The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 23 Sep 1907

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The Steamer Picton Swept By Flames In Toronto.

[Toronto World]

Two lives were lost as the result of a fiercely rapid fire which destroyed the upper works of the Richelieu & Ontario steamer Picton at 5 p.m., Saturday afternoon. Heroism by Captain Charles Redfern and Purser Oswald saved at least three lives, while the night watchman, W. Taylor, who was sleeping when the fire broke out, had to jump into the bay.

The Picton arrived in the Scott street slip at 7 a.m. and was to have left for Hamilton at 6:30 p.m. At five o'clock, just after a big cargo had been taken on board, there came a sudden burst of flame from the engine room. Although the crew and longshoremen tried to get at the steamer's own fire appliances, the smoke and heat drove them back. A still alarm was sent by telephone to Bay and Lombard street stations, followed by the alarm from box 121 at the Toronto Electric Light company's works, just across the slip.

The flames were in full possession of the eastern side of the vessel, when the firemen got to work, which they did in very quick time. The fire boat, Nellie Bly, was also a prompt arrival from her berth at the foot of Church street, and threw two very effective streams from astern. In half an hour the flames were under control.

Although there had been some narrow escapes when the fire broke out, it was not until about three-quarters of an hour afterwards, when men of the crew began to find their way to their bunks to recover personal belongings, that it was found the flames had found a victim. George Linstead, in groping along the lower deck, saw a body in the hold. It was that of George Kleskie, a German, aged forty, who shipped at Montreal four months ago. He had died from suffocation, only his head and part of his face showing signs of burning.

It was then recalled by another man that Miss Winnie Hatch, Montreal, had been in her cabin, which was on the east side, further from the wharf. A first search of the charred and wrecked room did not reveal the body, but the firemen found it a few minutes later. It was fearfully burned and was carried to the electric light wharf.

Miss Hatch was engaged to be married to James McMillan, the cook of the steamer, and had been making the trip with him.

Passengers Rescued.

The stewardess, Mattie Langtree, recalled that Miss Hatch had entered the cabin just five minutes before she found that the vessel was on fire. She says she heard no one cry out any alarm.

There were about forty passengers booked for Picton, which, after calling at Hamilton was scheduled to go east down the lake, calling at the various north shore ports. Fortunately, only a few had boarded the steamer.

As it was, Capt. Redfern saved two women from death, finding them lying in a faint in their cabins. His own face is badly scorched and his eyebrows and hair singed. The purser, Oswald, found a boy huddled on the floor in the hold and carried him to safety.

George Kleskie, the dead man, had been complaining of illness and a comrade, David Finn, had told him to stay in bed for the day and he would do his work.

Captain Redfern identified the body as that of his "best fireman."

Miss Hatch was found rolled in the bed clothes and holding a comb in one hand.

The crew consisted of forty-five men.

During the last few years the Picton has several times been in danger of destruction by fire through the outbreak of flames, but in these previous instances the threatened conflagrations were nipped in the bud before any material damage was done.

The officers include Capt. Charles Redfern, Purser J. Green, and Mate J. Cherry.

The cargo was one of the heaviest of the season and the steamer carries 250 tons and was loaded to the eight-foot draft mark. One estimate of the value is from $20,000 to $30,000.

The stewart, P. Oswald, was in the office near the gangway. He states that the fire broke out just back of the throttle.

He and the second engineer got out the hose, but were driven back by the heat.

They then turned their attention to saving the passengers, removing to safety an old lady from Prescott and also a child.

The child was lying at the head of the stairway, overcome by smoke. Most of the passengers rescued were in a fainting condition when assisted ashore. Among these was a child from Montreal.

There were more than forty passengers booked for the trip to Hamilton, and had the fire broken out an hour later there might have been a heavy list of fatalities. As it was, there were no regular passengers on board.

Firemen Did Well.

The firemen made a splendid fight. They mounted ladders to the upper decks and tackled the flames at close quarters, although one of the crew of the steamer was heard to remark that he wouldn't go on board lest the boilers explode.

As the hose could only be gotten at the vessel from the one side, and a great deal of it had to be carried through a coal yard and over fences, the firemen were badly hampered.

The fire boat helped considerably, but is not of heavy enough calibre for a big blaze.

At six o'clock the Picton had grounded in the slip.

A great crowd of people watched the fire, but were well controlled by the police.

Members of the crew who lost their belongings were sent to a hotel by the captain.

Chief Coroner Johnson told the World that he might conduct the inquest himself if his enquiries indicated any negligence in any department.

The cargo was a general one, including furniture and beer.

This is the second fire this season in Toronto harbor, and the third vessel to be burned.

Passengers' Stories.

Miss Jean Morrison, Brockville, recounted her escape to the World.

"I got on at Brockville to make a trip up to Hamilton and back. I know who got on the boat a few minutes ago. There was a stout girl, and I have not seen her since. Her young man was the cook. There was another lady with grey hair. She got off all right. I smelled the smoke and saw two little girls running. I flew for my stateroom, unlocked the door, got these clothes and my handbag and rushed after the girls to the back of the boat, where a man was standing.

He handed the little girls over the railing, and the stewardess and I got over in the same way and were taken down by two men. That is all I remember. I think that that girl is on the boat yet, although her young man says that she went away shortly before the fire broke out.

I had a trunk full of clothes, some valuables and a lot of jewellry, which is gone, for the fire was close to my cabin. It all started in a minute, where I don't know."

The stewardess, Miss Langtree of Huntingdon, Que., had a similar escape to that of Miss Morrison. With two little friends, Sybil and Mabel Mayne, of Montreal, who are visiting in Toronto, and were paying her a call, she was having a lunch in the dining room.

"Suddenly the older girl called 'Come,' and I rushed with her to the back of the boat and got over the railing. I could not say how the fire started. All my clothes are in there and my jewellry and $28 in money."

Sybil Mayne said that the fire started "just behind where the man steers the boat." It was just like an inch of fire and then a blaze shot into the air in a trice.

"I was so scared I did not know what to do or where to go. I called to my sister, and all I could say was 'Come.' We rushed to the back and tried to get down stairs. The smoke was so thick that I ran to the front of the boat on the second deck, and was got down over the railing. It was the funniest thing how the fire went so quick, for it just seemed like an inch, a little bit, when it started."

Other ladies in the boat were the captain's wife and his sister, Miss Redfern.

Loss Is Heavy.

The Picton was refitted two years ago. She was 140 feet long and forty feet beam, and was formerly the Corsican and is an old vessel on the lakes and is valued at $80,000 and is insured for $60,000.



The schooner Trade Wind is at Mooer's elevator, with coal for the cereal works.

The sloops Granger and Maggie L. arrived from Belleville with cement for John Lemmon & Sons.

M.T. Co.'s elevator: schooner Ford River from Charlotte with coal; tug Jessie Hall from Montreal with two light barges.

Capt. Ira B. Folger has sold his yacht Skylark to M. Clinton, for $700. The yacht will have a gasoline engine installed by the new owner.

Capt. James Bell and J. Eves, expect to launch their new steambarge, built in Portsmouth, this summer. The new barge will be one of the best on these waters.

Swift's: Steamer Rideau King for Ottawa this morning; steamer Dundurn up this morning; steamer City of Ottawa up Sunday; steamer Belleville up Sunday; steamer Toronto down and up Sunday; steamer Caspian down and up Sunday; steamer Aletha from bay points today; steamer Ames down Saturday.

The wooden steamer Iroquois has been sold by Capt. W.C. Richardson, of Cleveland, to the Montreal Transportation company, and will be operated in the coal trade between Montreal and Oswego. She was rebuilt in 1904, after twelve years' service, and is of 2,600 tons capacity, with a length of 242 feet and 41 feet beam.

Richardsons' elevator: Schooner J.B. Kitchen is loading feldspar for Charlotte; steamer Wahcondah arrived at 10 p.m. Saturday from Fort William with 50,000 bushels of wheat, and cleared for Fort William Sunday night; tug Kate cleared Sunday for Montreal with two grain laden barges; steambarge Navajo cleared for Montreal with a cargo of oats.

A scow, loaded with lumber for Wilson & Co., Gananoque, from the Rideau river, broke away from its tow, when leaving Kingston, and ran against the rocks at Point Frederick. The mishap occurred about one o'clock Sunday morning. The tug had two scows loaded with lumber, and continued on to Gananoque with the other. An attempt will be made to get the scow off, but it is feared that she has been badly damaged.

p.3 Gananoque, Sept. 22nd - The coal schooner Theodore Voges cleared for Oswego, Saturday evening.

Six Lives Lost - Chicago, Sept. 23rd - The steamer Alexander Mimick went ashore, thirteen miles west of Whitefish Point, in Lake Superior, on Saturday night. Capt. Randall and five sailors were drowned. Eleven members of the crew were rescued. The Mimick was bound north with coal. It is supposed the engine broke down and the vessel drifted ashore during the storm.

p.5 To Cut Steamer In Two - Montreal, Sept. 23rd - The C.P.R. steamer Keewatin, bound for the lakes where she will navigate in future is reported in the gulf and will proceed to Quebec to go through the process of being cut in two for the trip up the river and through the canals. The Assiniboin, the sister ship, has about completed that process at Quebec, and will start west within a few days.



Season So Far On Lakes Fortunate For Owners.

Marine men on the Great Lakes are this season congratulating themselves and hoping that the remarkable record, with regard to wrecks, will continue to the close. But at the same time they quietly whisper, one to the other, Beware the ides of November, for November 28th has not yet arrived.

Upon that fateful Nov. 28th, 1905, the most extensive and costly series of wrecks in the history of marine navigation in the world occurred on Lake Superior, when nineteen great freighters, nearly all modern steel craft owned by the United States Steel Corporation, were wrecked, causing the loss of numerous lives and in cash a loss of $5,375,000, $4,025,000 of which was in hulls and the remainder on cargoes.

It is with a shudder that marine men recall the lake disasters of Sept. 1st, Oct. 20th and Nov. 28th, 1905. In three storms upon those dates 116 lives were lost out of a total of 124 for that entire season. This tremendous loss of life on the lakes in one season is better understood when the following records are given: In 1895 the list of lost on the lakes was but 66; in 1897, 88; in 1898, 95; in 1899 an even 100; in 1900, 110; in 1901, 122; in 1902, 140; in 1903, 94; and in 1904, 49; and then came the unprecedented total of 215 lives lost the following season, of which number 124 were drowned or killed in storms.

Marine men are hoping for the best this season, as thus far there has not been a serious loss on the lakes. Not a vessel of importance on the Great Lakes has this season gone out of existence. During the fateful season of 1905, a total of 79 vessels went out of existence. Among the vessels totally destroyed that season either by storm, grounding or fire were: Schooners - Vega, hull, value, $1,500; Lydia, $1,500; Kate Lyons, $2,000; S.H. Burton, $5,500; barges - Alta, $10,000; Mantenee, $6,000; King Fisher, $4,000; Nirvana, $10,000; Galatea, $9,000; H. Bissell, $6,000; Nomebay, $3,000; N. Mason, $8,000; S.B. Pomeroy, $3,000; and Ogarita, $6,000 or a total hull value of $75,500.

In view of the immense amount of salvage, which goes down with every wrecked vessel, it is regarded as strange that there is only a percentage of wrecked vessels that are ever touched by wreckers. In case of the tremendous loss of nineteen modern steel freighters on Lake Superior in 1905, all but the Lafayette and Madera for salvage during the following season. The Lafayette went ashore off Split Rock, but her aft part is now lying at Tar Bay slip, while the other half remains at Split Rock, abandoned entirely. The Walter Frost, of the Rutland line, also a victim of the season of 1905, still lies a wreck off South Manitou Island, with her full equipment and machinery, just as she went down.The Savona, which broke in two on Sand Island shoal, Apostle Islands, Sept. 1st, 1905, is still there. Nearly all of her crew were lost. The Pretoria, which foundered the same season, lies off Outer Island and lost three of the crew, still lies there in deep water. The Iosco, which went ashore off Standard Rock, Lake Superior, Sept. 1st, 1905, was recovered by Capt. W.W. Smith, of the Steel Trust.

The wreck of the steamer Appomattox, which went ashore off Fox Point, north of Milwaukee, in 1905, still lies there, with the upper part of the hull above the water and often easily to be seen. The hull of the vessel, valued at $97,000, now belongs to the underwriters who settled her insurance. She was loaded with coal to the value of $6,800, which was lost. Just why the salvage of the Appomattox is not recovered is explained by marine men to be because of the varying winds and the shoals at that location. To take a wrecker to the point would be a question of safety in the first place, and the varying winds would prevent the outfit from remaining long enough in position to accomplish anything worth the effort. To raise the machinery, which is still on the boat, would necessitate long and continuous effort, and in this case, as stated, the locality would not permit of this, unless there were a season of calm on old Lake Michigan, upon the bottom of which 100 or more lost hulls now repose.


Notes of Marine.

The tug Jessie Hall is in the government dry dock.

The steamer Kenirving is laid up here. A new mast is being placed in her.

The steamer Westport passed on her way from Cape Vincent to Portland, Ont., to load lumber.

It is likely the steamer Rideau King will be used on the island ferry while the steamer Wolfe Islander is being remodelled.

The work of removing the lumber from the scow which drifted on to the rocks at Point Frederick was commenced this afternoon. It is being loaded on to another scow, which arrived from Gananoque, this morning.

The tug Boynton brought the eleven survivors from the steamer Alexander Mimick into Grand Rapids, Mich. The wreck lies on the bleak shore of Lake Superior, between Grand Marias and Whitefish Point.

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23 Sep 1907
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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), 23 Sep 1907