The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 16 Apr 1904

Full Text

p.3 Ice Got Loose - on April 10th the Bay of Quinte ice broke loose, pushed by wind and current, and slightly damaged Telegraph Island lighthouse station; woodpile covered by ten or eleven feet of ice. [Picton Times]

p.6 Steamer Islander To Start - The steamer Islander leaves tomorrow morning for Alexandria Bay to begin her season's trips among the Thousand Islands. It is said that the river is fairly clear of ice from Kingston to the bay, but blocked below that point. The United States channel to Cape Vincent is blocked.


To Be Built For Windsor-Detroit Route.

Detroit, April 16th - The Michigan Central railway has contracted for a new and powerful ice-crushing car ferry, to operate between Detroit and Windsor. The new boat will be larger than any now in service on the river, will have more power and will embrace several features, not embodied in the construction of any boat on the great lakes. It will have a capacity of twenty-one of the largest standard sized cars. It will be ready to go into commission next year, and will cost over $300,000.



On Lake Ontario in the Days of Long Ago

Some Old Time Vessels.

[Hamilton Spectator]

It is when one withdraws himself from the cares of the present to gaze reflectively into the buried past that the changes wrought by Father Time are most vividly apparent. Men come and men go, yet the son never experiences the same conditions as his father. The change may be much or little, but it is a law of nature, as unchangeable as those of the Medes and Persians, that everything must progress or degenerate, that nothing may remain stationary.

There are few instances of evolution more striking than that offered by the decline of the marine of Lake Ontario and the vast changes in the marine of the other lakes composing the greatest chain of waterways in the world. This chain, complete as it is, was never planned by Providence without some ulterior purpose. With the development of Canada's great railway systems, enabling us to be independent of the marine, this purpose has been accomplished, or nearly so. Before the railway era, the commerce of Canada was dependent on the great lakes, which thus have contributed materially to the rapid advancement of Canadian trade and the development of Canada's resources. By the exchange of the new conditions for the old we have gained much. We have lost the romance which associates itself with the sea - whether fresh or salt water; we have lost the picturesqueness of a harbor dotted with vessels that swing lazily at their anchors; of the docks that swarmed with bronzed and blackened sailors busily intent upon celebrating a few days on shore, or occupied in preparing to again battle with the waves; of the merry bustle consequent upon the constant coming and going of vessels but we gain infinitely in material things, in the substitution of the railway for the old schooner and steamer. Modern business knows no sentiment, and any means of facilitating trade is eagerly adopted. It is not alone the decadence of the old Lake Ontario marine, but the old conditions which supported that marine are gone. The lumber trade, once one of the main supporters of the schooner, has dwindled down, the coal trade has been diverted to the railways, except for a comparatively small portion which still goes by water. The grain trade, in which so many of the old vessels were engaged, has also been diverted to the railways, and, with the exception of ore, there is little left for vessels to carry. Time was when the freight rate on grain from Kingston was 28 cents per bushel; now the railways are paid 2 1/2 cents to 4 cents. And yet, with the growth of the capacity of vessels, a rate of 5 cents would pay, for today a steamer can carry in one cargo what it would take one of the old schooners about eight trips to transport. This also has been a powerful influence in decreasing the number of vessels in the freight traffic of the lakes. There is at the present moment building at Lorraine, Ohio, a monster vessel with a capacity of 10,000 tons, but this is much too large a vessel to pass any canal, and it will be confined to Lake Erie and the ports around the southern shore on the lake. The Strathcona, engaged in carrying ore from Lake Superior for the blast furnace, carried 3,000 tons. No comment upon the increasing capacity of like vessels is necessary when it is said that a good load for an old time bark was 500 tons. So much for the size of the vessels which now engage in the trade. The growth has been necessary, not on account of an increasing business, but cheapening freight rates had to be equalized by a corresponding increase in the freight carrying power of the vessels. But the limit of size for inter-lake trade has been reached, unless some more millions of money are spent in enlarging the canals. This decline to a few vast floating storehouses is the natural result of conditions which the progress of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries entails. There are not a few of us who would like to retrace our steps to again hear the tweaking of cordage and the flapping of sails, but it is only in dreams that we may live in the days of old. Forty years ago! The words bring much to the mind of the old captain, who, having been more fortunate than some of his old fellow-captains in surviving the storms, is now spending the remainder of his life in quietness and peace.

In The Sixties.

Along in the sixties the marine of Hamilton was at its zenith, as was that of the lake in general, in which Hamilton men and Hamilton boats bore no inconspicuous part. Hamilton was then the wholesale centre of Western Ontario. The Great Western railway was in its infancy and the docks and grain elevator near where Magee & Walton's ice house now stands were scenes of bustle and activity. The waterfront was broken by wharves, the location of which may yet be found by long rows of spiles which rise above the water. These wharves have been burnt at some time during the intervening years, and were never rebuilt, as the ever lessening trade caused them to be seldom in use, except by boys armed with fish lines.

Among these wharves was the old immigrant wharf, where accommodations were provided for the immigrants who came on the boats from Montreal. The immigrants went inland on the Great Western and the Hamilton people were often not sorry to see them go, as there was sometimes danger of catching some virulent disease from intermingling with them. But along in the sixties all of the old wharves were lined with vessels - Murton's, MacKay's, McIllraith's, and the other wharves now non-existent. It was also at this period that the Desjardins canal was in use but few of the lake going vessels ever ventured up, as all the trade could be done by scows and barges. There were four vessels which belonged to Dundas in the sixties and seventies - the Great Western, the Marco Polo, the Lochiel and the Sunshine, and each of these was forced to strike her top mast in passing the bridge, now replaced by the high-level bridge.

The Lochiel, which belonged to Mr. Coleman of Dundas, was lost thirty-five years ago, under the command of Capt. Hill; the Great Western is yet in commission under the name of the Burton, belonging to Kingston and is a coal collier running to and from Oswego. In a great storm in the fall of 1860, the Great Western was blown ashore at Oakville and was dismasted. Three other schooners were also blown ashore that stormy night at Oakville, and the Great Western is the only one which is now in existence. The cargo was coal, which was taken off and brought to Hamilton, being deposited on Zealand's wharf. The other vessels were the O.V. Brainerd and the Gem - American boats - and the Antelope. The O.V. Brainerd went ashore about ten years later not far from the scene of her former disaster and was totally wrecked. The Antelope belonged to the late Edward Browne, of this city.

Some Old Boat Owners.

Of the old Hamilton boats there are few in existence. There is some mystery surrounding the end of some, but other's hulls are known to repose in certain places in the great lakes. The late Edward Browne, Thomas Rae, Capt. Zealand and Aeneas MacKay were all noted boat owners, and there were many other Hamilton people who were financially interested in the shipping. Of these W.W. Grant was one. Mr. Grant was a sailmaker and kept his sail factory on Bay street north, not far from where Robert Soper carries on business at the present time. The Union was a boat which Mr. Grant fitted out as she was one of the many which were built in Hamilton. Mr. Grant was part owner of the Union. After carrying lumber and miscellaneous cargo for a number of years the Union took a cargo of staves over to England and never came back. When last heard of she was trading in the waters of the South American continent. This is but one of the many instances where boats which were well known around the great lake ports have dropped in oblivion and are but a faded memory. The Northman was another Hamilton boat which plied in and around the ports of the great lakes in the sixties. She was owned by the late Archibald Robertson, father of Robertson Bros., the present boat building firm. The late Mr. Robertson was a famous builder in his day and many splendid vessels, both schooner and steamer stand to the credit of his skill. The end of the Northman is definitely known, for she foundered off Port Credit in a tremendous gale, and all her crew were drowned. A Frenchman was her captain at that time, and was remonstrated with by some of his fellow captains about leaving Port Dalhousie to venture out into the lake, which was like a foaming seething cauldron. But the Frenchman was obstinate, and said he could at least make Toronto point and so he left. Nothing more was heard of the Northman except from some people who stood on the shore that awful morning and saw the stranger founder. From the description given by them, it was clear that the crew which had met with a watery grave was that of the Northman. Some of the crew were Hamilton sailors and their loss caused much heart burning in this good city.

The Ice-Bird belonged to Raes and she also was lost with all hands near Port Dalhousie. She was engaged in the grain trade between Chicago and Kingston, and sank on coming out of the Welland canal. From what cause will never definitely be known as there was only a moderate sea running not enough of itself to injure the boat. But it is suspected that she collided with an Oswego vessel, as that boat disappeared at the same time and was known to be somewhere in the vicinity of Port Dalhousie.

Of the boats which belonged to the late Thomas Rae there were the Plymouth, the Jane C. Woodruff, the Malta, the S.D. Woodruff, and the New Dominion all of which were in the grain trade. Capt. William Flatt (Platt ?) one time partner in the firm of Flatt & Bradley, big lumber merchants, and who is now dead, was the captain of the Jane C. Woodruff. To the late Edward Browne belonged the Victor, the Rutherford, the China and the Elk.

These vessels were in the lumber trade of Lake Ontario and were typical of the lumber schooner. The lumber was loaded on through a big lumber port hole in the stern, and a pair of horses on deck worked the capstan used in pulling the lumber aboard. These are but a few of the better known old boats owned by Hamilton men, and which played such an important part in the lake trade. Of the other boats there were the Hercules and the Orion, owned by Captain Zealand. The Aigle de Mer, owned by Samuel Nesbitt, and the Magnet, owned and commanded by Capt. John Malcolmson, were well known in all lake ports. The Hannah Butler, owned by John Proctor, the Emblem, the Iris and the Undine were all Hamilton boats. The Garibaldi and the Persia are others whose names live in the memory of mariners. The precise dates of the time when these vessels were in active life, so to speak, are somewhat obscure, as their captains are now gone to their reward, and their fellow captains unable to remember the dates with any degree of certainty. H.W. Grant, the sailmaker, who has been mentioned before in these reminiscences, was the owner of the Lily. The old propeller Asia, another familiar hulk, toppled over in the Georgian Bay from being top-heavy. She was one of a quartet of propellers whose names were those of continents, the Asia, Africa, Europe and America. But these are boats of a later date than some of those we earlier mentioned. Among other contemporaries of the old schooners, which was the sole survivor of eight vessels moored together in the great Chicago fire, and which was lost in the Georgian Bay; the Asov, the Alpha, the D. MacInnes, the Cambria, which was lost in Lake Erie, the Orkney Lass, the Jessie Scarth, which was named after a young lady, a relative of the late Dr. Hamilton; the Rapid, lost in Lake Erie with all hands about 1867; the old Agnes Hope and the John Potter. In the course of years one after another of the white winged ghosts disappeared, and the propeller greatly exceeded the schooner in numbers. Today on Lake Superior a schooner is a rare sight, for the vessels are all propellers. Thus has time encompassed vast changes from the old order of things. One of the first steamers on the great lakes, and a powerful one it was, was a sidewheeler, the Osprey, belonging to the MacKays. The Osprey was also one of the first vessels too large to pass the Welland canal. About the time the Osprey came to Hamilton the Orion, belonging to Captain Zealand, then called the Queen Victoria, ran into the north pier at the Beach and sank in the bay off Willow Point. Captain Zealand raised her up, rebuilt and renamed her the Orion. This vessel was lost a few years later in Lake Erie, near Long Point Island, while laden with stone.

The late Archibald Robertson built a great number of these vessels; indeed, it is a difficult matter to obtain a complete list. But among them are the propellers California, Columbia, Canada, the St. Magnus, Acadia, Celtic, and the schoones Jessie Scarth and Agnes Hope, also the Zealand and the Dromedary, which was burnt in Hamilton Bay. In late years the Hamilton Bridge works has been Mr. Robertson's successor, having built the Arabian, the Myles and some steel barges for outside companies. The Arabian and the Myles are the only vessels which have wintered in Hamilton this year, whereas, forty years ago there would never be less than a score. The Columbia was lost in Lake Michigan, while transporting grain from Chicago to Collingwood. The St. Magnus was one of the most unlucky boats ever built, and many were the sailors who refused to have anything to do with her. She was built out of the shell of the old steamer R.W. Standley. In her first trip down the St. Lawrence canals she struck a pier and was badly damaged. On another occasion she was being loaded with iron, and would not lie on an even keel, the trouble being a spile under her bilge. The men loading her could not understand the difficulty, and in order to balance her loaded the iron on the high side. They weighted that side down all right, but in an entirely unexpected way, for the spile suddenly gave way, and of course the St. Magnus toppled over. She was taken to Port Dalhousie for repairs, and while there her adventurous and unlucky career came to an end, the wharf at which she was lying catching fire and the flames rapidly burning her to the water's edge.

Capt. Zealand had a peculiar fancy for building his vessels upon the bottom of some derelict, as he always thought that good luck would come of it. The Zealand was built on the bottom of a Chatham boat - the City of Chatham - which was burned at the G.T.R. docks in 1873. As was mentioned before, the St. Magnus was built on the bottom of the old steamer R.W. Standley, which was also burned while in Hamilton. The Standley, the steambarge Bristol and the Zealand were lying together one still summer night, when a faint breeze fanned the surface of the bay into ripples. A tongue of flame was observed in the Bristol and the alarm given, but it was in vain. Both the Bristol and Standley were destroyed, the Zealand escaping on account of her position to windward of the other two. Thus was Capt. Zealand's belief in the luckiness of his boats justified. Along in the seventies there was a vessel called the Calabria, which was much in Hamilton. This vessel had formerly been the Brantford, running between Lake Ontario ports and Montreal, and was the first one whose length prohibited her from entering the Welland canal, as the Osprey's beam prevented her. There were, at this time, two boats employed in carrying grain from Port Dalhousie to Kingston and Montreal. But the interesting thing about the boats was that they were a part of a scheme worthy of the Wizard of the Soo. Grain was brought to Port Colborne, loaded from the elevators there into cars of the Port Colborne and Welland railway, now a part of the Grand Trunk, and taken to Port Dalhousie, where the above mentioned two vessels received it. Of course the object in this was to avoid the canal. The Perseverance was burned five years later.

St. Catharines was well known in marine circles, for many of the best captains were Garden City men. The City of St. Catharines, one of the finest and most expensive boats on the lakes, was built by a St. Catharines syndicate for the purpose of knocking another St. Catharines firm, Norris & Neelon. But in launching the City of St. Catharines the boat's back was twisted, and, while it sailed for some years, the purpose of the syndicate was frustrated. The America was the fastest passenger boat of her time and plied between Montreal and St. Kitts.

Of the four lakes as they were called the Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, only the latter is in existence. The Lake Michigan is wintering this year in Trenton. The Lake Erie was in a collision and was sunk, and the Lake Ontario was burned in a United States port. About the time that these were first in commission, the Celtic was built for the late Aeneas MacKay by J. Robertson. The Celtic was sunk in collision on Lake Erie. The Shickluna was one of the fastest boats in the freight trade and, while she was a Toronto boat, was well known in Hamilton. Only about ten years ago she was sunk in Lake Erie in collision with a steamer called the Tecumseh. There is a rather funny episode connected with the sinking of the Shickluna. Her engineer, whose name was Cunningham, and who is living in Hamilton at the present time, often has a laugh when he recollects the incident. When the Shickluna sank in the night, the crew escaped half dressed and reached the land in safety. For a month or six weeks after Mr. Cunningham was around home with his wife and family, and one morning a telegram arrived from Erie, Pa., for Mrs. Cunningham. She opened it anxiously and found inside some startling information. It stated that her husband's trunk and coat had been washed ashore and that her husband was drowned. Mr. Cunningham had had the unusual pleasure of reading the announcement of his own death.

As the years went by, one by one the tramp boats disappeared, and a regular Montreal-Hamilton service was inaugurated. The boats on this line were the Corsican, Algerian, Spartan, Grecian and Corinthian, some of which are yet doing duty.

The Old Passport.

No article on lake steamers would be complete that did not mention the Passport. This boat was known as the greyhound of the lakes. She was afterwards renamed the Caspian, and she is now plying between Brighton and Oswego.

Of the boats which sailed to Montreal in the early seventies, the Indian was very prominent. In looking over some old manifest books containing full particulars of the cargoes carried by the Indian from Hamilton, the writer was astonished to find rags, bones and clay prominent among her cargoes. The case is not as bad as it would appear at first sight, for the rags went to a Montreal paper. The clay was sent to a foundry company for "facing" their machinery. This was the origin of the Canadian Facing Mill. The clay is now secured from the vicinity of Waterdown. It is related that one trip the Indian took aboard as part of her cargo, several bags of bones which had been lying on the dock for a week or so in the rain. The captain was a Scotchman, Johnson by name, and is now passed to his reward. On the return of the Indian, Capt. Johnson told the boat people about the bones. In commenting upon the economy of carrying such cargoes he said that when they took them aboard the stench was fearful, and that the bones hourly seemed to grow worse, until the crew had no stomach to eat anything. When the boat arrived at her destination, the bones were ready to walk off without any interference, so alive with maggots were they. "Well, it is a great savin'," was his terse comment.

It was at this time that the boats popularly known as "pollywogs" were occasionally to be seen. These boats had paddles built into their sterns, instead of at the side, as in side-wheelers. There were very few of this type, however. Of the other boats that were frequently in Hamilton then were the Shickluna, the Oswego Belle, the Alma Munro, now the Melbourne, the Cuba, the Africa, the Bruno, the Armenia, the Sovereign and the Queen. The Armenia belonged to Capt. James Malcolmson. There was an immense amount of vinegar shipped to Montreal from Hamilton in the early seventies; indeed, every cargo contained not less than three barrels and they often numbered thirty or forty. D. Morton & Sons were also heavy shippers of soap. Sawyer, now Sawyer & Massey, shipped many mowers and farm implements down east. The Bruno, on occasions, went up to Parry Sound and was usually loaded with stoves and hardware. Once she carried twenty tons of stoves. Glassware and crockery were also shipped extensively, as the glass works were then in full swing, and heavy trade in bottles (empty, mind you!) was done.

These and the days of a decade before were the days were the days of Hamilton's wholesale supremacy, but now with the great growth and development of Canada, trade has become more localized. Hamilton is yet famous for her wholesale trade, and long may she continue to justify her reputation. The last generation knows but little of the trials and difficulties with which the old had to contend. The last few years have not seen much change in conditions, for the few old hulks that are left hang on to existence. But they are antiquated relics of a by-gone age and have almost outlived their usefulness. While the writer has endeavored to give some idea of the past greatness of Hamilton's marine, that of other cities has been left untouched. But the decline has been equally as great in all Lake Ontario ports. Some of the captains remember the time when in Oswego harbor there were millions of feet of lumber on the wharves, piled often thirty feet high. The long breakwater off Oswego harbor has had to be utilized, so great was the necessity for room. The six piers covers a space of acres, and some idea may be obtained of the millions of dollars worth of lumber stored thereon. Smith & Post were the big lumber dealers then, but the decline of the lumber business had left them all in straitened circumstances, before they died. Even in Hamilton, the lumber trade at one time was very large, but it died away as the forests were exhausted. It cost $4 per thousand feet to ship lumber from here to Oswego and at the time 12 1/2 cents a bushel for wheat. On occasions Oswego has been so crowded that a man could walk across the river on the decks of vessels waiting to load or unload. It was a very frequent occurrence for fifty vessels to leave the harbor in one morning. There were over half a dozen tugs constantly occupied in towing the ships in and out, the green line and red line being the regular lines and today there is not enough work for two. The lumber trade on the Canadian shore has also suffered severely. There were over fifteen large mills in the Bay of Quinte district and the mills were constantly running at their full capacity. Today there are but three, and they do, on a conservative estimate, about one fifteenth of the trade they did forty years ago. The decimation of forests is largely responsible, and it is a fact that it now takes two years to bring logs down the Trent river to the mills near its mouth. All of the old Canadian mill-owners are either dead, in some other business, or else struggling along in poor circumstances.

The Old Captains.

A word or so about the old captains now living in Hamilton may not be amiss. There are seven of them and if the combined experiences of these seven could be put into book form, many goodly-sized tomes would be needed. Most of these captains have been around the water since boyhood days and even now are somewhat amphibious. The oldest of these is Capt. Daniel Peace ? whose eighty years have not impaired in the least a remarkable memory. Mr. Peace lives with his son Daniel Jr., at 55 East avenue north, and is as bright and lively today as he was twenty years ago.

He has a brother, William, who is also an old captain, and who lives at 254 Wellington street north. Capt. Williams is also retired. He was the captain of the Sweepstakes when she was in the Chicago fire.

Capt. William Corson is one of those yet in command of a boat. He owned a third of the Wave Crest, the MacKays being the other owners. He had a quarter interest in the schooner T.R. Merritt, which was lost in September, 1901, on the United States shore of Lake Ontario. For the past two years he has sailed the Lake Michigan. Capt. Corson has had a long and adventurous life on the water, he having had his captain's papers when only fifteen years of age. He is not much given to relating the old salt tales which delight a youngster, but he has the kindly heart and courtesy of a true gentleman of nature.

Then there is Capt. Irving of the Strathcona, but Capt. Irving is a comparatively young man and is yet good for many years of sailing. For ten years he was captain of the Macassa.

Capt. Spense retired from the water twenty years ago, but still bears the jolly, weather-beaten countenance of a sailor. He is now employed as a night watchman in the city.

Capt. Beatty is another who has retired from active life. He lives at 16 Simcoe street east with his daughter, and yet retains all of his faculties in their normal condition. Up to a short time ago he sailed for four years on the bay and previous to that in the eastern waters of Lake Ontario, and in the St. Lawrence canals.

It is a peculiar thing that nearly all of the old time captains were from the Orkney Islands. At one time there was an Orkney Island colony in the city, so it is but natural that the water is their dominion. G.W.A.

p.11 Wolfe Island Council - ...resolution appointing D.J. Leslie engineer of ferry is rescinded; Moved - Keys, Fawcett, that a vote of thanks be tendered Messrs. Briceland and McCarthy who waited on the Dominion and provincial parliaments in regard to the ferry.... Moved, Keys, Ryan, and resolved that the following expenses be paid: Thomas Fawcett four trips to Toronto $55.00; Edward Briceland, expenses to Ottawa and Toronto $48.00; Dr. McCarthy, expenses to Toronto and Ottawa, $48.00.

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16 Apr 1904
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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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 Apr 1904