SAILOR SAID HIS PRAYERS WHEN THE QUEEN JUMPED
This week's weather, with old Ontario alternately dimpling and rippling like a duckpond, and leaping under leaden skies like a deckload of depth charges exploding around a submarine, recalled to some old-timers early navigation openings and the deceptiveness of the lake's promises of good behavior in the spring.
In 1891, the winter broke early and the ice soon left the bay. We had real ice then, 36 inches thick on Toronto Harbor, cut without qualms about germs or chlorination, and used for all purposes during the long hot summers when blue painted sprinkling carts soused the cedar block pavements till they steamed in the heat. (Yes, we had typhoid then, too).
March came in like a lamb in 1891 and stayed that way -- for a while. The stonehookers, those little floating box cars which supplied Toronto with most of its pavement and building material, fitted out early in their nests at Port Credit, Oakville, Bronte, Whitby and Frenchman's Bay. On the 24th of March the stonehooker Coral, of Port Credit, George Blowers, master, officially opened navigation in the ice-free port of Toronto, by arriving with the first cargo of the year, cribstone for the piers of the new Eastern Gap, one of the industries which relieved the depression of the early '90s. Capt. Blowers won the traditional harbormaster's hat of stovepipe model, but accepted $3 instead gratefully, and invested in a fur cap.
QUEEN OF THE LAKES
The Queen of the Lakes, then a fine three-master, owned by P. D. Conger and the Sylvester Brothers, may have spent the preceding winter in Toronto, although the writer, who then prowled the waterfront in knee pants, does not recall her among the fleet that thronged the wharves.
There was the Orion at the old Queen's Wharf, he remembers, being rebuilt as a steambarge, and the Dundee of Montreal and the Albacore, both at the Waterworks, and at the foot of Yonge Street, the Laura and Rapid City and John Wesley, and in Scott Street slip, probably the Emerald and the Clara Youell, like all of the Mathews Fleet, green above and red below with yellow beading. Over in Church Street slip were the St. Louis and Jas. G. Worts, with the little Jessie McDonald sandwiched between them, and some schooners farther east, perhaps the Speedwell and the Straubenzee, and the wrecked Gleneiffer -- but the Queen of the Lakes is not recalled.
WAS WORKING EARLY
The Queen, however, was in Toronto before the Coral arrived with her cribstone, for Manley Duetta of Picton remembers being asked to join her here and she had made one trip down the lake to Charlotte, probably with barley, and had come back to Whitby to load more, by the time the Coral opened Toronto navigation. Talking to the Picton Times recently, Manley Duetta said:
"In the year 1891 I received a telegram from Captain Murney Ackerman to come to Toronto and join the Queen of the Lakes. It was the 19th of March. Captain Joseph Parsons was master, and Captain Murney Ackerman, mate.
"We made a trip to Charlotte and came back to Whitby and loaded barley for Charlotte. At Whitby three of the crew quit the vessel, and two men took their places. The new men were Stephen Peer of Port Credit and David Jones of Kingston. We were on man short of our crew.
"On the 25th of March we started for Charlotte again. It was like a summer day. That evening it was my long watch below, but at eleven o'clock we were called out to reef. The wind had veered to the southeast, and the seas were running mountains high. It was snowing."
OFF THE THIRTY
"We were somewhere about abreast of the Thirty -- Thirty Mile Point, that far east of Niagara -- and standing in towards the land. The order came to "bout ship." She rolled and pitched and plunged coming around, and the seas spilled in on both sides. It was then our mizzen boom broke in two. When we got this sail furled, we thought of our midship hatch which had not been battened down. The mate told me to try and do the job for the rest of the crew, their hands were so cold they couldn't do it.
"Just as I got on my knees to batten the hatch down, the vessel shipped a sea which almost buried her. The force carried me toward the lee side, but I managed to grasp a winch which saved me from going overboard. Then the standing jib blew out of her. I was sent to stow the remnant of it on the bowsprit."
"NOW TOSSED UPON THE BILOW"
"I SHALL NEVER FORGET THAT EXPERIENCE. When the vessel would ride on the crest of a wave, I would in all probability be thirty feet in the air. When she broke over, my feet would almost touch the water.
"Naturally I thought of home. What would my poor wife do if I were drowned? It seemed as if an audible voice had spoken to me: "I will be a father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow. Why not trust me now?"
"To say that I was comforted, expresses only a slight particle of my feelings.
"When I came inboard, with a crash like a cannon the mainsail was split from gaff to reef points. There we were, trying to hold our own against a wind, fierce as any gale that ever swept Lake Ontario and scarcely enough canvas left to control the vessel in ordinary weather."
RUN FOR SHELTER
"Morning came at last. The captain and mate got together and shaped our course for Port Dalhousie. We lay there for a week repairing the wreck.
"I have often wondered what became of the rest of the crew. Captain Ackerman is in Rochester. I had a letter from a friend in Port Credit some time ago, and he told me Stephen Peer was living and a member of the quarterly board of the United Church."
Yes, Steve Peer, who sailed the Barque Swallow and the Madeline after leaving the Queen of the Lakes, is still thriving on his Port Credit farm.