The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 4 Mar 1904

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Should Transhipment Of Grain Be Made.


Discusssed Before Transportation Commission.

The commission appointed by the Dominion government to enquire into the Canadian Transportation question met in the Kingston council chamber Thursday night, to take evidence from marine men of this city. Its members were, John Bertram, Toronto, chairman, and Robert Reford, Montreal. With it were C.N. Bell, Winnipeg, secretary, and Albert Horton, Ottawa, chief of the Hansard staff as stenographer.

Mr. Bertram explained to those present the aim and purpose of the commission. The government, he said, realized the importance of the transportation question and had debuted a commission to make full enquiry all over the country. The latter found themselves met in an excellent spirit, and much information had been laid before them in the maritime provinces. Now they had come to the important part: How are we to get grain in the cheapest way from Fort William to Montreal? That was what had now to be enquired into, and consequently the commission begins to take evidence at the foot of the lake transportation at Kingston, which has always been a most important port. The commission was here to listen to what the prominent marine men of Kingston had to say about the problem of aiding the Dominion to help the grain trade in our own country and at our own ports. The commission wanted to see how it can be done economically through Canadian ports, and it wanted the best advice.

Capt. Gaskin's Views

Capt. Gaskin, president of the Kingston Board of Trade, was the first to submit evidence. He said he had been engaged in the grain transportation business for forty-five years, and therefore could speak with authority. First, he pointed out that a year ago, 35,000,000 bushels of grain had been shipped from Fort William and of this 20,000,000 went via Buffalo. This was very unsatisfactory as more should have come by the Canadian route. The Kingston Board of Trade took up the matter, and secured a deputation of 500 men from all over the country to wait upon the government and get the canal tolls thrown off. This was done, and during 1903 more grain had come by the Canadian route than ever before.

Capt. Gaskin claimed that there was no route in the world that could compete with the St. Lawrence. If the Welland Canal was enlarged more grain could be brought down this way. He declared that the Welland Canal was built in the wrong place, and produced a map showing how the canal could have been shortened by three miles and a half, by making it pass through the valley of Twelve Mile Creek, between a point near Thorold and Twelve Mile Creek. The present canal was loop-shaped. The shorter route, he proposed, would require only eight locks, instead of twenty-five as at present. The locks would be forty feet deep, as the drop from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario is 320 feet. Then the locks should be made longer and wider so that a whole tow could get in, as at Sault Ste. Marie, where the lock is 900 feet long.

Coming to the carrying of grain from Kingston to Montreal, Capt. Gaskin gave figures as to the difference in cost between steamers and barges. The expenses of three steamers between these two places, counting four days for the return trip, would be $1,050. Three large barges could do the same work for $740. Then the cost of building three steamers to each carry 60,000 bushels would be $375,000. Three barges of equal capacity and a first class tug would cost but $200,000.

H.W. Richardson's Figures

H.W. Richardson said he had thirty-one years' experience in the grain trade. His opinion was that the enlargement of the Welland Canal would cheapen the carrying of grain. With improved Welland Canal locks, allowing vessels to get through in eight and ten hours instead of twelve and fourteen as at present, Mr. Richardson said that a grain vessel could come from Port Dalhousie to Kingston in one day. A 250,000 bushel vessel would earn $1,250. Its expenses would be $600 for the trip down and back, and hence there would be a profit of $650 for two days.

Discussing carrying rates, Mr. Richardson said that the rate from Fort William to Buffalo was 1 1/2 cents a bushel; from Buffalo to New York at least 3 1/2 cents; f.o.b. charges at New York 9/10 cent, making a total of 5 9/10 cents a bushel from Fort William to New York. That represented the cost to the United States sea-board. In comparison the rate to the Canadian sea-board was much lower, being only 3 1/2 cents, made up of 2 cents a bushel to Kingston from Fort William, and 1 1/2 cents from Kingston to Montreal, where the barges are loaded upon the ocean vessels. Thus there is a saving of 2 1/2 cents a bushel by the Canadian or the St. Lawrence route.

Then the steamers coming to Kingston had a chance to take coal from Oswego and Fairhaven as a return cargo. Hard coal was twenty cents a ton on Lake Ontario than on Lake Erie and hence there was good profit in carrying it back.

Mr. Richardson declared that the boats this past season had saved the Manitoba farmers two cents a bushel. If Manitoba increases as fast in raising grain in the future ten years as in the last ten, the saving on transportation would more than pay for the improvements to the Welland Canal.

Mr. Reford - "If the canal was enlarged, would the grain be switched off, say to Oswego?"

Mr. Richardson - "No, that would be impossible for the rate to carry it to New York by that route would be even more than by Buffalo. Some of it would go to Ogdensburg and Prescott, but that wouldn't matter, for it would all be heading for Montreal."

L.L. Henderson, of the Montreal Transportation company, stated that the river barge rate in 1902 was 1 1/2 cents a bushel, with a barge of 30,000 bushels. At that rate, his company made a good profit. So that a barge carrying twice that cargo and costing one-fifth more to run would make an even greater profit at 1 3/4 cents a bushel. The latter amount would give good interest as well as profit.

Capt. Donnelly Convincing

Capt. Thomas Donnelly gave an admirable review of the question. He first stated that the people owed the present government a debt for taking up the matter in such a practical manner by appointing a commission. The St. Lawrence route, he said, was not only the proper route from a patriotic standpoint, but also from the financial. The question was the taking of the western grain to the seaboard via the Canadian instead of the United States route. The railways had charged 6 1/2 cents a bushel to carry grain from Fort William to the seaboard only recently, and the Ogilvie vessels had done it for 5 cents a bushel. Hon. Mr. Blair had doubted the Kingston assertion that it could be done at 3 3/4 cents by boat, but last year the Wolvin company had done it for 3 1/2 cents.

Five or six years ago Capt. Donnelly said the rate to Kingston from Fort William was 6 cents to 6 1/4 cents, and from Kingston to Montreal, 2 3/4 cents, making a total of 9 cents. Putting 5 cents as the present average, there is a difference of 4 cents, due to the improvement of the water route. Canada can carry the whole 35,000,000 bushels, and if 4 cents a bushel was saved, then a million and a half dollars was placed in the pockets of the farmers. It is thus plainly to be seen that the action of the water route in keeping down railway rates is very important.

Capt. Donnelly gave it as his unbiased opinion that the proper way to handle the grain at Fort William was to bring it down the lakes and the St. Lawrence, and the proper place to tranship it is at Kingston. Grain can be carried cheaper on the river than on the lake, as vessels for the lake have to be superior and hence more costly. A 75,000 bushel barge would cost $130,000 at the rate of $1.75 per bushel, while a barge for the river would be at the rate of 60 cents a bushel, a vast difference in investment and expense of running.

Then as to steamers going right down the St. Lawrence to Montreal, Capt. Donnelly pointed out that they could not take care of barges in tow. Insurance companies would never agree to a 75,000 bushel steamer going down the river towing an 80,000 bushel barge. The steamer could not do more than take care of itself. The work must be done by smaller barges. The proper way was to enlarge the Welland Canal and let vessels come down and tranship their cargoes to modern steel barges for Montreal. If a steamer went through to Montreal it might have to remain idle for a day or two, and the cost would be far more than a barge.

Another argument advanced by Capt. Donnelly on behalf of the St. Lawrence route was its coolness. Corn that comes down is chiefly heated, and so also is wheat, which gets warm in the elevators. The cool water route, therefore, was to be preferred. Then an agreement in favor of Kingston as the point of transhipment as against Port Colborne was that in shipping in barges from the latter port great delays would occur when lake gales came on. At Kingston there would be no such delays.

Mr. Bertram asked what was the difference in cost of moving grain from Kingston to Montreal in a 20,000 bushel barge and one of 60,000 bushels. Capt. Gaskin replied that the cost would be just one-half by using the latter.

Mr. Henderson stated that M.T. company steamers came from Fort William to Kingston in four days and twelve hours (1,120 miles). It took three hours to discharge her and load the grain into barges, and two days and two hours for the barges to go to Montreal.

H.A. Calvin's Opinion

H.A. Calvin said that the greatest handicap of the St. Lawrence route is from Montreal to the ocean, where the dangers made insurance on hulls high.

Mr. Redford - "The insurance does not affect the grain, for the extra cost falls on the vessel owners, not on the grain. We have to compete with the United States route."

Mr. Calvin - "And will the steamships run for nothing? I certainly think not."

Mr. Redford - "On account of improvements in the river, the insurance rates are going down."

Mr. Calvin - "That's just my point. The more improvements made to the river, still less will be the insurance. That is why I say that the lower end of the river has been the handicap."

Mr. Calvin then proceeded to say that the enlargement of the Welland canal is the most important thing that can be done for the cheapening of the rates from Fort William to the seaboard. He estimated that a 75,000 bushel boat could carry grain from Fort William to Kingston at two and three-quarter cents. A 200,000 bushel boat would do it at two cents. From Kingston to Montreal the barge rate would be one and one-quarter cents, and thus the total cost from Fort William to the seaboard would be three and one-quarter cents.

Mr. Bertram - "Can you give us an opinion as to the condition of the river from Kingston to Montreal?"

Mr. Calvin - "The government has certainly improved the route, and accidents are becoming less frequent. Between Kingston and Prescott, there is rarely an accident. The river is not in bad condition."

Capt. Donnelly - "The handicap down this way is the small canals on the St. Lawrence in comparison to those above."

Co-Operation Asked

Capt. Gaskin and Mr. Henderson called the attention of the commission to several things on the river that needed improvement and asked for their assistance. Capt. Gaskin claimed that the lock at the entrance to the Morrisburg canal should be the same length as those at Iroquois and Farran's Point. The latter were each 800 feet while the one at Morrisburg was only 280 feet. Then, the speaker claimed that pilots should be consulted by the marine department when it was necessary to place piers. Thousands of dollars had been lost to vessel owners because some of the piers were on the wrong sides of the canals. This was especially so at Farran's Point.

Mr. Henderson said that he was glad to assert that the present government did consult the pilots about these matters, which the Sir John A. Macdonald government did not do. He pointed out that at the left lock below the Galop Rapids, tows had difficulty in leaving, owing to the eddy. Mr. Henderson asked that the commission use its influence to have these matters remedied.

Mr. Bertram said it would be better if the Dominion Marine Association took action. Then the commission could the better deal with it. This Mr. Henderson and Francis King said they would attend to, and forward the association's decision to the commission.

This was all the evidence there was to submit, and in concluding the hearing, Mr. Reford said the commission had heard with pleasure the important facts laid before them. He had certainly been enlightened on many points, and he assured the Kingston gentlemen that all they had placed them would be carefully weighed.

Mr. Bertram also expressed thanks for the clear way in which the evidence had been given. No better a presentation had been heard elsewhere. The evidence had been placed before them in a decidedly strong manner.

Both members of the commission asked those who gave evidence to send them in writing all the figures they had quoted, so they could have these before them in tabulated form.

It is certain that no marine problem was ever presented in a clearer manner than the way in which the five Kingston men handled the subject. They all spoke with authority, for their long experience enabled them to do so. They made the point very clear, that the cheapest way to get the North-West grain from Fort William was via Kingston to Montreal, rather than via Port Colborne or Buffalo. To do it at the cheapest rate, the Welland canal must be enlarged, and this was the point the Kingston marine men desired to impress upon the commission.

p.2 Senator Fulford's Fine Craft - Through a Kingstonian Senator Fulford, of Brockville, now on a European tour, has purchased in New York a steel yacht, which in points of seamanship, workmanship and luxuriousness of furnishings, will eclipse anything on Canadian waters. Capt. Thomas Donnelly, who has been over the craft, says she is a boat of great capacity and magnificence. He understands that the cost will be away up in the five figures and more than half of six. The expensive and luxurious pleasure palace will be brought around to Brockville in the spring and will take the place of the Dorothy.

p.6 Mr. Bertrim Denied It - Capt. Donnelly said that he read in a Montreal newspaper that Mr. Bertrim was in favor of a lake barge route from Port Colborne to carry grain east; Mr. Bertrim denied any knowledge of the interview.

March 5, 1904

p.2 More Old Time Boats - more names supplied by Capt. Ed. Beaupre.

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4 Mar 1904
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 4 Mar 1904