Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Last Ember Of The Esplanade Fire: Schooner Days CCCCLVI (456)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 19 Oct 1940
Full Text
Last Ember Of The Esplanade Fire
Schooner Days CCCCLVI (456)

by C. H. J. Snider


WHAT started us en the Esplanade fire, which has been burning longer in Schooner Days now than the time it took the old Toronto Fire Brigade, seventy-five strong in 1885, to put it out, was the demand from several readers for something about the schooner Annie Mulvey.

It so fell out that the Annie Mulvey was in the very jaws of the fire dragon. She was moored immediately opposite the place where , the fire started—the seven-story sugar refinery at the foot of Princess street on the Esplanade, which blazed like a torch and was completely destroyed. All that saved the Annie Mulvey from complete destruction, too, was that she was in the water, and loaded so deep that when the fire had done its worst to her there was still a lot of her unburnable because below the surface. Toronto Bay had not become so oil soaked in 1885 that it would burn from the top down, like Chicago Creek.

The Annie Mulvey had come in on a Saturday — August 1st — with 400 tons of coal for Rogers' yard, then to the west of the foot of Princess street and opposite the refinery. She was being unloaded by the leisurely horse-and-bucket method which then prevailed. A large pulley, owned by the yard, was hung between the vessel's masts, and through it was rove a stout rope, with a hook on one end. On this a wooden bucket like a half-barrel with a semi-circular handle atop, was hung. The other end of the rope was led to the ground and through a snatch-block. To it the whiffletree and other harness gear of a patient horse was attached. The horse backed up until the bucket rested on the schooner's deck, or in her hold, as the cargo diminished. Longshore-men^stripped to the waist, shovelled It full of the dusky diamonds and caught their breath while the driver on the wharf urged the horse forward, and the bucket rose towards the pulley aloft. Hence it was either hauled by a second rope, or swung by the schooner's' gaff if this could be used, till it was over the proper place in the pile, and tripped. It was a slow, awkward, wasteful method of unloading, hard on men and horses. Steam hoists soon improved on it.

The gang had done well to get 90 tons out of the Mulvey when they knocked off Saturday night. She had still over three hundred tons in her, but Elias Rogers, pious Quaker that he was, would not dream of continuing the unloading on the Sabbath day. Nor, for that matter, would any other coal merchant in Toronto. The good commandment: "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work" was in force in 1885, along with its preliminary to remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, and it was obeyed more as a matter of religion than of law. Some captains —they were very few — even hove their vessels to at midnight Saturday night and remained nid-nodding where they were on the lake for the next twenty-four hours. And there is the locker-room classic of the city club which censured its members for being out sailing on Sunday when they rescued ten men in a boat which had capsized off Port Credit. The censured ones did not take it lying down. They founded a new yacht club. The year was 1880.

With a Sunday intervening and three days more unloading in prospect, Capt. Uglow had, apparently, paid off his crew, except the mate and cook, who would be enough to shift the vessel as required while moored. All were asleep in the cabin that Sunday night, when, after midnight, the blaze burst forth across the slip.

Waterfront reporting had not been developed to the high level since attained by C. I. Radford in this paper, but here is what The Evening Telegram of Aug. 3rd, 1885, crammed into its front page, along with seven columns of condensed advertising the day after the fire:

"The schooner Annie Mulvey, tied up at Roger's dock, took fire, and instantly the canvas was gone, while the spars were being licked up rapidly. Cries were heard from the boat's cabin, and at once three men emerged from the flames. No time was lost, for they were being roasted. The dock was on fire, and they plunged into the water, swimming to a yacht, out in the bay.

"His berth was on fire before William McCallum, a Port Hope sailor, awoke. His burns are vfcry painful, but not thought to be fatal. Capt. Thomas Uglow and James McCallum, both of Port Hope, are badly scorched."

The Annie Mulvey, a white two-masted schooner with a raking stem which gave the impression of a half clipper bow, was built in St. Catharines in 1867, and she was possibly one of the 258 vessels to which Louis Shickluna, the Maltese shipbuilder, gave life and being in his shipyard.

Jules J. Ferry, Sudbury insurance agent, informs Schooner Days, through a mutual friend, Major Alex Lewis, that the Annie Mulvey was owned by his grandfather, the late John Mulvey, of Toronto, who owned other sailing vessels and had also a literary turn writing for an ancient Toronto publication known as Once-A-Week. Mr. Mulvey named his schooner after his daughter Annie, who became Mr. Ferry's mother. Mr. Ferry himself sailed on Lake Ontario with the late Fred Phelan, in his mackinaw—wasn't she named Papoose?—and he also rowed for years with the Argonaut Rowing Club.

By 1874 Sylvester Brothers had become the registered owners of the Annie Mulvey, she being one-of a small fleet they acquired. The topsail schooner Atlantic, the Jolly Farmer, the F. E. Tranchemontagne, the Wave Crest and the Gold Hunter were other two-masters they owned from time to time, and the three-masters D. M. Foster, James G. Worts and St. Louis. Their wharf was one of those burned on the Esplanade that night, but they had sold the Annie Mulvey some time previously. She was at this time owned by Ald. William B. Hall. He represented St. Andrew's Ward in 1885 and 1886, and was a lake captain as well as a pilot of the civic ship of state. In addition to the Mulvey he was owner of the steam barge W. B. Hall, called after himself, and the large 3-masted schooners John Bentley and Marquis, which the W. B. Hall towed. Capt. Hall became deputy harbormaster in 1896 and held that post for eleven years, occupying a house on the old Queen's wharf, near the red lighthouse now preserved on the Lake Shore drive. A large willow tree still standing is the last of a row east of his cottage.

The Annie Mulvey had come in with 400 tons of coal, as said, and was still fairly deep in the water that night of the fire. Her decks seemed to burst into flame all at once from the intense heat of the burning glucose on the other side of the slip and the three members of her crew, who were asleep in the cabin, were like Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego in the burning fiery furnace. It was by miracle that any bf' them escaped alive. She was "burned to the water's edge," the newspapers said, and her remaining cargo was destroyed or damaged. But there was enough of the vessel left to float, and to float high, when the coal and cinders and ashes were scooped out of her. Harry Hodson, enterprising English boatbuilder, bought the hulk and towed it to the foot of Brock street, as Spadina avenue was called, below Front. Here she survived many years, with her scorched sides sheeted over and whitewashed. A square story added over her burned decks was a storehouse for dozens of rowboats, as well as a workshop where still more boats were built. The boat livery business was good up to and past the end of the century.

The white Annie Mulvey, with a flagpole replacing her foremast, and the long red-painted boathouse built above her burned bulwarks, seemed a fixture at the foot of Brock street. She used to lie headed north and south, by the wharf the ferries used, but one fine day, ten years or more after her burning, Harry found a use for her elsewhere, as his lease on that particular part of the waterfront had run out. She had bedded in with the sewer silt, but to his surprise she floated clear when he pumped the hull out, and ; she stayed afloat. Even her centre-board box, which had been charred in the fire, remained tight. He hauled her around to the south face of his remaining holdings, and formed an addition to his main shop; and there she is yet, but hundreds of yards inland now and far underground, for she has been covered in and over with sand from the pumps in the great waterfront fill of 1920, and a wharf is now on top of her, and the smaller schooner Echo, which was laid up near her thirty years or more after she was burned.

Books For Sailors

IN YANKEE WINDJAMMERS, by Charles Nordhoff. (Dodd Mead & Co.).

Very good reading, as might be expected from the co-author of the Bounty trilogy, is this account of life under sail in two branches of the American marine a century ago, the navy and whaling. The real author is the grandfather of the present Charles Nordhoff, and this book is a boil-down of three the grandfather left. Apparently the middle one was about life in the merchant clipper ships, which must have been interesting too, but this book deals with a voyage in sailing man-of-war Columbus, a wooden seventy-four, which went to Japan in 1845, and with life in whalers, from New Bedford and elsewhere, and some account of voyages in French, Scotch, English and American merchantman. The publisher says the love of the first Charles Nordhoff's life was whaling, but the old gentleman seems to have had a poorer opinion of it than of the navy, of which he was also somewhat critical. He was no grouser, but he was horrified at the flogging, which persisted in his day, and he recorded shrewdly that boys and men learned little in the navy, being kept in the station in which they shipped. Let us hope the American navy has improved and will improve.

Nordhoff's greatest respect was for the merchant service, in which he spent years, not recorded in the present volume. He considered a merchant seaman of a century ago superior to a man-of-warsman in experience and resourcefulness, and says they were so much better than whalemen that whalers would not willingly ship them. They were too enterprising and restless for the monotony of a three to five-year blubber factory afloat.

The book is lively and clean. It is refreshing to find a real sailor writing the names of sails and gear as they are properly spelled, instead of showing off as a hard-bitten shellback by always spelling sails without "ai", masts without "a" and so forth. It is true topgallantsails and forecastles were pronounced "t'gans'ls" and "fo'c's'les" and it is very well to reproduce the pronunciation in quoting a speaker, but is tedious to wade through bloody seas of scattered apostrophes, when reading a book, whether the subject be naughty or nautical.

"THE PORT OF GLOUCESTER," by James B. Connolly. (Doubleday Doran.)

The American Revolution, the War 1812, and the international schooner races are all fought over this book with a degree of pleasantness towards Britons which hould recommend the work highly yo Messrs. Hitler, Mussolini, Petain, Quisling & Co. With the picture presented of the schooner races the reviewer, who saw them, cannot agree. And, although not present at the War of 1812 or the American Revolution, he cannot agree with a "historian" who writes of the first-named conflict:

"The war was on, the daring and brilliant Decatur was gone, shot dead in a duel with the commander of the Chesapeake. . . . Decatur was gone, but other fighting captains were left."

Authentic histories tell that Decatur was very much alive all through the War of 1812, for he was captured by the British, with his ship the President, at the very end of the conflict. Released from Bermuda, whither the President was carried, he led an American squadron to the Mediterranean during the succeeding peace, and captured the flagship of the Barbary admiral, Rais Hammida, off Cape De Gata, in Spain. He returned to the United States and was not killed in the famous duel with Commodore Barron until March 22nd, 1820, five years after the War of 1812 was over.

We all make slips, but when an Irishman starts to teach Americans their own history in this fashion they should apply the acid test of fact to what he says against their good friends for a hundred and twenty-five years, the British and their Canadian neighbors who are also British and proud of it.

BRITISH SHIPS AND BRITISH SEAMEN, by Michael Lewis. (Longmans, Green & Co.)

How good to get the cobwebs blown clear on turning to this little book in the British Life and Thought Series! Describing the British navy as the policeman of the seas the writer says:

"No seafarer is afraid of the British warship, so long as his conscience tells him he is bound on his lawful occasions." (We submit that torpedoing ships laden with refugee children are not lawful occasions, in the sight of God or man.) "On the contrary he feels nothing but security when it is by, and recognizes it for the good-tempered giant that it is—and intelligent giant, too, who will distinguish the law abiding from the law breaker with uncanny skill, and support the former to the utmost, however weak he be, and however strong the aggressor."

British ships and British Seamen is a good treatise on the navy, illustrated with some good pictures. One cannot resist the quotation from Garibaldi, who was as good a sailor as a patriot: "And so the noble flag of England once more helped to prevent bloodshed, and the Benjamin of these lords of the ocean, for the hundredth time received their protection."—S.


With lumber reefs in her booms topped to clear her deckload, the ANNIE MULVEY looked like this, although the photograph is one of an upper laker.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
19 Oct 1940
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.6391786347848 Longitude: -79.3664205078125
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
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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Last Ember Of The Esplanade Fire: Schooner Days CCCCLVI (456)