The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Enviable Navigation Record Set By Cornwall’s Capt. Mallette In The Days of Sailing Vessels
The Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall, ON), 30 Aug 1941

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Enviable Navigation Record Set By Cornwall’s Capt. Mallette In The Days of Sailing Vessels
Veteran Skipper Experienced Only One Minor Mishap In 43 Seasons of Sailing on the St. Lawrence River

To have sailed the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes for 43 seasons, always on sailing vessels to have met with only one minor mishap, and that the year before he quit sailing, is the enviable record of Captain Nelson Mallette, whose home is at 213 Fourth St. West, where he has resided continuously for 66 years, also quite a record in itself.

Captain Mallette told Down The Lane on a recent evening at his home that he took to boating at the age of 17 years, in the summer season of 1869. From that time on until his retirement from the river in 1912, he had run the river for 43 years, and all but five of these he was in the service of the Montreal Transportation Company.

One Accident in 43 Years — His only accident in 43 years as a boatman occurred in the summer of 1911, the year before he quit. He was then master of the Winnipeg, which was coming down the river in tow of the tug Glyde, of Kingston. The Winnipeg was heavily laden with coal consigned to Montreal. She went aground in the Galops Rapids, near Cardinal, but was released and taken to the head of the Farran’s Point canal, where she sank in about 26 feet of water, there being about 12 feet of water over her decks, and she was completely out of sight excepting for her masts and high spots.

A wrecking crew was finally secured from Windsor, Ont. A coffer dam was considered the only means of salvation and this was built around the boat. The water was pumped out and she was eventually towed to Montreal without further mishap. The cargo of coal was discharged and the Winnipeg went up light to Kingston and was placed in drydock, where her hull was repaired. The damage was only slight and she completed that season under Captain Mallette’s guidance. On the Winnipeg, the last boat he commanded, were Captain Mallette, six deckhands, and a woman cook, eight souls in all, not a very hefty crew as boats today are far more heavily manned. Captain Mallette said the Winnipeg was under water for almost 2-1/2 weeks, but suffered very little for her long stay on the bottom of the river.

Born in Hogansburg — Nelson Mallette came into this world at Hogansburg, N.Y. on March 17, 1852, and should, therefore, be a good Irishman, being born on St. Patrick’s Day. But he was thoroughly French. He was a son of Justin Mallette and his wife, Mary St. Denis. His father was a Canadian by birth, a native of Rigaud, Que., but his mother was an American. His father was a carpenter by trade, so that young Nelson Mallette did not inherit his love of sailing from him. He went to school at Hogansburg until he was about 16 years old and he recalled that his early teachers were Sarah Welsh and William Bero, the latter a brother of John R. Bero, for many years Collector of Customs at Hogansburg.

In the summer of 1852, when 17 years of age, Nelson Mallette struck out on his own account and went to Montreal and secured a job sailing on one of the fine wooden sailing vessels owned by the Larkin Brothers of Montreal. The boat he was employed on was named Mary. She ran between Montreal and Brockville and other upper ports carrying lumber and wood. After two years as a deckhand on the Mary, Nelson Mallette was appointed Master in succession to Captain Joe Villeneuve, of Hogansburg, who was retiring. It was through the instrumentality of Captain Villeneuve that Nelson Mallette was employed by the Larkin Brothers, as Captain Villeneuve said he could recommend his fellow-townsman for any position in the service of the company.

Was Master at 19 — At the age of 19 years, in 1871, the young deckhand became Master of the Mary, which position he filled with credit to himself and satisfaction to his employers for three seasons, making five years in all he was in the employ of the Larkins.

Learning of his capabilities as a master of vessels, officials of the Montreal Transportation Company approached Captain Mallette with a good offer and he resigned from the Larkin firm and went into the service of the larger concern. Boats he commanded for the Montreal Transportation Company were the M.A. Grant, the Alfred, the Brighton and finally the Winnipeg, on which he finished his career as a boatman. These were all sailing vessels and had to be towed by tugs, although Captain Mallette said the [ed.- line missing, typesetting error] occasion when they were needed. Captain Mallette’s connection with the first named boats was not of any great duration, as most of his long service was on the Winnipeg, on which he experienced his only accident in 1911, the summer before he retired from the river for good. The boats were all grain and coal carriers, running from Fort William and Port Arthur to Montreal, but Captain Mallette said he made many trips to the Lower St. Lawrence River to pick up pulp wood at Murray Bay and Ha-Ha Bay. Entering the employ of the Montreal Transportation Company at the age of 22 years, in 1874, Captain Mallette continued in their service until his retirement in 1912, a stretch of 38 years. This, coupled with the five years he was in the employ of the Larkin Brothers, gave Captain Mallette a continuous service on the water of 43 years.

Came Here 70 Years Ago — Nelson Mallette came to Cornwall in 1871, when he was 19 years old, and this has since been his home, a period of 70 years. That was when he started as Master of the Mary. He came to Cornwall to join a brother, Justine Mallette, also a sailor, who had been living here for some time.

In February, 1873, Nelson Mallette was married at Hogansburg, N.Y., by Rev. Father Welsh, to Miss Josephine Bissaillion, of Potsdam, N.Y. They came back to Cornwall and commenced housekeeping on Augustus street, near Second street, in Robert Craig’s double tenement brick house, which is still doing duty, they occupying the south half of the dwelling. They were there two years, at which time Mr. Mallette purchased a lot 40 by 150 feet on Fourth street West, from Alex. Barney, paying less than $300 for it. On this lot Nelson Mallette erected a home in 1875, and that has since been his residence, a continuous period of 66 years, a record very few present residents of Cornwall can point to, if there are any who can do so. In those days there were no numbers on homes, nor were there for many years after, but when numbering became an actuality the Mallette home became No. 213 and has so remained to this day.

In the first few years, Mr. Mallette said his taxes were about $4 a year. His last tax slip called for $66.50. Of course, when the Mallette home was erected there were no permanent roads, granolithic sidewalks, sewers or waterworks. All these have since come to make life more livable, and, of course, they have to be paid for, like other conveniences. When he built his home there were only two or three others on that part of Fourth street. A look at that locality today will be evidence of what changes Nelson Mallette has seen in Cornwall since he moved to that locality 66 years ago. And the same may be said of all other sections of Cornwall. If there were walks at all, they were plank or cobblestone and streets were lighted with coal oil lamps on top of lamp posts at certain important corners.

Employed on Locks — After quitting boating in 1912, Captain Mallette went into the service of the Department of Railways and Canals, now the Department of Transport, as a lockman at Lock 15 and, after one season, was appointed assistant to Michael Warren, lockmaster. He was engaged on the locks for 12 years, retiring on superannuation in 1924. While engaged in locking boats through, Captain Mallette was able to note the difference in water transportation between the days he went up and down on sailing vessels hauled by tugs and the time when big freight haulers went through the canal under their own steam. Since 1924, Captain Mallette has been on the retired list. At his more than 89 years he is still hale and hearty and enjoys his meals and is smarter than a good many men years his junior.

Only One Left of 12 — Captain Mallette was one of 12 children of Mr. and Mrs. Justin Mallette and is the only one of the family now living. His mother died at the age of 45 years and his father lived to be 65 years old.

He and Mrs. Mallette were the parents of four children, two boys and two girls - Frank Mallette, now in Hamilton, Ont.; Miss Minnie Mallette, Reg. N., who was a nurse with the Victorian Order of Nurses in Montreal for some years before her mother’s illness, when she came home to be with her; Robert Mallette, who is now in the railway mail service, with his home in Cornwall; and Miss Bertha Mallette, who held a responsible position in the Cornwall Exchange of the Bell Telephone Company at the time of her death 18 years ago. Miss Minnie Mallette died here January 3, 1939. Mrs. Nelson Mallette died December 3, 1935, aged 87 years.

Captain Mallette can look back on the days when Cornwall was but a small community. He has seen it advance from that stage to its present fine city-like appearance and is one of the few men who can lay claim to such a long residence here and such a lengthy period of living in the same house. He bids fair to see many more years roll by and Down The Lane extends best wishes to him for continued good health and happiness.

Wilson, George
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Date of Publication:
30 Aug 1941
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Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 45.01991817987 Longitude: -74.7346465589362
Lyall Manson
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pd [more details]
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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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Enviable Navigation Record Set By Cornwall’s Capt. Mallette In The Days of Sailing Vessels