The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
"Obey Orders If You Bust Owners": Schooner Days no. DCLXXXV
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), March 24, 1945

Full Text
Schooner Days
by C. H. J. Snider


Evergreen Capt. W.D. Graham of St. Catharines was, in 1879, the young mate of the schooner Grantham of that port, described in last Saturday's Telegram. Sixty-six years later he sent us this hearty hail about her. These are almost his own words:

"After a successful season in the grain and timber trade on the Upper Lakes, the owners of the Grantham in 1879. Messrs. Chisholm and Helliwell, put her in the grain trade on Lake Ontario. The McKinley tariff was to be put in force at the end of the year on Canadian Barley and any and all sizes of ships were kept in commission to get the fall crop out before the shutdown.

The Siscoe Fleet, as we called the little traps from the north shore of Lake Ontario, in distinction from the big timber-droghers and Old Canallers, which made the long voyages from Chicago to the St. Lawrence, would jam the harbor at Oswego and crowd the few elevators, causing long delays for the 25,000 bushel class like the Grantham. The elevators were few and Erie Canal boats were used for storage and forwarding of the barley. They could only take 4,000 bushels. Half a dozens were needed to unload a big vessel and the little ones use to keep them all occupied.

The weather that year during November and December on Lake Ontario was more like September at its best. No gales, no snow, in the daytime fine and warm. In the Grantham that fall we loaded at the following ports: Toronto, Port Darlington, Oakville, Frenchman's Bay, Oshawa, Port Hope, Trenton, and Belleville. There was no Murray Canal in 1879, and to get into the Bay of Quinte we had to work up the reaches from South Bay or Kingston, making Trenton a long voyage. The Grantham was a big vessel for such waters. We would load from ten to twelve thousand bushels in light draught ports and finish at Frenchman's Bay or Toronto, where the water was deep enough for 11 feet draught.

The terminal elevator of the Toronto Grey and Bruce, known as the Northern Elevator, in Toronto, did a rushing business. The schooner Jane C. Woodruff and the Grantham finished loading in Toronto on the 19th of December and towed out by the tug Frank Jackman via the Queen's Wharf channel. The wind was from the eastward, dead ahead for Oswego, so we stood over for the south shore on the port tack.

Winds increasing to fresh, the captains decided to put in at Port Dalhousie. There was only one tug in commission there, the Margaret R. Mitchell. She placed us at the east, pier as snug as bugs in a rug. Capt. Larkin of the Woodruff was aboard the Grantham with Capt. Thomas A. Horne, exchanging views of the weather, when there was an alarm at the cabin door. It ws a message from our owners in St. Catharines, four miles away, we heard we were in Port Dalhousie and were anxious about losing a handsome freight if we should miss this trip. It might be the last of the season They sent an order to the captain to go on.

"Obey orders if you bust owners," said Capt Tom Horne, "Out we go again!"

"No owners here to order me out," said Capt. Larkin,"and if there were I'd quote I'm monarch of all I survey, and that included the Jane C. Woodruff. Here I stay till I see fit to go."

The Grantham left Port Dalhousie with the wind still from the east, no gale but plenty of wind. We worked down the lake full-and-by, tack for tack. Slow work for a loaded three-master and it took days to thrash down Lake Ontario as far as Presque 'isle although that was only a hundred miles ahead. Standing to the northward on the starboard tack as we came in on the land the wind switched butt end to from the northwest, blowing fresh, and we ran before it until we passed the Ducks about ten miles off the could and see the dome of the city hall in Kingston. Then it let go and from early morning of Dec. 23rd until 2 o'clock in the afternoon we had a dead calm and lay motionless, with even the sea dying out.

After dinner Tom Horne lay down for there was nothing to do. He told me to call him at three bells, half past one that afternoon and I did.

Remember, it was the 23rd of December, and we were out in Lake Ontario. It was really hot, The sun was pouring down and the pitch was really boiling in the seams. The captain came out on deck from his room in his stocking feet and when I called him, having taken off his boots when he lay down. The hot deck felt good and he stood enjoying himself, right over where the seams had been pitched to make the deck perfectly tight for a grain cargo. The sun had so melted the tar that he stuck fast and we had to lift him out of his socks and carry him back to his room with his socks glued to the deck.

Then the wind came in from the southward and it looked impossible to get to Oswego, so we ran into Kingston and moored at the Military wharf on city side . It was so late in the season that there seemed no chance of making another trip, nor of getting to Oswego with this load, so he called the crew together and said he would give an extra day's pay to strip the Grantham and lay her up.

The sails, were as dry as tinder from the hot sun and in two hours time we had her outfit put away in storage, her timber heads parceled against the coming months' chafing and her mooring chains out till next spring. We left her in charge of a shipkeeper, packed our turkeys and went to Mrs. Gee's Hotel, where, of course, the main brace was well and truly spliced.

On December 24th all hands left Kingston on the Grand Trunk, changed at the foot of Yonge Street to the Great Western and arrived home at St. Catharines on Christmas Eve. The streets were dry and there was no sleigh riding for the rest of that year nor all that winter.


That southwest wind which pushed us into Kingston was an offshore wind fair for Oswego from Capt. Larkin of the Jane C. Woodruff, who was monarch of all the surveyed and master of his ship. It was just what, true to his colors, he was waiting for in comfort all the while in Port Dalhousie. He pulled out with it, made a good run down the lake in smooth water and delivered his cargo at Oswego N.Y. collecting a freight of over a thousand dollars."

We had often heard of the great grain rush of 1890 to beat the McKinley duties, but did not know there was an earlier one. Although McKinley was a high tariff exponent in the 1870's. The Dominion Weather Bureau records reports a "warm"s winter in 1877-1878. With December's average temperature 34.2 degrees above zero, 2 degrees above freezing and 7 degrees above average, with only 3-tenths of an inch of snow in the whole month. But for December, 1879, the Observatory reported heavy snow, 19 inches for the month.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Original:
March 24, 1945
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

"Obey Orders If You Bust Owners": Schooner Days no. DCLXXXV