The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 8 Aug 1905

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The Sailing Boats Of Half A Century Ago.

It was about the year 1850, says an old-timer, that the yachting fever broke out in Kingston, and the young men invested in craft of various speeds and models. The classification was different from that in vogue today. The first-class were of eight tons and over; the second class five tons and over; most of them decked in and possessed of little cabins and sleeping berths. Those of the third class were generally decked forward but open aft. Regattas took place annually, and were notable occasions. Outside yachts that participated were from French Creek (now Clayton) and Gananoque. The prizes were money and flags; cups were not then in vogue.

The best yacht at the time was the Golden Arrow, built by Richard Osborne of Kingston, who had with him as a syndicate, William Leckie, Daniel Hickey, W.J. Dick and W. Hood. Mr. Osborne improved upon the Golden Arrow by building the Prima Donna, a ten tonner, which defeated everything that Toronto, Hamilton, and other lake and river towns and cities could place in the water.

Of the smaller boats in commission about 1850, there were the Sans Souci, owned and sailed by Edwin A. Burrows; the Nautilus, four tons, the property of William Chambers, of the dockyard; the Rough and Ready, owned by a company of which James Wilson (who is still living here) was chief; and the Tempest, owned by W. Pigeon, ship carpenter.

About 1852, Alexander Phillips was the leading yachtsman in Kingston harbor, and he trained many who took a prominence in yachting in after years. He first owned the three-tonner Oddfellow, and had for his crew James Beal, a great basso player, and George Offord, the latter becoming very prominent in sailing circles for years afterwards.

Kingston harbor was the battleground between two famous yachts, the Belle and the John A. Macdonald. The Belle was originally built by a syndicate, but purchased by O.S. Gildersleeve, and later passed into the hands of C.F. Gildersleeve. She registered then as a twenty-two tonner, but would classify as a forty tonner nowadays. The John A. Macdonald was smaller, but was allowed a handicap. She was owned by William Harty, an uncle of the present member for Kingston. It was during the first day's contest that the Belle sprang a leak, and filled so rapidly that it was thought she would sink. She had jibed off Four Mile Point and was straining badly. John McKelvey (of McKelvey & Birch) was a member of the crew, and Phillips was at the tiller. Half the crew wanted the Belle to be beached, but Mr. McKelvey protested against abandoning the race, and undertook to close the leak, which was successfully done. The Belle got in before the John A. Macdonald, but time allowance gave that day's honors to the latter. On the second day the Belle won easily. She afterwards went to pieces below Cataraqui bridge. The Macdonald was sold to Toronto parties.

Subsequently, Phillips was interested with H. Meadows, James Beale and John McKelvey in the Fanny Fern, a standing keel boat of six tons. She was unable, however, to compete with the "skimming dishes." The last boat with which Phillips had to do was the Kate Hayes, a twenty-four tonner. She was entered in the Toronto regatta, was leading in her class and would have won easily, only for a mishap, the bolt of her bob-stay having pulled. For years, Phillips was the favorite in yachting circles, and he had a number of expert men associated with him. To Mr. McKelvey, who was the pupil, he was particularly attached, and declared he excelled in the completeness of his preparations for a regatta. That is forty years ago, and of the prominent yachtsmen of that day who are still citizens of Kingston, there remain John McKelvey and James Wilson.


The Steamer Arundell Was Not Sunk As Rumor Stated.

Regarding the rumored accident or sinking of the steamer Arundell, which plys on the run between Rochester and Ogdensburg, enquiries this morning proved reports somewhat amiss. The steamer left Rochester, yesterday morning, at six o'clock, on her regular trip and with a goodly number of passengers aboard. The probable solution of the alleged accident, but of which the lighthouse people and the life-saving station know nothing, is likely to be found in the mishap to the steamyacht Titurnia, which broke down outside of Rochester, yesterday, and drifted about for three or four hours, sounding signals of distress. In the city it was reported to be the steamer Arundell. The only accident heard of which has affected that steamer, however, occurred towards latter part of last week, when she ran aground for a couple of hours without any apparent injury.

Steamer All Right.

The Whig has a despatch from Oswego, N.Y., saying there is nothing in the Arundell story. She passed Cape Vincent up all right at 8:30 a.m. and is due here at noon.

S.S. Fairmount's Cruise.

Capt. Robert Fraser, marine superintendent of the M.T. company, is home after an absence of two months. He left here about the first of June with the S.S. Fairmount, which had a cargo of iron ore for Cape Breton. After that cargo was discharged, the Fairmount carried a cargo from Pilley's Island, Newfoundland, to Philadelphia. Thence she returned to Pilley's Island, and loaded iron pyrites for Washburn, Lake Superior. In the two months the Fairmount covered 6,500 miles. Capt. Fraser left the Fairmount at Montreal yesterday. She is due at Kingston tonight or tomorrow morning.

Stands On Record.

The latest phase of the river steamboat war is the wide circulation of a hand bill referring to the opposition as "two small yachts" to which the manager "has the effrontery to apply the appellation of a steamboat line," and uttering a warning to the public against placing credence in malicious statements. The notice concludes with the following sober words forming a clever advertisement for the Folger line:

"We stand upon our record of over twenty-five years in the steamboat service on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence river, of having never lost a life nor injured a passenger, and also upon the endorsement of the most rigid inspection service of both the United States and Canadian governments as to the sound condition and perfect equipment of our steamers."


The steamer Armenia made the steamer Aletha's bay trip yesterday.

The steamer Scout will again enter Davis' dry dock to have her bottom completed. She will be a much better boat than before.

M.T. company wharf: steamer Advance, Montreal to Fort William with freight, called; S.S. Fairmount due tonight from Montreal.

Craig's wharf: steamer Waterlily down last night; yacht Castanet from Alexandria Bay; yacht Wherenow from Thousand Island Park.

The steamer New York has her United States certificates, but has yet to be examined upon by the Canadian inspectors. She may run on the river this week.

Swift's wharf: steamer Caspian from Charlotte; steamer Toronto down; yacht Columbia from Alexandria Bay; schooner Mary Ann Lydon from Oswego with coal; yacht Idler from Alexandria Bay.

The Presto, formerly owned by George C. Boldt, Heart Island, and reputed to be the fastest boat on the river, has changed hands. Mr. Straus, son of Abraham Straus, proprietor of several department stores in New York, is the purchaser. It is a legend on the river that the Presto has covered thirty-two miles in one hour.

p.6 Will Sit Tomorrow - Commander O.G.V. Spain, wreck commissioner of Canada, arrived in the city today to conduct an investigation into the stranding of the steamer Argyle. Owing to the absence of the mate and wheelsman, the two principal witnesses, the enquiry could not be gone on with today, but will start tomorrow morning at nine o'clock in the cabin of the steamer. Capt. Thomas Donnelly will occupy the position of assessor and sit on the bench with Commander Spain.

Going To See Yacht Races - Interest in the Canada's cup races to be sailed at Charlotte, has become quite keen among the members of the local yachting fraternity, and a number of Kingston sailors will be on hand, next Saturday, to witness the start. Commodore J.J.C. Almon, of the Kingston Yacht Club, will leave on the steamer Kingston next Friday and return Monday. Dr. D.A. Black intends sailing over in his yacht, the Verona, and will have along with him J.M. Campbell, the Limestone City club's rear-commodore, and that veteran of the helm, Henry Cunningham. F.W. Aloree has commissioned his gasoline yacht Turtle for the trip across and will be accompanied by Col. F. Strange, and W.F. Nickle. All are looking forward with keen anticipation to a good outing and fine races.

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8 Aug 1905
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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), 8 Aug 1905