Friday, January 6th - 8:00 p.m. at the Museum. Annual Theme Slide Night. The topic will be tugboats of all descriptions and members are invited to bring a few slides each for showing.
Friday, February 3rd - 8:00 p.m. at the Museum. Program to be Announced.
The Editor's Notebook
The November Meeting was an interesting evening of marine films. We were again pleased to see a number of our out-of-town members in attendance and we look forward to seeing even more of them at future gatherings. It was good to have our President, Bruce Smith, back with us; we doubt that our members could have withstood another evening with Ye Ed at the helm! Our thanks are due our hard-working Program Chairman, Gordon Turner, for finding the films to present for the assembled faithful. It is not an easy job to locate films of marine interest.
This is our Tenth Anniversary Christmas Issue and we have for you a most unusual photopage. Two of the most rare lakers as far as photos are concerned have been EUGENE C. ROBERTS and NISBET GRAMMER, both the objects of intense searches for many years by marine historians. In a major photographic coup, "Scanner" this month features both ships. EUGENE C. ROBERTS comes to us in a Deno photo from the Earl D. Simzer collection, courtesy of George Ayoub, Ottawa. NISBET GRAMMER is from the collection of Robert J. MacDonald of Erie, Pennsylvania. Both of these gentlemen deserve our thanks for their considerable generosity in making these most rare photographs available for reproduction for the enjoyment of our members.
The 1977 navigation season is rapidly drawing to a close. It has been a season of many surprises for the shipwatcher and of disappointment for some due to the lack of ore cargoes on the upper lakes. But now, in the words of a famous lake historian of yesteryear, the cold lake smokes and it is time to lay up.
The Executive Committee of the Toronto Marine Historical Society extends to each of its members the very best of wishes for a Merry Christmas and for success and prosperity in the New Year.
In the New Member Department, a hearty welcome goes out to W. J. Bullock of Toronto and to Thomas E. Warner of Southampton, Ontario.
Your Editor, ink-stained wretch that he is, usually has his marine radio operating whilst he prepares these pages for you each month. On the evening of November 2nd, while pondering his editorial duties, he was listening to the Russian motorvessel VOLODYA SHCHERBATSEVICH entering the harbour en route to Victory Mills to load soybean mash. Her pilot was informed by Toronto Harbour Communications that she would have to go to the west side of the Parliament Street slip to await the arrival of the laker THORNHILL which was due at the elevator.
THORNHILL? Had Ye Ed finally gone crackers from slaving over a hot typewriter? How could THORNHILL be in Toronto when she was lying in the scrapyard at Hamilton? These questions burdened our mind the following day but on the afternoon of November 3, THORNHILL in all her tarnished glory was towed into port and deposited at the Victory Mills wharf. She looked much the worse for wear with her screw, davits and lifeboats missing and with her deckhouses in a state of ruin, minus most of their windows and portholes. Observers were perplexed.
As it turns out, THORNHILL is still at Victory Mills and will likely be there for a considerable period of time to come. It seems that things have been booming in the soybean trade and Victory has had so much soya mash on hand ready for shipment that space in the elevator has been at a premium. Accordingly, the company has "chartered" THORNHILL from Strathearne Terminals Ltd. in Hamilton and will use her as a storage hull for its product. As far as we know, this is the first time in recent years that Victory has used an old, inactive vessel as a storage hull. Better that for THORNHILL than the scrapper's torches.
Last month, we reported that the Shell Canada Ltd. tanker FUEL MARKETER (II) had been laid to rest in Toronto's turning basin, her active life apparently at an end. The fact that Shell does not intend to operate the wartime-built canaller again is confirmed by the speedy removal of the Shell insignia from her stack. When we observed this, we again pondered the thought that Shell might be buying another tanker and would use the Shell designs on her.
We were not long in learning that this was, in fact, the case. The long-awaited transfer of Halco's FROBISHER TRANSPORT to the Shell fleet was consummated in late October and by early the next month, although still in Hall colours, she had been reregistered at Toronto and given the name NORTHERN SHELL, a name inherited from a salt water tanker which Shell sold for scrap about two years ago. Shell's newest acquisition spent much of November at Montreal where she was given a thorough refit prior to being commissioned. No doubt NORTHERN SHELL will be a frequent visitor to the lakes.
On Friday, November 4, 1977, the Halco steam tanker COVE TRANSPORT was towed out of Toronto harbour and down Lake Ontario by the Canadian Dredge and Dock tug G. W. ROGERS. The following Sunday, the ROGERS returned to Toronto from Kingston and it was thought that the tow might have ended in the Kingston boneyard. However, COVE TRANSPORT passed down the Iroquois Lock of the Seaway on the morning of November 7 in tow of YVON SIMARD and LAVALLEE. She was taken to Sorel where she was turned over to her new owners, a subsidiary of West Indies Transport. Renamed (c) WIT TRANSPORT, she left Sorel in tow of YVON SIMARD and arrived at Cap Goose on November 18. Leaving Sorel the same day as WIT TRANSPORT was a strange vessel named WITSUPPLY II. As it has subsequently been discovered, WITSUPPLY II is none other than the former Branch Lines tanker ELMBRANCH which has been idle at Sorel for the last two years and which has been purchased by the same firm. She was reported at Matane, Quebec, on November 22. Both tankers are now registered at Panama, R.P., and will evidently be used in the Caribbean. They are not the only lakers to have been bought by the "Wit" organization, as in past years, this concern had purchased OIL TRANSPORT (WIT), COASTAL CLIFF (WITCROIX), FUEL TRANSPORT (WITFUEL), GASPEDOC (WITSHOAL), FRANK J. HUMPHREY (WITSHOAL II) and TRANSTREAM (WITSUPPLY) as well as several other hulls of various origins.
Some time back, the Chessie System had offered to donate its Lake Michigan carferries to the States of Michigan and Wisconsin for operation. This appeared at the time to be a rather magnanimous offer for the railroad to make although observers were quite aware of the fact that C & O would do almost anything to divest itself of its ferry operations. It now turns out that there were strings attached and that this is why the offer has not been accepted. It seems that Chessie required an agreement that the boats would never again be used to haul railroad cars across Lake Michigan and that they could only be used for passengers and autos! Meanwhile, hearings on the C & O abandonment petition continue amid cries that the railroad has resorted to price-fixing in an effort to make the ferry service appear uneconomical.
Wisconsin and Michigan state officials have yet another problem to ponder at the moment. The Ann Arbor carferry ARTHUR K. ATKINSON has lain idle the past few years because of mechanical difficulties. Wisconsin recently received approval of its request for $400,000 in federal funds to put the ATKINSON back in service. The Ann Arbor, however, is in receivership due to its bankruptcy and if the idle ferry is to be reactivated, someone will have to put up funds for an operating subsidy. At present, VIKING is the Ann Arbor's only operative ferry.
It appears that the former Straits of Mackinac ferry VACATIONLAND will be returning to her old stamping grounds after all. Marine Digest, a publication originating in Seattle, recently reported that the sale of SUNSHINE COAST QUEEN, (a) VACATIONLAND, (b) JACK DALTON, (c) PERE NOUVEL, to the State of Michigan was completed on October 15th. This would seem to indicate that progress is being made on the proposition to operate a ferry service between Meldrum Bay, Ontario, and DeTour Village, Michigan.
An unusual visitor to Toronto on November 10 was the Scott Misener Steamships Ltd. bulk carrier GEORGE M. CARL which loaded grain at Toronto Elevators (Maple Leaf Mills Ltd.) for delivery to Montreal. While the CARL has wintered here on several occasions, we cannot recall that she has ever previously visited the port during the regular navigation season.
LOUIS R. DESMARAIS, the Collingwood-built C.S.L. self-unloader with the icebreaking version of the rounded bow (and the first laker to be so constructed), entered service early in November as scheduled. She arrived at Thunder Bay on her maiden voyage on Saturday, November 5, and loaded 27,117 long tons of iron ore at the Valley Camp dock for delivery to the Steel Company of Canada Ltd. at Hamilton. Observers have described her odd bow as being "different", a comment to which we can add nothing.
The trials of LOWELL THOMAS EXPLORER in Canadian waters would appear to be at an end. Scheduled to have entered cruise service on the lakes in May of 1977, she never got farther than Montreal due to a number of suits launched against the boat and her owner, Midwest Cruises, by various creditors. The Federal Court of Canada ordered that the steamer be sold at public auction in an effort to satisfy claims totalling more than $1.25 million. The brief sale was held in early November and the vessel was purchased for $370,000 by Throughfun Corp., a Liberian firm. We presume that the new owner will not be interested in operating on the lakes and that Midwest Cruises, an Indianapolis-based organization, will now retire from the cruise business altogether.
Two of the Toronto Island ferries are undergoing extensive reconditioning during their winter lay-up this year. Work on the complete rewiring of the 1939-built SAM McBRIDE has already begun and the same job, including the installation of electric heat, a godsend to Island commuters on cold mornings, will also be done on the newer THOMAS RENNIE.
The Hindman Transportation Company Ltd. bulk carrier HELEN EVANS entered the drydock at Port Weller on November 14 for inspection and survey. It has generally been thought that the EVANS was just about at the end of her rope and most observers would have deemed it unlikely that the 71-year-old steamer would even be put on the dock, much less receive any repair work. We are pleased to report that not only has she been given her inspection but that work also has been done on her and, barring unforeseen events, it appears possible that she could operate for yet another four years.
CARTIERCLIFFE HALL, the first of the Hall Corporation's three new bulk carriers, ran trials during November and was scheduled to depart the Davie Shipyard at Lauzon on November 21. Some last minute problems developed, however, and her maiden voyage was postponed. Due to the lateness of the season, we rather doubt that the second boat, MONTCLIFFE HALL, will be ready in time to enter service in 1977.
Toronto shipwatchers and other members of the public alike are much disappointed with the Metropolitan Toronto Parks Department decision to keep the steam sidewheel ferry TRILLIUM operating only in the charter service next summer. For the past two years, she has been allotted only one crew for the entire summer which has necessarily meant that limits had to be imposed on the number of days per week that she could operate and has precluded any serious operation in Island ferry service (she ran to Hanlan's Point on only one day during 1977). The logic of this decision is indeed hard to follow. If a second crew were used, the Parks Dept. could accept many of the additional charter requests which they have in the past been forced to refuse; at the hourly rate charged for the big steamer, the increased operating costs would soon be recovered and the boat would be available to members of the public who do not belong to private clubs and charter groups. Hopefully, once alterations to the dock facilities at Centre Island are completed, TRILLIUM will be placed in service on that route during periods of peak traffic, but in the meantime, the Parks Dept. is continuing its policy of making TRILLIUM virtually inaccessible to the public taxpayers who paid for her reconstruction.
One of our spies has reported that the steamers JAMES E. FERRIS and KINSMAN VOYAGER are still intact and have been observed lying at Hamburg, West Germany. These, the last two lakers to have been towed overseas for scrapping (there have been no such tows in either 1976 or 1977), arrived at Hamburg back on July 4th, 1975 and at the time there was a suggestion that they might be used as storage hulls. We know not whether they are being put to this use, but it is gratifying to know that the FERRIS, in particular, is still in existence, albeit far from her home waters.
The St. Catharines Standard reported on November 19 that the St. Catharines Historical Museum has been awarded an $11,000 grant by the federal government to be used in preparing plans for a project to develop an historic park around the long-disused Welland Canal Locks 15, 16, 17 and 18 which are located in the Bradley Street area of the former town of Merritton. The locks have been partially filled in over the years but plans are to remove brush growth so that the remains of the structures can be seen. Historical plaques will be erected and walking tours of the area are planned. There are, of course, many places where the locks and channels of the Third Canal are visible, notably to the east of present Locks 3 and 7.
The strike of ore miners in the northern United States continues and there is little hope that major ore shipments will resume prior to the end of the normal lake navigation season. Nevertheless, marathon bargaining sessions at Pittsburgh in November have led to a settlement between the strikers and the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company. This may well facilitate successful negotiations between the miners and other companies, but any resolution will be too late to allow most of the idle ore carriers to be reactivated before the freeze-up. Even when the miners return, it will take a fair time for the ore docks to receive enough cargo to resume shipment by water. Meanwhile, the U.S. upper lakers continue to run to Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River in ever-increasing numbers. Since our last report, ERNEST R. BREECH, WILLIAM CLAY FORD, LEON FALK JR., SPARROWS POINT, ELTON HOYT 2nd, J. L. MAUTHE and HERBERT C. JACKSON have all ventured down the Welland Canal providing a bit of excitement for local observers. The BREECH even managed to visit Toronto on November 26 when she came over from Port Weller to seek shelter from inclement weather.
On the morning of Monday, November 14, the commuters on the 7:45 trip of the Toronto ferry ONGIARA from Ward's Island were treated (thanks to Capt. Charlie Colenutt, a T.M.H.S. member) to a close-up view of one of the most unusual salt water ships to visit Toronto in many a year. Arriving in port that morning was the Cuban vessel JOSE MARTI, a gleaming white boat which looks more like a passenger liner than a cargo ship. She brought 9,400 long tons of sugar to the Redpath plant but she also brought with her 152 officer cadets of the Cuban Merchant Marine, all aged 17 to 19. The MARTI was only one of many salties to appear at the Redpath plant this autumn. On some occasions, there have been three boats there at once, one under the cranes and two waiting. It seems that the price of sugar is about to rise drastically and that Redpath has been making large purchases in anticipation. Sugar is being stored not only in the warehouse on the west side of the Jarvis Street slip but also under plastic sheets on the east side of the slip.
We have heard rumours to the effect that the Soo River Company may be contemplating the replacement of the pilothouse of its steamer GEORGE G. HENDERSON during the coming winter. While it is undoubtedly true that the pilothouse on the HENDERSON is rather small for the large amount of modern equipment that must be carried these days, the fact remains that she has always been a very handsome boat and we cannot imagine how she would look with a new house of the type received last winter by PIERSON DAUGHTERS. The HENDERSON, of course, dates back to 1909 and sailed previously as (a) SHENANGO (58), (b) B. W. DRUCKENMILLER (64), and (c) A. T. LAWS0N (76).
Please note that additional late items of marine news appear at the bottom of Page Twelve of this issue.
You Asked Us
It has been a while since we have had a request for information from one of our members. Hence we are pleased to respond to Laurence M. Scott of Brockville who has asked for information on the old C.S.L. package freighter CITY OF OTTAWA.
CITY OF OTTAWA (27), (a) INDIA (06), (c) INDIA (29), (d) SAULT STE. MARIE (30), (e) INDIA. (U.S.100008, C.122018). Iron passenger and package freight steamer built 1871 at Buffalo by King Iron Works, Gibson and Craig, subcontractors. 210.0 x 32.6 x 14.0, Gross 1239, Net 932. Built for J.C. & E.T. Evans, Buffalo, whose operations later became the nucleus of the Anchor Line, marine affiliate of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Operated 1872-92 as a unit of the Lake Superior Transit Company, a pool fleet operating Buffalo to Duluth. Reverted to Anchor Line 1892. Sold 1906 (after commissioning of JUNIATA) to the Montreal and Lake Erie Steamship Company, Toronto, and operated by the Jaques Line. Later absorbed into the Merchants Mutual Line which in 1913 was merged into Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. Operated in passenger and package freight service until c.1914 but afterwards in freight-only trade until 1926. Gross 1323, Net 671 as freighter. Idle 1926-28. Sold 1928 to Charles F. Mann, Marine City, Michigan, but sold again 1929 to the Algoma Steamship Company, Hamilton, who attempted operation on an unsuccessful package freight service Toronto - Fort William. Sold 1930 at a bailiff's sale in Detroit for $7,000 to the Pine Ridge Coal Company, Detroit, and cut down to a barge. Sold 1934 to C.W. Bryson's Copper Steamship Company, Cleveland. Requisitioned 1942 by the U.S. Maritime Commission and taken down the Mississippi for proposed salt water service. Her conversion never took place. Abandoned on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans and scrapped c.1945.
INDIA was, of course, one of the famous Anchor Line triplets, considered by some to have been amongst the most beautiful passenger boats ever to operate on the Great Lakes. Her sisterships CHINA and JAPAN also passed to Canadian registry and distinguished themselves as CITY OF MONTREAL and CITY OF HAMILTON, respectively.
In the October "Ship of the Month" feature which dealt with NISBET GRAMMER, we mentioned that only two units of the fleet of the Eastern Steamship Company Ltd. survive today. How wrong we were! The odd part of it is that we have no idea how we managed to overlook EDWIN T. DOUGLASS which, of course, is still in service as the salvage lighter P.S. BARGE NO. 1, now owned by McAllister Towing and Salvage Ltd., Montreal. Our thanks to Rene Beauchamp for bringing this unforgiveable editorial error to our attention.
Readers may recall that in the December 1971 issue, we presented a history of Kirkwood Steamship Lines of Toronto, which operated a package freight service between Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton, as well as a similar service from Toronto and Hamilton to Vancouver via the Panama Canal. We mentioned that the company operated the steamer GREYPOINT which we identified as (Br. 121234), (a) RATHLIN, 252 x 35 x 17, Gross 1128, built in 1905 at Glasgow. We should have spotted the fact that these particulars belonged to a different ship, as the GREYPOINT which ran between Toronto and Montreal was certainly not of full canal size.
Our thanks go to George Ayoub of Ottawa for pointing out that the correct details should read as follows:
GREYPOINT, (a) OLAF WIJK, (b) POLWICK, (c) OLAF WIJK. (C.140427). Steel steamer built 1891 at Stockholm. 195.9 x 28.1 x 14.6, Gross 793, Net 455.
The Seventieth Anniversary of a Lake Ontario Tragedy
The restricted waters of the Great Lakes have always been a tug operator's paradise, as narrow channels and congested harbours have forced the use of tugs to assist the passage, docking, turning, etc., of lake ships. Tugs are still much in use today at various lake ports despite the advent of bow and stern thrusters, Kort Nozzles, and the like, but today's version of the harbour tug bears little resemblance to the snorting little steam tugs which once were so prevalent all around the lakes.
The third Welland Canal was a heaven for the tugman. A twisting, narrow channel interrupted by a great many small locks and choked with unbelievable ship traffic, it presented serious problems to the crew of a cargo barge or sailing vessel wishing to transit the waterway. As the day of the horses on the towpaths waned, the steam tug came into her own and was a vital part of the canal scene right up until the opening of the fourth canal in 1932. The names of the canal tugs are indelibly engraved on the memories of all those who frequented the canal in the early days of this century, amongst the most famous of them being AUGUSTA, ESCORT, ALERT, GOLDEN CITY, MARY R. and J. R. BINNING, the latter the last to survive.
ESCORT was a typical wooden harbour tug and long served on the Welland Canal. View is taken from a mourning card issued after her sinking on November 23, 1907 and shows her at Port Dalhousie with the barge UNGAVA.ESCORT was a pretty little tug, typical of harbour tugs of the day. She had a wooden hull measuring 44.8 x 15.5 x 9.7 and her tonnage was 40 Gross and 27 Net. She was powered by what is believed to have been a noncondensing steeple compound engine which produced all of 24 horsepower on the shaft. Her boiler, of unidentified species, ate copious quantities of coal to produce this remarkable horsepower.
ESCORT, registered for her entire life at St. Catharines and the proud possessor of official number C.97010, was built in 1894 by Ross at Port Colborne. Her original owners were the Carter Brothers of Port Colborne but for most of her life she was owned by the Welland Canal Tug Company Limited of the same town, a firm with which DeWitt Carter and his brother(s) were probably associated.
That ESCORT was so small and had such little power was not at all unusual. She was not meant to battle lake gales nor to haul the big upper lakers. But what she did do, and with considerable success, was to shove barges and schooners in and out of the small canal locks and she was built to diminutive dimensions to allow her to get right in the locks with her charges, angling across the head or foot of a lock when the gates were closed.
Indeed, ESCORT was built for one purpose only and that was to solve a major problem which had arisen to face the canal authorities. In 1890, the Montreal Transportation Company Limited had built at Kingston the 242-foot four-masted schooner MINNEDOSA, the largest and finest sailing vessel ever operated by Canadians on the Great Lakes. The difficulty was that MINNEDOSA had somehow to be wedged through the small locks of the third Welland Canal, a major feat in the open channels but a nearly insurmountable problem in the locks which were not much longer than was she. ESCORT was built to be the escort through the canal for MINNEDOSA and it was thus that she came by her name.
MINNEDOSA was finally lost on Lake Huron on October 20, 1905 when she fell victim to a gale while in tow of the steamer WESTMOUNT (I) whilst off Harbor Beach, Michigan. Despite this unfortunate and much lamented event, ESCORT carried on and passed during the First World War to the ownership of the Montreal Transportation Company Ltd. whose barges still frequented the canal and kept its tugs busy.
it is early spring in 1908 and ESCORT's rebuilding is well underway in a lock on the third Welland Canal. She shared the dry lock with tug ALERT. Control of the M.T.Co. had passed in 1916 to Roy M. Wolvin, one of the principals involved in the earlier formation of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., and in 1920 Wolvin sold the Montreal Transportation fleet to C.S.L. ESCORT went to C.S.L. as part of the deal but she did not last long with the fleet as the larger company very shortly weeded from its ranks of acquired ships those which were no longer economical to operate, namely many of the wooden steamers and assorted barges.
ESCORT was accordingly sold in March of 1921 to John J. Harrigan of Port Dalhousie who continued to operate her along the Welland Canal. Her career for Harrigan was uneventful except for an accident near Welland in 1927 when ESCORT was sunk. She was raised shortly thereafter and repaired.
But with the opening of the new Welland Canal, there was virtually no need for tugs of the size and power (or lack of same) as ESCORT and, her wooden hull showing the ravages of time, she was scrapped at Port Dalhousie in 1937. This procedure for a wooden tug meant only the removal of any valuable pieces of equipment. The hull itself was laid to rest along the shore of Muir's Pond above old Lock One at Port Dalhousie.
ESCORT's major claim to fame, apart from her years of dependable service, arises out of an incident that came to pass seventy years ago this autumn. It was not a happy event and, indeed, it was a miracle that ESCORT ever survived to see further service. Her engineer and a crewman were not so fortunate .
On November 23, 1907, the Montreal Transportation Co. Ltd. steamer WESTMOUNT (I) was heading up Lake Ontario with the 172.6-foot wooden schooner-barge BENJAMIN HARRISON in tow. When the tow approached the piers at Port Dalhousie, a signal was made for a tug to come out and take the HARRISON in tow for the canal passage. It was the custom of the canal tugs to wait in line and to take turns in going to the assistance of incoming vessels. This particular day, it was the turn of GOLDEN CITY to go out for the HARRISON but, as tugmasters were sometimes wont to do, the skipper of ESCORT thought that he would race GOLDEN CITY out in the hope of reaching the barge first and getting a line aboard her.
All went well, the two tugs racing to the barge and jockeying for position, until ESCORT cut in on her rival and in so doing got a bit too close to the bow of the still-moving barge. ESCORT at that point was broadside to the HARRISON'S bow and she could not get out of the way in time. The HARRISON struck the hapless little tug and rolled her over on her beam ends, ESCORT heading rapidly for the bottom once she began to fill. The crew leapt into the lake except for the engineer and another man who were trapped below and who were drowned. The others were, in due course, fished from the cold lake.
ESCORT was raised not long after the accident and, with the assistance of two gatelifters, the battered remains were brought into Port Dalhousie. She was taken up the canal to one of the locks in the St. Catharines area and when the canal was dewatered for the winter, she was propped up in the bottom of the lock along with her consort ALERT. Over the winter, ESCORT was completely rebuilt and emerged in the spring of 1908 looking not much different than she had prior to the accident. Her superstructure was virtually new as it had been almost totally demolished in the sinking but it was rebuilt almost exactly as it had been before, tugboat architecture not having changed much in the fourteen years since she had left her builder's yard.
ESCORT'S misadventure received much publicity, no doubt because of the fact that she was such a familiar boat along the canal and was sailed by local men. In fact, there even appeared a memorial postcard to commemorate the unhappy event. A copy of this card is reproduced on our photopage.
It is now seventy years since ESCORT's escapade with the BENJAMIN HARRISON and more than forty since the little tug last operated. With her bones still rotting away at Port Dalhousie, it is fitting that this workhorse of the canal should be remembered so many years later.
Ship of the Month No. 70 EUGENE C. ROBERTS
We realize that over the past few issues we have leaned rather heavily on the subject of canallers for this feature but in view of the special circumstances which have recently developed, we thought that our readers would not mind the story of another canaller, particularly when we have a special surprise to accompany the story.
The most elusive canaller of all, EUGENE C. ROBERTS, is upbound in the Galop Canal with pulpwood, Deno photo, probably taken in 1925, is from the EArl D. Simzer collection, courtesy George Ayoub.In the October issue, we told the story of NISBET GRAMMER and the early canal steamers built for the Eastern Steamship Company Ltd. in British yards. We mentioned that not only did we not have a photo of the GRAMMER in operation but that we were also without a photograph of EUGENE C. ROBERTS, a sistership which was built by Cammell Laird for A. B. Mackay. Well, thanks to the generosity of two of our members, the long search has ended and this month we are pleased to feature on our photopage views of both NISBET GRAMMER and EUGENE C. ROBERTS in operation.
Readers may recall that the history of the ROBERTS was touched on briefly in the March 1971 issue (Vol. III, No. 6) which featured an article dealing with the vessel interests of Capt. James B. Foote. In fact, we presented at that time a photo of the ROBERTS under her second name, JAMES B. FOOTE. It seems that something more detailed on the subject of this interesting steamer would now be in order.
The Eastern Steamship Company Ltd., first of Port Colborne and later of St. Catharines, which was formed on December 22, 1922 by a number of grain dealers and shippers, retained the services of shipping entrepreneur A, B. Mackay, formerly of Hamilton, to obtain for the company a nucleus of canal-sized steamers for its fleet. Mackay made an arrangement through Messrs H. E. Moss and Company of Liverpool, who were represented by a Mr. A. G. Jones, for the construction of ten canallers by five British shipyards, each of which was to build two vessels. One of the yards selected was that of Cammell Laird and Company Ltd., Birkenhead, England, and this firm in due course completed the construction of NISBET GRAMMER and WATKINS F. NISBET, both of which were delivered to Eastern in 1923.
The odd part of the whole deal was that it really encompassed the construction of not ten but rather eleven ships, one of which was never to sail in Eastern colours nor to have any connection with that fleet. The eleventh boat was EUGENE C. ROBERTS which was built at Birkenhead by Cammell Laird especially for A. B. Mackay himself. She was completed in 1924 as the yard's Hull 903 and she was in most respects a virtual sistership of NISBET GRAMMER and WATKINS F. NISBET.
What is not known with any degree of certainty is how the ROBERTS came to be built for Mackay, who had suffered what might best be described as reverses of fortune or a fall from grace since the early years of the century when he had been one of the leaders of the Canadian lake shipping industry. One theory is that the ROBERTS was his commission for obtaining the order for the building of the ten Eastern canallers, a sizeable order indeed for those days. Another school of thought holds that as Mackay was placing the order for the Eastern boats, he ordered another hull to be built on speculation in the hope that she could be peddled to another lake operator. Yet another suggestion is that he had already been in touch with the Toronto Insurance and Vessel Agency Ltd. (which firm soon came into possession of the ROBERTS) and that the ship was ordered and operated briefly by Mackay pending the financial arrangements necessary for T.I.V.A. to enter the ship-owning business. There are also other theories embraced by certain marine historians but as not all of them are complimentary to the character of the late Mr. Mackay, they are best left unprinted.
Needless to say, contemporary press reports do little to solve the problem of how EUGENE C. ROBERTS came to he. At the launching of NISBET GRAMMER, first of the Cammell Laird trio, on April 14, 1923. an address was given by R. S. Johnson, managing director of the Birkenhead shipyard. Johnson spoke of the diligent work of Cammell Laird personnel in obtaining the order for two of the ten Eastern steamers and went on the comment that "when Mr. Mackay came into contact with them (the builders) at Birkenhead, he found that they were such reasonable people that he placed an order for a vessel for himself." The report carried in The Journal of Commerce indicated that this remark was followed by much applause from those attending the ceremonies.
In any event, EUGENE C. ROBERTS was completed in 1924 (she was not ready in 1923 as were her two sisters) and she was given official number 147246, her first enrollment being taken out at Liverpool although she would later appear on Canadian registry. She measured 253.0 feet in length, 43.1 feet in the beam and 17.8 feet in depth, these dimensions giving her tonnage of 1746 Gross and 1246 Net. She had a sunken or half forecastle and a flush quarterdeck, her seven hatches on twelve-foot centres giving access to two cargo holds having a total capacity of 130,000 cubic feet for the carriage of grain. Two pole masts were fitted, one forward and one abaft the stack, but neither was equipped with cargo booms. Built to Class BS* (Great Lakes and River St. Lawrence) of the British Corporation, she had a full double bottom and was fitted with three watertight bulkheads and one that was not watertight. Her mean loaded draft was 14 feet.
EUGENE C. ROBERTS was powered by a surface-condensing, inverted, triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 16, 27 and 44 inches diameter and stroke of 33 inches, which gave her a speed of about ten knots. Steam at 180 p.s.i. was supplied by two single-ended Scotch boilers measuring 12 feet by 11 feet. They were coal-fired and were fed from wing bunkers filled by means of a hatch in the top of the boiler casing in the after cabin.
Like the Eastern boats, the ROBERTS had a turret pilothouse with an open bridge above. She was given a small enclosed upper pilothouse of wooden construction in 1925 and in this she exactly duplicated her sisters. The master's quarters were located in the texas cabin whilst the deck officers and crew were housed in the forecastle. Like the Eastern canallers and like so many other canal boats built about this time, the accommodations might best be described as "spartan." A captain who had served in many canallers and remembered well this particular group of ships, said that creature comforts were lacking to such an extent that the only hot water available to the crew in the forecastle was obtained from the surreptitious bleeding of steam from the line to the forward winch.
In the arrangement of deck winches, steering, etc., the ROBERTS was similar to the Eastern canallers and, indeed, to most other canal steamers. It was her outward appearance which was different, and that not in any structural manner. It was just that throughout her life, she was always in different colours than her sisterships. She always seemed to be the Eastern or Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence boat that wasn't. In fact, one former canaller skipper often referred to her as the "stolen" boat.
EUGENE C. ROBERTS was painted black of hull while her cabins were white. Her stack was black with a red band on it. This further complicates the matter of how the ROBERTS came to be involved with Mackay and the Toronto Insurance and Vessel Agency as this design was not common either to Mackay's earlier vessel operations or to that of T.I.V.A., although it was shared by WAHCONDAH, which was owned by both Mackay and the Foote interests in that order on her return to the lakes from salt water war duty in 1922.
Whatever her actual ownership, the ROBERTS was listed as being owned by the Toronto Insurance and Vessel Agency Ltd. when she was registered at Liverpool in 1924. In due course, she ran her trials on the Mersey and was delivered to Mackay who, it appears, was in control of her operation for at least the first two years of her existence. She was sent across the Atlantic to Canada under her own power in 1924 and it is likely that she made the crossing with a cargo of Welsh coal in her holds for delivery either to Montreal or to Toronto.
EUGENE C. ROBERTS entered service on the lakes on her arrival in Canada and her original management lasted through the 1925 season. During the winter of 1925-26, while laid up at Toronto, she was given the Toronto Insurance and Vessel Agency stack design, namely a black funnel with the letters T.I.V.A. in white intertwined upon it. At the same time, she was renamed (b) JAMES B. FOOTE in honour of the prominent captain from Toronto who had assumed management of the T.I.V.A. shipping interests. It would seem that it was at this time that A. B, Mackay faded from the scene, for at no further time does he appear to have been associated either with the steamer or with her owners.
Foote at this time was involved in business with David Blythe Hanna who was the first president of the Canadian National Railway Company and a director of many other firms including Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. Foote was also associated with William Schupp who was a director of the Toronto Insurance and Vessel Agency Ltd. and with George R. Donovan who was later to become president of the Union Transit Company. All were to have ships named for them.
Sometime late in 1927 or early in 1928, T.I.V.A. sought further financing of its shipping operations, probably because of the strain placed upon the pursestrings by the building for the firm in 1926 by the Furness Shipbuilding Company Ltd. at Haverton Hill-on-Tees of a trio of sistership canal steamers christened GEO. R. DONOVAN, D. B. HANNA and WILLIAM SCHUPP. The financing came via Schupp, who was a banker, and as a result, a new firm was formed, namely the Union Transit Company, Toronto, which assumed the ownership of all four vessels. It was at this stage that JAMES B. FOOTE was given new stack colours; henceforth her funnel was black with a white U.T. Co. logo on it, a design which she was to display for more than a decade.
This is EUGENE C. ROBERTS as she appeared when serving in Paterson colours as PORTADOC (I). Deno photo dates to 1939 or 1940.The FOOTE and her running mates were frequent visitors to the Toronto area throughout the late twenties and thirties, their owner managing to survive the desperate years of the Great Depression. The Union Transit Company actually lasted through to 1946 when it disposed of its last boat (the SCHUPP) but in 1939 it sold off three-quarters of its fleet. That year, the Paterson Steamships Ltd. fleet of Fort William, Ontario, was expanding its operations once again and in order to satisfy its requirements, it purchased from Union Transit the JAMES B. FOOTE, GEO. R. DONOVAN and D. B. HANNA, renaming them respectively PORTADOC, KENORDOC and COLLINGDOC. They were the first Paterson vessels to bear these names, honouring in order the city of Port Arthur and the towns of Kenora and Collingwood, Ontario. The PORTADOC and KENORDOC names were to be repeated twice by Paterson while COLLINGDOC would appear once more. Strangely enough, the second holders of all these names were to be tow barges acquired after the conclusion of the Second World War.
In any event, the FOOTE became (c) PORTADOC (I) and when Paterson took over her ownership, her registry was at last transferred from Liverpool, England, to Fort William, the actual date of transfer being April 25, 1939. PORTADOC was given the usual Paterson white forecastle and black stack with a large white letter 'P'. As far as is known, she never was to receive the diamond insignia which eventually graced the bows of most units of the Paterson fleet.
Over the years, Paterson operated a good many canallers but most of them were built by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. at its various British yards and, this firm being known for the distinctive square and multi-sided pilothouses placed on the various classes of canallers it built, PORTADOC was the only canaller with a turret pilothouse ever to be operated by the Paterson fleet.
The Canadian government, however, soon stepped in and deprived Paterson of the use of the line's three newest acquisitions. All three of the former Union Transit boats were requisitioned in 1940 and were turned over to the British authorities for operation to assist the war effort. KENORDOC was lost the same year and her two mates fell victims to the war a year later. PORTADOC's turn came on April 4, 1941 when she succumbed to enemy action in the Atlantic Ocean, apparently off North Africa. She was a total loss and it is to be assumed that there was loss of life suffered in her sinking, although we have never seen mention of the same. The loss of the canallers during the war was never well publicised for obvious reasons; in addition, they were particularly vulnerable due to their light construction which was never designed to withstand the rigours of ocean passages at the best of times.
Yes, EUGENE C. ROBERTS was always a bit of an oddity amongst the canallers. She has always been particularly elusive for photograph collectors, there being few pictures of her in Union Transit or T.I.V.A. colours, only one (a 1940 Deno reproduced in this issue) of her as PORTADOC in Paterson livery, and until recently, none at all of her as EUGENE C. ROBERTS. Perhaps it is not really so surprising in view of the fact that she actually operated for only seventeen years and, of course, for only two of those under each of her first and last names. Now a major gap in Great Lakes marine photographic history has been filled and we hope that this history of the ship will fill a void as well, for the operations of A. B. Mackay and the T.I.V.A. have never been particularly well known.
Additional Marine News
The Liberian purchasers of LOWELL THOMAS EXPLORER have left her under the Panamanian flag but have renamed her ROYAL CLIPPER. She was still at Montreal on November 23.
When Westdale Shipping's self-unloader BROOKDALE was unloading a cargo of soya beans at Toronto's Victory Mills on November 23, she dumped a large part of her cargo into the holds of THORNHILL. This is most interesting because we had understood that the old steamer would be used only for the storage of soya mash.
COVE TRANSPORT is not the only Halco tanker which has been sold to West Indies Transport. It now develops that CAPE TRANSPORT has been sold to the same firm although her new name is not yet known. Over the last week or so of November, CAPE was stripped of almost everything from deck level up so as to prepare her for a tow to salt water via the Erie Canal, a routing designed to avoid winter on the North Atlantic. We understand that both she and her sister will be used as barges to carry water in the Caribbean. WIT (COVE) TRANSPORT, meanwhile, had been towed from Sorel on November 18 by WITSUPPLY II (ELMBRANCH) but somehow she managed to go aground near Matane, Quebec, on November 19. She was freed on the 23rd and was taken to Baie Comeau. At the time of this writing (29/11), it was not known whether she had sustained damage serious enough to postpone her journey southwards.