The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Capt. L. A. Demers Dies
Ottawa Citizen (Ottawa, ON), 11 Jul 1938

Full Text
Capt. L. A. Demers Dies
Noted Seaman Was 77
Was Dominion Wreck Commissioner for Twenty Years.
Had Long Career Before the Mast and Was Man of Outstanding Knowledge and Judgement.

One of Canada's most noted seamen, Captain Leander Arthur Demers, former Dominion wreck commissioner, died on Saturday afternoon at three o'clock at his residence., 27 Renfrew avenue, following an illness of several weeks' duration. He was in his 76th year.

Experience in the handling of sailing ships in the early eighties, and a wide knowledge of steamers from tugs to liners enabled Capt. Demers to bring to his duties as Dominion wreck commissioner an unsurpassed familiarity with water transportation. He was in his post for twenty years.

His career before the mast was one of varied experiences, which have been written in several widely read books. A man of outstanding knowledge and sound judgement. In 1912, he was appointed to the post of wreck commissioner for Canada, and with the exception of two years, 1916-1918, when he served as harbour master for the Port of Montreal, held that position until his retirement in 1934.

First Position

He was born in Montreal, a son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Leander Demers. His family had a business career planned for him, but he had ideas of his own and he decided to follow the sea. His first position was in a Montreal insurance office, and as he worked, young Demers could see the ships through the window of the office as they plied their trade in the harbour. It was in 1878 that he made the sea his special vocation.

He was apprenticed to a shipping firm and indentured to the brigantine, Beaver. Before he was 16 years old he had made many trips in this ship to different parts of the world. he was nearly forced out of his life as a sailor when he was taken seriously ill at Buenos Aires and almost given up by the doctors. However, he survived and rose to various positions on sailing ships while he became chief officer on board the famous clipper, Thermopylae, in 1886.

Many rapid voyages were made by Captain Demers in the Thermopylae, and the record of 58 days from London to Melbourne, Australia, while she was carrying tea. Thermopylae also made the shortest time for a sailing vessel from Foo-Chow to London while Captain Demers was her chief officer.

Joined Lighthouse Service

After leaving the Thermopylae, Captain Demers joined the Canadian lighthouse service as second mate of the first fisheries protective cruiser, the Angus MacDonald. In 1904, he transferred to the S. S. Restigouche, which plied in the passenger trade between Dalhousie and Gaspe on the Bay of Chaleur. In the next year he returned to the Canadian Marine Department as assistant chief examiner of masters and mates and assistant wreck commissioner to Captain Salmon. He founded the Marine School in Montreal, which was the first in Canada, and four more when appointed to chief examiner, later to be followed by an additional eight throughout the country. He was appointed wreck commissioner in 1908.

From 1908 to 1910 he also occupied three official positions: chief examiners of masters and mates, superintendent of pilots, and superintendent of marine schools. The functions of which are now performed by three separate persons.

Many Notable Decisions

Captain Demers’ rich knowledge of ships and laws of navigation have assisted him in the rendering of many notable decisions in the cases of wrecks he investigated. He also made many noteworthy recommendations for the improvement of the piloting services and changes to navigational aids on the river St. Lawrence. Captain Demers’ headquarters was in Ottawa but he was a well-known figure in admiralty circles in every port of Canada where he sat from time to time in the course of inquiries into ship disasters.

His decisions in many of the judgements arising out of the inquiries into collisions, strandings and other shipping accidents occurring in Canadian waters were remarked upon on many occasions. It is said that the English in which they were written was as formal, as lucid and as legal as though written by a judge in admiralty in any British court. French was his native tongue, and when he went to sea he knew very little English.

His versatility in many fields is evident in the various societies of which he was a member. They include the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal Arts and Sciences Society, the Circumnavigator’s Club of New York, Royal Naval Reserve Association, French Board of Trade of Montreal, National Geographic Society and the Club Canadian. As well being a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus. He was an honorary member of the Ottawa Aquatic Club and the Hudson Yacht Club. A notary public of Ontario, he was also a justice of the peace in the province of Quebec.

Captain Demers was the only member of his family to go to sea. Many of his former colleagues at Plateau Academy, Montreal, have also attained high ranks in their respective careers. They include Senator Dandurand, Senator Marcelin Wilson, His Excellency the Most Rev, J. G. Forbes, Archbishop of Ottawa and Georges Desbarats, C. M. G., a civil engineer, entered the government administration and is the deputy minister of the Naval Services of Canada.

Surviving, in addition to his widow, the former Marie Annie Blanchard of Montreal, whom he married in 1928, are two sons by a former marriage, Cecil Demers, Montreal, and Arthur, Halifax; two grandchildren, Roland and Diana, Halifax; two brothers-in-law, Albert Lorne Blanchard and Harry Blanchard, both of Montreal; and a number of nieces and nephews. Capt. Demers’ first wife was the former Rose Graggs of London, who died many years ago.

The funeral will be held on Tuesday morning at 7:45, from the parlours of McEvoy Brothers funeral home, 471 MacLaren street, to the Church of Christ the King, where he worshipped, for requiem high mass at eight o’clock. Burial will be at Notre Dame cemetery.

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11 Jul 1938
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 45.4058928268582 Longitude: -75.6942762139079
Joel Zemel
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Capt. L. A. Demers Dies