upper parts of the province been properly encouraged, or even fairly protected, our western country would long ere now have obtained a pitch of prosperity that would have made the lake trade respectable, and forced those other improvements into existence that would have proved excellent auxiliaries to the advancement of the colony.

Among those auxiliaries there are none that can take the front rank of the substantial improvement of the harbours of Lake Erie. Were they but substantially and properly constructed, and good roads made from the interior to them, the lake trade even with our agricultural disabilities, would have been very far advanced, compared with the miserable state it has heretofore exhibited.

The harbours on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, although none too numerous, are still much more so than on the United States side; and their adaptation to safe shelter and cheap and substantial improvement, affords a great contrast in favour of Canada. On this ground there is every inducement to proceed with their immediate improvement, not only as a measure of fostering and improving the trade that naturally belongs to ourselves, but also as giving a chance of profitable and not infrequent calls and advantages, in carrying out the trade of our neighbours. We scarcely know how to collect a figure of comparison to give our views of the difference of what our Lake Erie trade would be, with our harbours safe and properly made, and what it now is, in its ruinous and dilapidated state. Yet, Port Stanley, "with all its imperfections on its head," has this season paid 8 per cent on outlay there. What would it have been, had the harbour been safe and in good repair, instead of being in such a state last year that captains of vessels were much more disposed to avoid it than resort to it as a place they could come to for safety and trade.

West of Long Point we have, at least, four excellent harbour sites, viz.: Port Burwell, Cat Fish, Port Stanley, and Round O. The three former are at good and convenient distances from each other, and are in front, and form a natural outlet to the agriculture and other trade, of a portion of country second to none on the Continent of America. The streams at the mouth of which they are situated have all excellent water power, and the lands in that vicinity have produced a great, and are capable of producing a vast amount of agricultural surplus. Let all these three harbours be substantially made, and good roads made from the interior to them, and we conscientiously believe that they would one and all pay, with moderate harbour dues, from eight to twelve per cent, on the whole outlay; grain buyers would at once establish themselves at them, and our farmers would not only raise much more surplus than they do, but that surplus would be worth at least four pence per bushel more than it now is. The improvements would produce an immediate happy effect on our prospects in this section; would raise our lake trade at once to a good measure of respectability, and afford safety and compensation in the dangerous occupation of the deserving class of our fellow-men who navigate the lakes. But, in connection with proper protection and fair play to agriculture, in relieving it from laws that are worse than the mildew, what a prosperous and energetic position would Canada assume.

p.2 The want of proper harbours on Lake Erie, and the contrast which the Canadian shore along that lake presents, when compared with the opposite side, have attracted more general attention than may be supposed. The subject has ever been adverted to by the London Press, and we have transferred to our columns, from the London Journal of Commerce, some observations respecting it. The Journal of Commerce deals with the question with considerable minuteness, and very properly points out the importance to the country of establishing proper harbours along the shore of Lake Erie, and of forming leading roads from the interior of the country to the different shipping places. It will be remembered that, when visiting the Western parts of the Province last year, the Governor General was unable to land at any place between Port Dover and Amherstburgh. It is satisfactory to observe that His Excellency is alive to the importance of improving the Harbours of Lake Erie, and that there is a fair prospect of something being done immediately, to put them into that state of efficiency, which the necessities of the country require. In replying to a memorial lately presented to the Governor General, from the "Merchants, Millers, Forwarders, and others of the London District, respecting the Port Stanley Harbour, Mr. Secretary Harrison states:-

"I am commanded by His Excellency in reply, to assure the Gentlemen who have signed the memorial, that the state of the Harbours on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie, has engaged a very considerable portion of the attention of His Excellency, with a view of ascertaining what measures can be adopted to put them in a state of permanent efficiency. His Excellency is anxious to be enabled to accomplish this purpose as well for the immediate advantage of the trade of the country, as for the improvement of a most valuable portion of the Province."

"I am directed further to add, that His Excellency leave no available means at his disposal unapplied for the purpose of effecting an object so much to be desired."

In the memorial to which the foregoing reply was made, the memorialists allude to the importance of Port Stanley Harbour, to London, St. Thomas, and the surrounding country; and they advert to the serious loss and inconvenience which the trade of their important district has sustained, through the want of a proper harbour at Port Stanley, which, from its central position, and from its being situated on the nearest part of Lake Erie, to London and St. Thomas, the two most important places in the district - they consider as the key to the London District. They further represent that the piers at Port Stanley were completed in 1831, at an expense of 6,000 Pds., and that from that period to 1840, the tolls collected exceeded six per cent on the capital invested. In 1840 the tolls yielded nearly eight per cent, and but for the state of decay that the harbour was allowed to fall into, they would that year have amounted to ten per cent - considerable quantities of merchandize, shipped to the port having been cast away, or landed at other places on Lake Erie. It is further important to notice that there are numerous instances in which merchants in the London district preferred paying a heavy land carriage on goods from Hamilton, rather than run the risk of having them landed at Port Stanley, from the unsafe state in which the Harbour has been in.

The following quotations from the memorial will convey some idea of the trade carried on at Port Stanley and of the extent to which that trade must increase, in the event of the harbour being repaired:-

"The quantity of produce in the storehouses at Port Stanley, destined for shipment upon the opening of the navigation, is estimated at 60,000 bushels of wheat, 2,000 barrels of flour, 1,000 barrels of pork, and 2,000 barrels of ashes, high wines, etc.; the toll upon which must amount to 600 Pds.. There are upwards of 1,000 barrels of pork, besides a large quantity of wheat, stored by merchants a few miles to the west of this harbour, in order to save the harbour toll; because from the dilipated state of the piers, sand banks form near the mouth of the harbour, and vessels are compelled to load outside of the bar, which subjects the shippers of produce, over and above the Harbour toll, to the same expense for lighterage, as those who ship from the lake shore. Your memorialists also consider themselves fully warranted in assuring Your Excellency that there is every prospect of at least as large a business being done at Port Stanley, during the approaching summer and fall, as took place last season, and if such should prove to be the case, the tolls for 1841 will amount to at least 1,050 Pds., or upwards of 16 per cent on the capital expended.

Nothing can illustrate more strongly the disadvantages under which your memorialists labour than the fact that British vessels last fall came to Port Stanley and discharged their cargoes of merchandize, and rather than load wheat there at one shilling, currency, preferred going over to Cleveland, on the American shore, and take their chances of obtaining freight from thence to Kingston at ninepence currency, per bushel. At the same time two vessels were lost, occasioning a sacrifice of property amounting to upwards of 2,000 Pds., and many of your memorialists were heavy sufferers thereby, and all in consequence of the ruined state of the Harbour."

"When the harbour was in a proper state of repair, steamers ran regularly during the season of navigation between Chippewa, Buffalo and Port Stanley, bringing hundreds of British Emigrants who otherwise might have settled in the United States as numbers of our wealthy farmers can testify at the present day. Should the tide of emigration this season flow into Canada, as in former years, and as we have now reason to anticipate will be the case in future, there is no channel through which Emigration by the Saint Lawrence and New York, can find such ready access to the Western part of the Province, as by means of steamers running from Chippewa, and Buffalo to Port Stanley, but which your memorialists can never expect to see unless there is a proper harbour at the latter place."

Besides, a considerable amount of duties has been annually collected at Port Stanley on foreign imports - some years the revenue derived from salt alone amounted to 500 Pds. It is further stated that this Harbour being the direct point of communication with the military depot in the heart of the London District, the most extensive proprietor of real estate there has gratuitously placed at the disposal of Government, sufficient quantity of land on the west side of the harbour for a naval yard, and for the erection of wharves for the exclusive use of the naval force on Lake Erie.

The memorialists after referring to the deep mortification they frequently felt at witnessing the effect produced on the markets, and the low prices obtained for the staple agricultural products of the country, in consequence of the ruinous condition of their harbour, which causes general dissatisfaction and invidious comparisons to be drawn, conclude by earnestly calling upon His Excellency to adopt measures to secure to their important district, and to the shipping navigating the Lakes, a good, proper, and substantial harbour at Port Stanley, and thus wrest the Province from the imputation under which it lies, of suffering one of its few public works, actually yielding a revenue nearly three times more than the legal interest upon the sum expended in its construction to fall into ruin and decay.

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June 2, 1841
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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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British Colonist (Toronto, ON), June 2, 1841