The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Athabasca (Propeller), C85764, collision, 18 Jul 1891

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Sault Ste. Marie, July 14. -- The Canadian Pacific steamer ATHABASCA, bound up, sunk the PONTIAC, ore laden and bound down, just below Churche's Landing on the Soo River. The ATHABASCA has just arrived carrying the upper works of the PONTIAC on her bow as it struck. The river was clear this morning. PONTIAC was struck on port bow and is at the bottom of the river. The wheelsman of the PONTIAC was badly injured.
      Buffalo Enquirer
      Tuesday, July 14, 1891
      . . . . .
      Sinking of the PONTIAC.
      The Cleveland Iron Mining Company's steamer PONTIAC, one of the biggest steel carriers on the lakes, is at the bottom of the Sault river in 30 feet of water at Wilson's bend, with a cargo of 2,200 tons of ore. She was sunk in collision with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company's passenger steamer ATHABASCA Tuesday at 9 o'clock in the morning with the weather clear. The meeting of the two vessels was most disastrous. The ATHABASCA struck the PONTIAC on the port bow with tremendous force, cutting her through nearly to amidships, causing the PONTIAC to fill and sink in less than two minutes. Everything forward on the PONTIAC, including cabins, bridge and pilot house, was smashed. A large portion of the PONTIAC's upper works was lodged on the ATHABASCA's forward deck, and was in that position when she reached the Sault. The ATHABASCA suffered but little damage. The PONTIAC was built by the Cleveland Ship Building Company in 1880 and was certainly worth $200,000 to her owners. She was sailed by Capt. James Lowe. Both boats are insured through the English Lloyds, their policies covering collision liability.
      Marine Review
      July 16, 1891
      . . . . .
Sault Ste Marie,July 14.-- The steamships ATHABASCA and PONTIAC collided near Churche's Landing at II o'clock this morning. The ATHABASCA was up bound and PONTIC downbound, both loaded. They struck stern on. The ATHABASCA arrived here with nearly the entire hurricand deck and anchors of the PONTIAC on the ATHABASCA's deck. The wheelsman on the PONTIAC had both legs broken. No others were injured. The PONTIAC sank in thirty feet of water and is badly danaged, her bow being all stove in. She was built in Bay City in I889 and owned by the Cleveland Iron Mining Co., valued at $2OO,OOO, loaded with iron ore. The ATHABASCA's stern was bent and her forward deck damaged some. The Captain and crew of the PONTIAC are here.
      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, July 17,1891

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The ATHABASCA arrived in on Saturday morning, and was forthwith a centre of attraction to our citizens, who flocked to the dock to inspect the damaged monster and gleam what information they could to supplant the meagre reports of the accident already received.
The big steamer looked, as someone present remarked, a good deal like Kilrain at the close of the last set-to with John L. Her forward bulkwarks were broken away, the bow battered and the stem wrenched clean to one side. The injuries, however, are easily repaired, and the expenditure of a few cool thousands will leave her as good as ever. An offical account of the disaster is not yet to be had, but the story told by one of the hands on the ATHABASCA is that when approaching the PONTIAC the barge blew two whistles, the sign to pass on the port side, and the ATHABASCA signalled that she would do so. As the two steamers approached each other the PONTIAC whistled for the ATHABASCA to take the other side and changed her course with that object. Capt. Foote, however, kept his course seeing it was
too late to escape a collision, and the ATHABASCA's bow struck the PONTIAC about ten feet from the bow, cutting into her massive frame with a series of terrific crashing reports as the parts gave way. She is said to have penetrated the barge to a distance of 25 feet. The unlucky wheelsman who was in his berth, lay right in the path of destruction and was taken out a few minutes later, with both legs broken and his head badly crushed. He died after suffering some hours. When the ATHABASCA was released from the barge,she carried with her about 10 or 12 feet of the upper deck which had been nearly lifted on to her forward deck in the collision. The PONTIAC went down within two minutes afterwards and lies with all her promenade deck above water -- a most imposing wreck as she is represened in the photographs taken soon after the disaster. She is the largest barge on American waters, a magnificent iron vessel sixty feet longer than the ATHABASCA and was one of three monsters built at Buffalo in 1889 for the Cleveland Iron Mining Company. Mr. Angus Cameron of Owen Sound, who was on the SEGUIN last year is her secon engineer. The iron ore with which she was loaded will have to be removed before she can be raised. The shock of the collision on the ATHABASCA was severe, but happily no one on either steamer was hurt with the exception of the wheelsman on the PONTIAC.
      It was nearly noon when the accident occurred and the tables on the ATHABASCA were being laid for lunch. The dishes and edibles were sent flying in every direction, much to the damage of the elegant Saloon carpet. The noise of the callision was frightful, and those
within, especially, who knew nothing of the danger till the shock came remember the feeling they then experienced as long as they Live. The ATHABASCA is said to have been going very slowly, and it is now reported that she was backing up at the time of the collision. However, this may be, it appears to have been the opinion of the passengers that Captain Foote was not to blame, and an address setting forth that opinion was presented to him before reaching Port Arthur. The ATHABASCA carried the PONTIAC's crew with her captain to Sault Ste. Marie, except a few men who were left in charge of the vessel. The ATHABASCA only remained here till midnight on Saturday when she left for Detroit, where she will undergo repairs. --- Owen Sound Advertiser
      Meaford Monitor, Friday, July 24, 1891
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Mr. J. R. Oldham of the Record of American and Foreign Shipping, who represented the English underwriters of the PONTIAC at the Sault, returned to Cleveland yesterday. He laughed at the report that the PONTIAC would be abandoned by her owners and treated with ridicule the statement recently made in an exchange that it would cost $75,000 to raise her.
The wrecking of the PONTIAC is a very easy problem, " said Mr. Oldham. "There is not half the difficulty that would be encountered were she submerged. She is not far from the land and all the surroundings would tend to lighten the work. Some wreckers have already made informal estimates on the work, and their figures do not place the sum at half $75,000. Indeed, I believe that she can be raised and repaired for a sum considerably below that figure. The wrecking operations will consist
simply of building a strong bulkhead and pumping her out, and this ought not to cost $20,000.
      Mr. Oldham states that the ATHABASCA was in reality as badly injured as the PONTIAC.
She struck the PONTIAC a full stem-on blow, and, her own stern was completely battered to the water line. She leaked but little, and was able to make her trip to Port Arthur, and thence to Spring-Well's dry dock at Detroit, without the services of a steam pump. Eleven of her frames were either broken or badly bent, and ten or eleven new plates will have to be put in. Her survey has not yet
taken place. The impression seemed to prevail that the ATHABASCA is a much larger boat than the PONTIAC. On the contrary the net tonnage of the PONTIAC is 1,788, while that of the ATHABASCA is less than 1,200. The ATHABASCA was built in 1883, and the PONTIAC in 1883. --- Cleveland Leader.
      Buffalo Enquirer
      Saturday, July 25, 1891

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Wreck of the PONTIAC - Quite a stir was created when the PONTIAC was rammed by the Canadian passenger steamer ATHABASCA on July 18, 1891, and sunk at St. Mary's River at the Soo. Many claim it was deliberate. Others say it was in self defense, but at any rate by the reports it could have been the ATHABASCA which was rammed instead of the PONTIAC.
The American and Canadian versions, I find, are similar, both giving Captain J. F. Foote much credit for being a fine and able master of long experience. Those familiar with the inside story say that previous to the wreck these vessels passed each other in the channel. Each time Captain Lowes, master of the PONTIAC, came speeding toward the ATHABASCA disregarding any signals. The PONTIAC was large and fast and her master took delight in showing her off. During the trip before the wreck, when he pulled the same stunt, Captain Foote warned him that as the lives of passengers were at stake, he would let him have it if was repeated again. This is the American version.
By the Canadian version they were to put a small shipment of dynamite on the ATHABASCA at Owen Sound, but Captain Foote objected. As the dynamite was urgently needed on a C.P.R. construction job, a wire was received from headquarters to put it aboard.
Captain Foote was much worried about this and when the PONTIAC was apparently going to ram him, disregarding warning and signals, he pulled over and hit the PONTIAC. Captain Foote lost his job over it, because the insurance company insisted. He retained the company's good will and when he died in Toronto years later they sent his body home to Owen Sound by special train.
By law Captain Foote, after making the last statement and ramming the PONTIAC, was found guilty, but morally Captain Lowes' arrogance was the cause as it was either the passenger steamer or Captain Lowes' freighter.
      Inland Seas
      April 1946 p. 134

Screw steamer ATHASBASCA. Official Canada No. 85764. Of 2,268 gross tons; 1,514 tons register. Built in 1883 at Kelvinhaugh, G. B. Home port, Montreal, Que. 262.8 x 38.2 x 23.2 Owned by Canadian Pacific Railway, Montreal, Que.
      List of Vessels on the Register of the
      Dominion of Canada on Dec. 31, 1905

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Reason: collision
Lives: nil
Remarks: Repaired
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William R. McNeil
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Athabasca (Propeller), C85764, collision, 18 Jul 1891