Busy Days at Doomed Elevator Recalled by J.P. Gratton,
Who Saw Sailing Ships in Port Here
There is an unhappy man living at 75 Queen Street. Last evening he sat in his dusk filled living room and peered into the past - a past as irrevocably gone as the sun from the evening sky.
He is a small, compact man, but he is big enough to have had an elevator in his life and soon now that elevator will be gone. The man who already has an ache in his heart for that which is to come is 78-year-old J.O. (Joe) Gratton, whose hair has whitened in the service of James Richardson & Sons, Ltd., grain merchants. It was with bewilderment that he learned last evening that the Richardson elevator is to be torn down.
"I've been expecting it," he said, peering incredulously at the story announcing the elevator was to go, "but I just dreaded the day they were going to do it. You're bound to miss a thing like that when you've walked up and down between this house and the elevator for 60 years."
Although he has been retired year after more than 60 years' service with the Richardson Company - most of which were spent as superintendent of the elevator, Mr. Gratton still goes down to look at the huge, gray pile of a building every day.
"It was a very busy dock years ago," he recalled, sadly shaking his head. "It's funny," he mused, "how things come down. But there was nothing else to do with the elevator except tear it down. It was no use staying idle."
When the Welland Canal was completed business started to fall off at the Richardson elevator, according to Mr. Gratton. He said large boats then could go through to Port Colborne and smaller freighters would transship the grain direct to Montreal. "The Kingston elevator hurt us a little too," he admitted. "It could handle grain faster than we did. But we were just as fast as any elevator on the lakes until the big boats started to come down. We could put a boat out pretty good."
The tall and shining massiveness of a modern elevator is as nothing to Mr. Gratton compared with the bright vision of the old grain warehouse of his youth. That was in the days of sailing ships when grain came down the lakes at the whim of the winds.
"The old warehouse had six bins," he said, "which emptied into a passageway that led to the water. The grain from small boats was unloaded with pails at the waterfront door and dumped into two-wheel carts which carried 20 bushels each. It was then run onto a scale and weighed and dumped into a bin on the main floor."
When enough grain had been dumped to load a small sailing schooner, the carts were again filled. They were pushed by two men to the ship's side, where ropes were attached. A horse would be used to haul the carts up steep planks to the ship's deck and the grain was dumped into the hold.
"It wasn't until 1882 that we built what is known as a modern elevator," continued Mr. Gratton. "That elevator had a 60,000 bushel capacity and was equipped with a marine leg and loading out facilities for boats, bulk wagons and cars." The first grain was exported to Liverpool during the winter of 1884, and Mr. Gratton believes it was the first grain from the Canadian west to reach the English market.
"The 'Herbert Dudley,' a sailing vessel left Kingston in the month of July 1886, loaded coal at Toledo and then proceeded to Fort William and Port Arthur," he said. "She then loaded about 14,000 bushels of wheat and this, to my recollection, was the first cargo to be shipped out of these two ports to Kingston. It took 15 days to make the round trip." The schooners which carried grain from Richardson's elevator at that time included the "Richardson," the "B.W. Folger," the "Hanlon" and "White Oak" and many others.
Mr. Gratton said he could remember when the Montreal Transportation Company was operating its floating elevators, "you could almost cross to Barriefield shore from the company's dock on the decks of sailing vessels."
"They were tied to each other, waiting their turn to be discharged into barges, which took the grain to Montreal. All of these vessels have gone to Davy Jones' locker."
In Nov. 1897, the Richardson's "modern" elevator wad destroyed by fire and the firm immediately began the erection of the elevator which is to be torn down. "The foundation was started in Jan. 1898 and on the 14th of May of that year, the S.S. Orion, commanded by Alex Miligan, was the first ship to discharge cargo in the new elevator."
Mr. Gratton said he could remember as many as 10 boats with capacities from 1,000 to 5,000 bushels unload one day, leave as soon as unloaded and arrive back in Kingston with another load. "These ships became famous as Richardson's "Mosquito Fleet," he said. "I saw the Richardson's grow from small grain dealers to one of the biggest firms in the world. I've been from Halifax to Winnipeg for the firm and I'm glad to have served the family as long as I did." While he is "just a little bit shaky now," Mr. Gratton can remember the time he could "run up 150 steps at the elevator without losing my breath."
"I can still get around, but not very far. But there are still a lot worse off than I am." A perineal story that a man once jumped off the top of the Richardson elevator on a bet was spiked by Mr. Gratton.
"No one ever jumped off the top of our elevator," he said. "When the old Montreal Transportation elevator had been completed, a foreman by the name of Newman fell 150 feet onto the ice. We never had an accident like that in our house."