The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Atlantic (Propeller), C85491, fire, 10 Nov 1903

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Detroit, Nov. 10. -- A dispatch from Collingwood says that the passenger steamer ATLANTIC was totally destroyed by fire this morning near Campbell Rock, Georgian Bay, as there was no sea on, the passengers and crew reached Parry Sound in the boats, but the baggage and personal effects were lost. The steamer, which is a total loss, was owned by the Northern Navigation Co., and engaged in the Georgian Bay and North Shore trade.
      Chicago Inter Ocean
      November 11, 1903

      The steamer ATLANTIC (formerly the MANITOULIN) which has been in the dry dock at Owen Sound thoroughly rebuilding for some months, came out on Friday last, and is now nearly ready to take her place on the route again. We understand she has been made stronger and better than ever, and will be one of the finest vessels of her size on the lakes. --- Times.
      Meaford Monitor
      November 17, 1882
      The new propeller, the ATLANTIC, built by the Owen Sound Dry Dock Company for the Great Northern Transit Co., is said to be a very fine vessel. She arrived at Collingwood, Nov. 30 with I700 barrels of flour, on her trial trip, averaging 12 miles in an hour. She is 160 feet in length, 30 feet wide, hold 10 feet deep, tonnage 700 tons.
There are 34 first class state-rooms fitted out with the latest improvements. Notes from Collingwood report, her as the most handsomely fitted out steamer that ever entered that port.
      Every precaution has been taken to render her fire-proof. Her engines are large and powerful.The boiler and engine department are cased in iron. Another large steamer is to be built at Owen Sound for the same Company.
      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, December 15, 1882

The passenger steamer ATLANTIC was totally destroyed by fire on Tuesday morning near Campbell's Rocks in Georgian Bay. The passengers and crew reached shore safely in life boats. The fire originated in the engine room.
      Port Huron Daily Times
      Wednesday, November 11, 1903
      Steam screw ATLANTIC. Official Canada No. 85491. Of 683 tons gross; 442 tons reg. Built Owen Sound, Ont., 1883. Home port, Collingwood, Ont. 147.0 x 30.0 x 11.0. Owned by Northern Navigation Co., of Ontario, Collingwood, Ont.
      List of vessels on the Regisatry Books of the
      Dominion of Canada on December 31, 1902

      The remains of the ATLANTIC, nestled close to the outer Spruce Rock, have been a favourite dive for Ontario divers for many years. Strewn on the rocks in five to 50 feet of water, her massive machinery invites exploration, and new divers get quite a thrill finning through her huge boiler and firebox.
Although her remains are familiar, the dramatic story of her life are not widely known, and this account will help divers appreciate their dive all the more, next time down.
The Atlantic was really destroyed by fire - twice. She was launched as the MANITOULIN in 1880 at Owen Sound, burned to the waterline on a beach near Manitowing in May, 1882, and the hulk and machinery were towed back to Owen Sound and rebuilt as the ATLANTIC, launched in 1883.
For 20 years she plied her trade as a passenger and freight carrier, often carrying Sunday School children on
excursions. Then came the fateful November 10th, 1903, when she was again destroyed by fire - the second and last time.
The story of her last hours were filled with all the drama and stories of heroism that surround all fires at sea - and the tale is dramatically told, with superb understatement, by her wheelsman, Amos Girdwood, a lad of 17 years at the time.
"On Nov. 9th, 1903,"' he commenced, "we left our home port of Collingwood a little before midnight, with a full cargo of baled hay, coal oil and shanty supplies for the Graves and Lumber Co. at Byng Inlet. The Bay was perfectly calm with not a breath of wind, but as we were nearing the Western Islands the first mate told me that we were going to get a severe pounding as we could see a storm coming up several miles away. We could
hear the roar of the wind at least 20 minutes before it hit us like the boom of a cannon."
The old man paused and looked into the distance, his eyes narrowing as he recalled that danger filled night so many years ago. Then he continued his tale: "The ship listed a little with the 60 mile gale broadsides and in a short time quite a heavy sea was running. About 4:30 a.m. on the 10th, the lights went out leaving the whole ship in darkness. Then we sprang a leak! The pumps were put on full force, but the water gained all the time.
"By this time we had a heavy list to starboard and the starboard firebox was under water. The port firebox was high enough that we could get enough draught to keep the fires going, so our steam wasn't cut off entirely, but the pressure was so low that we were making very little headway. We were heading directly on Red Rock light, but there was no known channel and we were just taking a shortcut, not knowing at what moment we might land on rocks and go to pieces. On one occasion when she rolled over I thought she was gone; I looked around and the water was coming into the pilot house under the door. The mate told me he was coming up in the cabin and was standing straight up on its wall."
"By this time she was about to throw the after cabin overboard, she was just like an old box, twisted and ready to go to pieces. We were getting nearer shelter, so changed our course and swung in behind the Pancake Islands. The engine was barely turning over; the engineers had left the engineroom and were making for the lifeboats; our time was limited, we had just made shelter before the steam was cut off. Not a soul was to be lost, but ship and cargo was a total loss. I am told that Red Rock light is 60 feet from the waters edge, and all
through the night waves striking the rocks covered the light from our view for 10 to 15 seconds at a time."
"In a very short time the skipper shouted down that the ship was on fire and "everyone to the lifeboats", which
we had made ready from about dawn. We had difficulty lowering No. 2 boat as 6 men got in it before it left the hurricane deck and by this time the flames and smoke were coming out the fan lights at our feet. We got into the boat by sliding down a davit, then down a fender or any way we could."
      "We saw one of our crew come running down the hurricane deck and with an armful of clothing which he was trying to save. He ran to the edge of the deck and made a leap for the lifeboat, even with 15 already in the boat, he landed OK and didn't hurt himself or anyone else. By this time the waves were coming into the boat and in our desperation, all but one took off his cap and started bailing."
Just then a tug sighted us, headed for us, and picked us up. Then and only then did we know we would reach land safely (this was near the spot the old ASIA was lost many years ago). When we were about to leave the scene, I took one last look back. She was one sheet of flames but we were glad to be alive and able to walk on dry land again."
      "Again the old man paused. Then he said quietly, " Now I have given you a true story as I wrote it many years ago."
      The burning ATLANTIC drifted in from behind the Pancakes and sank in her present position against one of the Spruce Rocks. She is quite easily found if one follows Chart No. 2203 sheet one. Her position is N. 45 degrees 19' 59", W 80 degrees 15' 42"
      by Tom Towson
      Canadian Diving News - 10
      February 1972

THE GREAT LAUNCH - The Collingwood `Messenger' gets off the following:- "We notice by the `Times' that the people of Owen Sound took a temporary fit of lunacy over the launching of the steamer MANITOULIN last week, The day was proclaimed a holiday, business men wended their way towards the Dry Dock turning hand springs, and hundreds of country people came in to see the "fun". It don't take much to excite those Owen Sound people. Here in Collingwood, the Georgian Bay Transportation Company have about completed a large steamer for the Chicago trade and we say very little about it, but then, they are not used to these things in Owen Sound."
      Wiarton Echo
      April 30, 1880

      The Steamer `MANITOULIN' Burned
HEROISM OF THE CREW. -- On Friday last news was received from Collingwood of a terrible disaster on Lake Huron, resulting in the destruction of the steamer MANITOULIN, and the loss of a number of lives of those on board. The MANITOULIN left this port on Wednesday 17 inst. and according to the reports had arrived off Shoal Point, about four miles from Manitowaning when she caught fire, supposed to have been caused by an explosion of a lamp in the engine room.
The first news was got from the mate of the lost steamer, Mr. Johnston, who was picked up by the CITY OF OWEN SOUND, in a sail boat bound for Killarney, about six miles from that port.
The following graphic description of the sad tragedy is taken from the Globe of the 23rd. Inst.
The fire broke out about one o'clock p. m. Captain Campbell was sitting at dinner when he heard the cry. He immediately ran out, mounted the hurricane deck, and cried out to the wheels-man "Hard,
a-starboard, run her for the shore." The engineer, Lockerbie, on hearing this order, immediately jumped down into the engine-room, from which the flames were leaping with terrible fierceness, and let on every available ounce of' steam. His escape from destruction is nothing short of miraculous.
They were then about two miles from the shore, with a large number of passengers, and the
fire growing fiercer and fiercer every moment. However, in running for the shore, the steamer was headed against the wind, and as the fire was in the after part it materially aided in keeping the
flames in that quarter. When the fire broke out and the excitement was at it's height, several ladies and children jumped overboard and perished. The cries of excitement and general wail that went up were most pitiable to hear.
On a boat being lowered so many rushed into it, that the front davits broke, letting all those within it into the rushing waters below. It is not known whether all these were saved or not. The flames had by this time enveloped the after part of the steamer. The passengers were huddled together trying in vain to gather hope from the expression of one-anothers countenances. The flames were drawing nearer and nearer every moment, driving the crowd forward.
The heat became intense. One after another sank fainting to the deck overcome by the heat and smoke. One young couple, but recently married, got separated in the surging crowd. The husband
rushed hither and thither searching for his lost one when above the roar of the flames rose a cry which he instantly knew came from her he sought. She was in the Lady's cabin, and he rushed to save her, when in an instant the flames swept around them, and the devoted pair perished clasped in each others arms. The wheelhouse was now in flames, but like John Maynard of old the wheelsman stood
at his post, the red-hot embers dropping around and upon him. The Captain stood near encouraging and directing all with voice and action. The foam flew from the boat's bow as she cleft the water
like a knife, the flame and smoke rising high towards heaven, making a most impressive picture. One minute more and the shore is gained. "Hurrah! Now, boys, you may go" shouts the Captain to his crew, as the boat touched the beach, and he himself prepared to leave.
Just as he reached the lower deck he sees a little girl rushing, as though into the roaring flames. He reaches to save her, and just in time, but to save himself from slipping down the sloaping deck
into the flames, he grasps an almost red-hot iron ladder and both are saved. He drops his charge to those waiting on the beach, and assisting others in the same way all are saved from the steamer.
Between 20 and 25 lives must have been lost at the least. Up to 6:50 o'clock on Friday morning only three bodies had been recovered. All saved were taken to Manitowaning and accommodated as well
as possible.
W. J. Tucker, the druggist of the town, said that shortly after 12 o'clock he saw smoke ascending from the vessel. He was among the first to notice the flames. He had a powerful glass, and saw many jump off the starboard side. He saw the Captain on the bridge to the last, and saw and heard explosions of gunpowder and dynamite. After the sufferers landed he dressed about 20 hands, includ-
ing both engineers, and a man named John Millar, who had a severe burn.
The number of those who perished is variously estimated, some placing the number as high as fifty, and the lowest estimate gives twenty as the number. The purser did not have time to register all
on board, consequently the names of' many who were lost are not recorded, and probably the names of all the victims will never be known. The purser Mr. McDougall, who most courageously attended to his duties, succeeded in saving all the money he had on board, together with a gold watch for a gentleman up the lakes, but lost his books.
The names of those lost are Robert Henry; Thos. Hanbury and wife; Geo. White, Collingwood; J. Lewis, Algoma Mills; J. Little of Sullivan, Marpole & Co.; Jno. Hogan; P. Fitzpatrick; and a little girl, Fanny Proud. Others whose names are not known are also lost...
      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, May 26, 1882

      . . . . .

      Collingwood May 25.:-- LIST OF PASSENGERS AND CREW, lost on the ill-fated MANITOULIN, --official. --
      Fanny Proud, a little girl of Owen Sound; Fobert Henry of' Toronto; Thomas Hanbury & wife, Owen Sound;
James Little, employed by Sullivan, Larpole &co.; John Hogan, Toronto; Patrick Fitzpatrick, of Ottawa; an unknown deck passenger; three deck hands also perished, George White, Muskoka; Joseph Lewis of
Chatham, one whose name unknown.
      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, June 2, 1882

      . . . . .
      The hull of the burned steamer MANITOULIN in Manitowaning Bay, was pumped out and successfully raised on Thursday last, and was taken in tow by the tug GEORGE MATHAN, arriving in Owen Sound on Sunday morning, after being considerably delayed by the gales of Friday and Saturday. The hull which is in better condition than expected, was taken into the dry-dock yesterday, and we understand it is the intention of the company to at once rebuild her. --- Times.
      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, June 16, 1882
      . . . . .
The boat upon the waters rode,
`Twas beautiful to behold,
But soon a dreadful tragedy-
Will its pages now unfold.

It happened on a certain day
This boat was out upon the bay;
And guided by a steady hand
`Iwas just about two miles from land.

But soon a voice was heard below-
A voice that did not tire,
And then a signal went abroad
That the boat was all on fire.

The crowd came rushing to the scene-
Alas it was too true,
For soon the wreathing fires
Were consuming its bright hue.

The boats were lowered in right quick style,
But ah! 'twas all in vain,
For soon its occupants had passed
Far, far from cares or pain.

The wheelsman brave stood at his post
Without the sign of ache or pain:
But said he'd fight for life or death
Or else the shore he'd gain.

The Captain then stood on the deck
Straining his eyes to see
His comrades clinging to the wreck,
To see if sav'd they might be.

The pilot he stood calm and brave
And answered o'er and o'er
To questions which to him were asked
How far are we from shore?

The people clung with might and main
And tried their lives to save
But some of them dropped off and sank
Into a watery grave.

At length the boat it struck the land,
Which it shall visit never more,
And then the welcome sound was heard
Thank God ! we've reached the shore.

Let those that's rescued from this wreck
Pray unto him each day
Who saved them from a burning death
Upon the Georgian Bay.
      William J. Guthrie, Fairmount.

      Meaford Monitor
      Friday, June 23, 1882

      . . . . .


Media Type:
Item Type:
Reason: fire
Lives: nil
Remarks: Total loss
Date of Original:
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 45.333611 Longitude: -80.256944
William R. McNeil
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Atlantic (Propeller), C85491, fire, 10 Nov 1903