The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 Sep 1891

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Arrivals: tug Thompson and two barges, Toledo, corn.

The steam yacht Siesta has been laid up for the season.

Wheat from Chicago to Kingston is being carried at 5 cents, and as high as 5 1/2 cents has been bid.

The str. Spartan made her last trip yesterday, leaving for Montreal in the morning.

The schr. Restless arrived at the Rathbun company's Portsmouth dock, today, with lumber from Deseronto.

Captain Radshaw, of the steamer J.C. Pringle, has agreed to bring the cooks Bulch and Jacobs back to Kingston and thus avoid action under the contract labor law.

The sch. Helen while passing South Bay fouled on the spars of the sunken schooner Persia. The obstacle is dangerous and lies about 4 miles off Point Peter in Lake Ontario.

The seamen's union of Chicago has voted to call a convention of all marine wageworkers, to be held at that city some time during next month. General union business will be discussed.

The U.S. revenue cutter Commodore Perry, is en route to Ogdensburg to tow the cutter Bibb to Buffalo, to be sold by auction. A new iron boat will be built this winter to take the Bibb's place.

Clearances: tug Bronson and four barges, Montreal, grain; tug Thompson and four barges, Montreal, coal and grain; tug Hall, Montreal, light; str. Argonaut and consort Nirvana, Charlotte, light.

The prop. Omaha, from Chicago, with 51,500 bushels of rye, and the prop. Stinson from Detroit, with 25,000 bushels rye, are at the Kingston and Montreal forwarding company's dock at Portsmouth.

Capt. W. Power has completed the designs for a grain-carrying boat, which is after the pattern of the "whalebacks," but a decided improvement on them. The captain's model is for a boat 260 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 22 feet deep, to carry 2,700 tons. A transverse section is exactly similar to the whaleback, but it is in the bow and stern where the improvement is made. Instead of the long, nozzle-shaped bow of the whaleback, which cannot hold any freight, the bow of Capt. Power's boat curves upwards sharply, which saves several feet in length, and allows grain, or whatever the cargo may be, to be stored right up to the stem, with no loss of space whatever. The name of the new boat is to be "turtle deck," and as the design gives all the seaworthy qualities of the whaleback, with a much greater carrying capacity for the same length, its superiority will be plainly seen.



A Unique Industry As Followed In Lake Ontario.

When the scriptural writer referred to the heartlessness of giving a stone to a seeker after bread he had evidently never heard of the "stone-hookers" of Lake Ontario. These men seek stones for their daily bread, and seek them in the bottom of the lake, from the depths of which they fish up the bolders with long hooks. In all probability it is the only place in the world where such a calling is pursued, as it is only made practicable or profitable by the natural conditons of the country. Though it has obtained quite a position in a commercial sense by reason of its extent, there are probably few outside the business who know much about it.

Many tourists in that region will doubtless long lines of rough looking schooners anchored off shore, especially on fine, calm mornings. They lie there with their patched and blackened sails brailed up, swinging in apparent idleness at their anchors, while at some distance from them two or three solitary looking men in a scow angle with a long pole which they thrust down in the water. These are the hookers at work. Their business consists of fishing up large and small stones from the bottom of the lake near the shore to be used for building purposes. Their principal ground of operation lies on the north shore of Lake Ontario between Bronte and Whitby. The vessels engaged in the business are mostly scow-built (that is, flat at both ends) and schooner rigged, with a capacity ranging from two to ten toise of stone, a toise being about a cord. Some are rather handsome, well-equipped boats, and one that used to sail from Port Credit was said to have been a crack Toronto yacht at some former stage of its existence. On account of their heaviness when loaded with stone they carry long raking masts and an immense spread of canvas, which is all right as long as they are loaded, but makes them mighty cranky when running light in a gale. Their outfit consists of a large scow, long handled iron rakes, sledge-hammers and shovels.

They make their head quarters at ports on the lake shore, and any fine morning about 3:30 they may be seen stealing slowly out of port. Wrapped in the ghost-like shore mist they drift noiselessly down a mile or two and then the silence is broken by a hoarse command. There is a trampling of feet on the deck, the anchor drops with a splash and the chains rush after it. The captain and one man, dressed in warm clothing, with high rubber thigh boots and water proof aprons, jump into the scow and pull off towards the shore.

There are three methods of securing the stone - quarrying, raking, and "blind stavling." Quarrying, as its name implies, is simply going on shore and breaking away pieces from the low cliffs with sledge-hammers or picking stone off the beaches.

When raking, the boats move along within a short distance of the shore, where the men can see the bottom and pick up the stones they find with the long handled rakes or hooks.

Where stone is scarcer they move out into deeper water and drag their hooks along the bottom, pulling in all they catch. This is called "blind stavling."

Under favorable circumstances a hooker-man can make from $40 to $60 per day, but, as may be supposed, such occasions are few and far between. As a matter of fact, man and the elements conspire to make the hooker's life anything but a happy one. If the wind freshens up as it usually does on that lake about 10 a.m., it discolors the water so much in shore that raking is impossible, while the accompanying rough water makes blind stavling a hazardous employment. On the other hand, the farmers along the lake shore have a decided objection to the hookermen removing the stone from the shore, as the banks are thus weakened and liable to be undermined. The consequence is that some years ago farmers got a bill put through the Legislature that no hookermen should approach nearer than 50 feet from the shore under a penalty of not more than $50.

The stone was mostly fine limestone and is obtained in large squares. Every heavy gale from the east throws up large quantities of stones, but during the summer months the hookers pick the bottom of the lake near the shore almost bare. They dispose of the stone in Toronto, where it is used for building foundations, and the price paid is from $8 to $9 per toise.

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16 Sep 1891
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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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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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 Sep 1891