The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 2 Jan 1906

Full Text


(available on microfilm at Kingston-Frontenac Public Library and Queen's University - Stauffer Library)

Jan. 2, 1906

p.2 Incidents of the Day - This morning, men were put at work to repair the barges of the K. & M. Forwarding company at Portsmouth.

p.8 Incidents of the Day - The Bateau channel is again open, the steamer New Island Wanderer passing through there to the Cape.

Jan. 3, 1906



Opened With An Attendance Of 100.

Last evening the marine lectures given under the auspices of the department of marine by Capt. Thomas Donnelly, examiner of masters and mates, commenced in one of the rooms of the old collegiate building, Clergy street, with an attendance of about 100. After extending a hearty welcome to those in attendance, the lecturer commenced by stating that this series of lectures was inaugurated by the late Hon. Mr. Prefontaine, minister of marine and fisheries, not, as it might be supposed, for the preparation of candidates to pass examinations for masters' and mates' certificates, but rather to enable our sailors to better comprehend the innumerable details in the work connected with their profession. The department of marine is very much interested in this subject, believing that the sailors on the great lakes know little about navigation as a science. It is true that nowhere can be found a class of masters better suited for their positions than to be found navigating the ships on the great lakes, and as one with some knowledge of the training and ability required to navigate both fresh and salt water ships, Capt. Donnelly said he desired to state that the training our officers receive on lake vessels specially fits them for the duties of navigating their ships up and down the narrow waters of our great lakes and rivers and that they perform this work satisfactorily is proven by the small number of accidents which our lake vessels meet with in proportion to the large number of vessels of all classes and sizes to be found navigating the narrow waters of the lakes.

The training our lake men receive teaches them the necessity of quick and decided action in time of danger and the officer who successfully navigates his ship, is the one most sought after by the vessel owners. The vessel owners of the great lakes know well that a good man is cheap at any price and with the increase of valuable tonnage on the Canadian side of the great lakes comes a demand for first class men, who understand their duties, to command these ships and from a knowledge of the conditions and requirements in this respect on the great lakes. The lecturer had no hesitation in stating that the demand is greater than the supply.

Needs of Mariners.

The department of marine is fully aware of this and we are glad to see that they are at last turning their attention to the needs and requirements of the great lakes trade. In this respect it is to be hoped, the lecturer said, that our officers on the great lakes will not be hampered with conditions which are very necessary on salt water, but which have no place on the great lakes, for while the knowledge which the salt water officers obtain in the practice of seamanship and the training in chart and compass work is of the utmost importance also to our lake sailors, an officer on the great lakes does not require much more of the science of navigation than sufficient to teach him to keep good track of his ship on the chart, a proper understanding of his compass, with its errors and corrections, and a thorough knowledge of the rules of the road. A training on these points with a knowledge of the channels to be navigated (which can only be obtained from service on lake vessels) with the use of the log and lead lines and a clear, cool head, ought to be all that is required to make a successful mate or master on the great lakes.

It is not many years ago since the first steamship was built on the great lakes. Preceding the year 1880, to thereabouts, the training of our lake sailors, in most instances, began on a sailing vessel and the training on this class of vessels was the best training that could be given to fit an officer for his duties either as mate or master of any kind of a ship, but with the advent of the steel steamship on the great lakes began the demand for men with a little different training than could be received on a sailing vessel. In the practice of seamanship, a sailor on the lake vessels received a good training, but when the sailing vessel came to the entrance of the Detroit or other rivers it required a tug, and if there were none available, it generally dropped anchor; but the master of the lake steamer who does not navigate his vessel in nearly all conditions of weather either night or day, up or down the narrowest of channels, does not hold his position as master of one of our modern lake steamers for any great length of time.

Rules Of The Road.

The necessity, therefore, arises for a better knowledge of the rules of the road, a more thorough knowledge of the deep water channels (as our vessels when loaded generally draw all the water to be found in the shallow connecting links between the great lakes), and a better knowledge of the handling of ships at the great speed now to be met with in the modern class of vessels.

These conditions furnish sufficient reasons for the department of marine's efforts towards a better training of our lake sailors and when we consider how fast the forwarding trade on the lakes is increasing yearly one can easily see how much our sailors must study to improve, if they expect to keep in line with the requirements.

Last year upwards of forty-four million tons of freight passed through the canals at the Sault. This amount does not include the amount of tonnage from Lakes Michigan, Huron, Georgian Bay, Georgian Bay or Lake Erie. Thirty million tons of this represented the iron ore trade to lake ports, most of it being carried in modern steel steamers, with a carrying capacity of in many cases (unreadable) tons and a speed of fifteen miles per hour.

In the handling of these ships and cargoes a very slight error in judgement on the part of a navigating officer who does not know his business causes loss of property and in some cases loss of life which could have easily been violated (sic) if the officer in charge knew his work.

The only instructions, the lecturer said, that he has received in connection with this series of lectures as regards the programme to be followed, was to discuss and demonstrate subjects most necessary to the needs of navigation on the great lakes. He had not yet clearly laid down to his own satisfaction the programme to be followed, but intends to be guided by the wishes of those who attend the lectures. They would understand that there is the theory of navigation and there is also the practice of navigation and those combined with practicable seamanship should furnish enough material to keep them busy for this winter two evenings each week.

Movement of Vessels.

He did not intend to take up their time with much of the work of practical seamanship, except in a general way to define the duties of sailors on lake vessels. If any one attending the lectures wanted to know how to splice a rope or make a carrick-bend, he would be glad to show him at any time before or after the lecture, but did not intend to take up much time on these and similar matters which every sailor can learn on board of the ship. Rather would he endeavor to teach him what is required from him as master in supervising the interests of the ship's owner in building a ship, in obtaining British registry for the ship when built, and to check a surveyor of customs in the proper measurements of the ship tonnage.

There is nothing on the Canadian side of the great lakes that requires more attention than the necessity of systematic measurement of lake vessels by customs surveyors. We are fortunate in this respect at the port of Kingston, but not so fortunate at other ports on the inland waters, and I have the promise from Mr. Shaw, inspector of customs, that he would give a talk on this matter in the near future. He could promise a treat if they would attend on that evening, for Mr. Shaw possesses a thorough knowledge of the duties of measuring surveyor.

Then he will try and instruct the master how to properly outfit his ship to suit the government requirements, and the demand of the different registration societies, how to arrange the outfit of his ship according to the best practice and the necessities of the trade, a thorough knowledge of the rules of the road, the lights, fog, and distress signals, the duties of an officer ashore and afloat.

Many of our officers know how to send a spar aloft, but when you ask them to look over a charter party, make a protest or stand up before a lawyer, in the witness box, to prove in their owners' interests that their action in navigating a ship, was the proper thing to do under the rules, he regretted to say that on the lakes they are generally found wanting. He would endeavor to go over in a general way, the different marine laws, the Masters' and Mates' Act, the Harbor Act, Regulations of the Canals, insurance laws, cargo and freight rules, and such kindred subjects as far as time will permit and will also be prepared to take up any questions in practical seamanship, which the class thinks important.

Lack Of Compass Knowledge.

Then he wished to devote some time to compass work, because he believed that a training on this subject is very important for our lake officers. If some of them had known more about the action of the compass on Lake Superior, during the gale last fall, he believed there would not have been so many vessels lost. Lack of knowledge of the compass is said to have been responsible for many wrecks on the upper lakes last seaon. In the iron ore regions of Lake Superior, there are places where the compass deflects one and a half points, and the sailor not skilful enough to make allowances for these variations and correct his course accordingly, not infrequently lands on the rocks.

The Pittsburg Steamship company has issued an order to its seventy lake captains requiring them to attend a school of instruction in the use of the compass and course corrections this winter.

Capt. Donnelly said he did not want to be considered in the light of a lecturer; rather would he be considered as one of themselves, who perhaps has had better advantages of a training in many subjects under discussion, and was willing to assist others not so fortunately situated in this respect.

It was his desire to make the lectures a success. He wanted them to assist him in this, and they could not better do this than by a regular attendance, thereby showing the department of marine that they appreciated the efforts which it is making on their behalf free of expense.

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2 Jan 1906
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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), 2 Jan 1906