The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily British Whig (Kingston, ON), 17 April 1854

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MR. COUNTER'S SHIP YARD AND MARINE RAILWAY.-- Quebec owes a portion of its commercial greatness to the enterprise of its citizens in the way of Ship building. For half a century vessels of all sizes and classes have been built in that city, taken to England and there sold. The amount, of annual tonnage, has been ever on the increase, until now it amounts to a very large item, and it is upon Quebec that British and Irish merchants now calculate to supply an important portion of the yearly void occasioned by age, loss and increase of business. The Ship Building of Quebec is therefore of the utmost importance to its continued commercial prosperity. What Quebec has done and is still doing Kingston is about commencing. Last year the great experiment was made on comparatively a small scale; and this year, that which is no longer an experiment, is carried out upon principles that cannot fail to contribute largely to the pecuniary benefit of all parties concerned.

For several years past, the Kingston Marine Railway, the property of a Joint Stock Company that was not satisfied with the investment of its capital has been leased by Mr. Counter, who, with characteristic energy and enterprise, soon made it as advantageous to stockholders as to himself. --But until last year, he confined his building operations to the execution of specific orders, and to the hauling out and repairs of steamboats. It was in the fall of 1852 or winter of 1853, that he first turned his attention to the building of ships for the British market.

Capt. Gaskin, an English Master Mariner, who has grown rich by minding his own business, first conceived the idea, and between him and Mr. Counter, it was carried out; The Cherokee, a bark of 400 tons burden, was built, launched in May, loaded in Toronto in June, went down the St. Lawrence to Liverpool, and was there unladen and sold; at such a net profit as to satisfy both owner and builder. Another vessel, the Arabia, of almost equal tonnage, was also built at the same time for Messrs. Ferguson and Boyd, for the same destination; but good freights kept her on Lake Ontario all the year, and it is only now that she is preparing for her Atlantic voyage.

When Capt. Gaskin returned to Canada, he and Mr. Counter laid their heads together, and the result of their cogitations was laying down the keels of two vessels of more than double the size of the previous year. One a bark, upwards of 800 tons, and the other a ship of nearly 900 tons burden. These vessels are now in sufficient forwardness to permit the first to be launched early in May, and the other in three weeks or a month later. The bark is 140 ft. length of keel, with 29 ft. of length and 16.5 ft. depth of hold. The ship will be of the same proportions as to depth and width, but of 16 ft. greater length. Both are very handsome vessels, with good lines for their class; are copper-fastened and tre-nailed, and built under the supervision of Lloyd's agent at Quebec. To Mr George Thurston, the architect of the Princess Royal, City of Toronto, Maple Leaf, and several other excellent steamers, belong the credit of building this bark and ship, and judging from their appearance on the stocks, no probability exists of their proving of any discredit to his reputation. They will be despatched to Liverpool so soon as any are launched and loaded; Capt. Gaskin will take charge of the ship, and the bark will be commanded by a seafaring man, expected out immediately from England. It is to be hoped that they may arrive safely and sail well, because on these contingencies depend the further prosecution of the new trade. But, as was before said, Ship Building at Kingston can no longer be looked upon as an experiment.--Although wages may be a trifle higher here than in Quebec, yet the price of the raw material is much lower; and the expense and trouble of taking the craft down the river, and through the canals, are more than covered by the freight of the cargo thither. In a word, Ship Building can be profitably carried on at the ports of Lake Ontario, and that's the long and the short of the matter.

In addition to these large ships, Mr. Counter is building six Barges of the largest class for the Grand Trunk Railway Contractors, besides several minor matters. Last year the amount of tonnage launched did not quite amount to 1000 tons' while this season, young as the year is, it now exceeds 3000 tons. It is true, that Mr. Counter has greater facilities for doing work than he had in 1853. He has enlarged his Yard, and recently has put up various extensive stone fire proof buildings for sundry mechanics' shops One in particular contains a steam saw mill, with circular saw and planing machine, and other important aids to labor. The number of men employed exceeds two hundred, and the weekly amount of wages nearly to £400. It cannot therefore be denied, that Mr. Counter's Ship Yard and Marine Railway are in themselves of the highest importance to the welfare of Kingston, and all its inhabitants are deeply interested in the success of his great undertaking. It need not be told to those who know Mr. Counter, that to this Ship Building business he devotes his whole attention. Every day, and all day, he is seen in his office or in the Yard, looking at everything with a master's eye, and suffering nothing, however apparently trivial, to escape notice.--This is the way and the only way to make a new business successful. Some people, particularly those who are anxious to witness a contest in Kingston, have coupled Mr. Counter's name with the future representative in Parliament of this city; but it is not probable, nay it is wholly improbable that Mr. Counter has any intention of offering. His time and attention are too valuable and too much occupied, to allow any devotion to party politics; for being a Conservative, he could only enter the House of Assembly to oppose the Ministry. Besides, he is not adapted for a popular noisy Assembly, and it is to the Legislative Council, when it becomes Elective, that he should turn his thoughts. Such an honor must be in reserve for his old age. As the Hon. John Counter, let him live long and die respected, a credit to Kingston and to Canada.

But we have not yet done with his Ship Yard, or rather with his Marine Railway. On the Railway are two large Freight Steamers, the Hibernia and Free Trader, belonging to the great Forwarding House of A. Hooker & Co., of Prescott and elsewhere. The Hibernia has had her bottom looked at, and is overhauled generally: but the Free Trader has been almost wholly rebuilt, so ample are her repairs. The steamers are nearly ready to launch, and will be afloat in a few days. Off the Yard, at the various wharves and adjoining slips, are a whole fleet of schooners, most of which have had something done to them this spring' among them the Arabia is prominent. She is in readiness to take in her cargo for Liverpool and will be away in a few days. Capt. Chrysler's steamer, the St. Helen's, is also nigh at hand. This excellent vessel, combining passage and freight accommodation, has had a Gentleman's Cabin Saloon put on her after deck, thus enlarging the room for goods, while adding to the comfort of her passengers, and as her destined route is from the Head of the Bay of Quinte to Montreal, these latter are not a few.

Before this article is finished, let it not be forgotten to make mention that in Mr. S. D. Fowler, the Foreman of the Yard, Mr. Counter possesses a most faithful and valuable servant--one who is respected wherever he is known.

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17 April 1854
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Richard Palmer
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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 British Whig (Kingston, ON), 17 April 1854