Maritime History of the Great Lakes

Scanner, v. 26, no. 4 (January 1994), p. 4

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Ship of the M o n t h No. 209 THE F I R S T C E D A R B R A N C H 4. A l t h o u g h we always enjoy w r i t i n g about the passenger ships which once f r e que nt ed our lakes, we get the most pleasure when we re search and write the his to ri es of the canallers w hich once were so familiar in our waters. The true canallers, built s p e c i f i c a l l y to fit the small locks of the third We lla nd Canal and the old St. Lawrence canals (as opposed to earlier small ships w hi ch si mply were built to such a size because tech nology had not a d van ced beyond that stage), were hybrids and they were real w o r k h o r s e s of lake t r a n s p o r t a t i o n in the first half of the T w e ntieth Century. It was the can al lers that linked the Great Lakes with the deep seas, not only for the u p b o u n d movem e n t of cargoes brought by ocean ships to St. L a w rence River ports, but most i mportantly for the o u t bound shipment of grain. Some of the gr ain was bound for the mills at Montreal, but most of it was for export overseas. The canallers served the tortuous lower portion of jou rney of this grain, w h i c h often was trans - s h i p p e d to them from the big upper lakers at Buf falo and Port Colborne. Even after the opening of the new Wel la nd Ship Canal (official ceremonies took place on August 5, 1932, and fea tu re d the largest C a n a d i a n lake ship, the C . S . L. steamer LEM OYNE [I]), the ca nal ler s still were r e q uired for the St. Lawrence passage, and much of the grain was trans- s h i p p e d at Toronto, K i n g s t o n and Prescott. The canall ers were so familiar for so m a n y years that even those of us who knew them we ll tend now to take them for granted and to forget the i n v a l u able service w h i c h they p r o v i d e d in the years before the 1959 op ening of the St. La wre nce Seaway. C o m p a r a t i v e l y little was w r i t t e n about the canallers in years past, and we consider it the r e s p o n s i b i l i t y of "Scanner" to correct this situation. Our efforts in this respect now continue! When today's hi st o r i a n s think about canallers, they tend to remember the C a n ad ia n fleets w h i c h o p e rated large numbers of canal- s i z e d steamers and m o to rs hi ps in the latter years of the "canaller era". But even more i n t e re sti ng were the earlier fleets which existed in the opening years of this ce nt ur y but w h i c h were long gone even by the time shipyards in Great Britain began chu rn in g out dozens of more mo d e r n canallers in the 1920s. And a l though most of the canallers were run by Canad i a n fleets, there were a few U . S . -flag can al ler o p erations in business during the early years. One such, the Great Lakes and St. Lawre n c e T r a n s p o r t a t i o n Company, of D u luth, Minnesota, was e s t a b l i s h e d in 1902 by A u g u s t u s B. Wolvin, together with a group of United States shipping m e n and financiers, the purpose of the co mpa ny b ei ng to transport U . S. export grain from Duluth to Quebec City, and to carry coal, loaded at Oswego, as well as package freight, on the return up bo u n d trip. The fou nder of the fleet, C a p t a i n A u g ustus Benjamin Wolvin, was a native of Cleveland, who sailed the lakes from the age of ten in 1867 until he left the wa ter in 1883. By 1888, he was in Duluth, w o r k i n g in the shipping i n d u s try from ashore, and by 1895 he was m a n a g i n g vessels on his own account. He served as ge neral ma nager of the huge Pitts b u r g h St e a m s h i p C o m p a n y fleet (the lake s h i pping affiliate of the Uni t e d States Steel Corporation) from its f o rm at io n in 1901 until 1904. Augustus Wolvin was highly respected as an ope ra to r of ste amships and, together with Roy M i t chell Wolvin, mana g e d s e veral fleets for other owners. One of his most famous ships was his namesake steamer, A U G U S T U S B. WOLVIN, which was the largest ship on the lakes when she was c o mp le ted at Lorain in 1904 for the Acme S t e amship Company, of D u luth, w hi ch was m a n a g e d by the Wolvins. Soon after its formation, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence T r a n s p o r t a t i o n Co mp a n y or de re d ten almost identical ca n a l - s i z e d steamers from the American Ship Bui ld in g Company. Two of the steamers (named J. S. KEEFE and ROBERT WALLACE) were built at Buffalo, New York, while three (JOHN LAMBERT, GEO. C. HOWE and JO H N CRERAR) were c onstructed at South Chicago, Illinois. Three more (S. N. PARENT, AL BERT M. M A R S H A L L and A. D. DAVIDSON) were built at

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