Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Christmas Pig Tale: Schooner Days CCCCLXXVII (477)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 4 Jan 1941
Full Text
Christmas Pig Tale
Schooner Days CCCCLXXVII (477)

by C. H. J. Snider


THE LITTLE girl who gave the Mary E. Ferguson her name must be quite grown up now, if she is still alive, for the Mary E. Ferguson was launched in 1868, when the Dominion of Canada was one year old. She was built by Boss Harris at Cavan's Line, on the lake shore, at Ducks Bay, one mile east of Port Credit, and was launched fully rigged. Mr. Cavan had her built for his two boys, Hughey and Tom, and christened her in honor of the daughter of his neighbor, Wm. E. Ferguson, Port Credit vessel owner and store-keeper. Perhaps there was a romance there, or intended. We don't know.

Abram Block, J.P., Grand Old Man of Port Credit at his death in his eighties, seven years ago, hoisted the Ferguson's first colors and hauled down her last.

As a lad he was taken to the launching festivities by Uncle Dan Sharpe, captain and harbormaster at the Credit. Uncle Dan told him to go on board while the vessel was still on the ways, and when he gave the word to pull with might and main on the after signal halliards, while he himself worked forward. At the clink of glass when the bottle was broken on the bow Abe pulled, and out from the main topmast head fluttered the burgee with "MARY E. FERGUSON" on it in big letters. The Union Jack fluttered up forward, with Uncle Dan on the halliards. Frank Jackman was in harbor with the tug Mixer, to tow a vessel down to complete loading elsewhere. He steamed out and anchored off Ducks Bay, and when the Ferguson hung by the heel where she left the ways he ran a line to her and pulled her off the shore and towed her into the Credit.

Forty-two years later Abram Block, who had bought the Ferguson after he reached manhood, hauled down her schooner's fly for the last time. He had sold her to Peter Arnot, to become a scow for concrete mixing. Eventually she was beached to form a dock or groyne on the lake shore close to where she was born.

In her forty-two years the Ferguson had many captains and many adventures. This is one of them, Abram Block, J.P., was not the other.

When Capt. Charles Tufford, retired master in steam (after qualifying in sail, too), shipped in the schooner Mary E. Ferguson as a boy he was the third member of that noble craft's crew. Blunt-ended as a box car, the Ferguson was one of the clippers of the Credit, thanks to tall topmasts and a big sail spread, a shoal hull and a fine run. You would never expect it, to look at her, but she could outsail the entire Port Credit fleet until the time the White Wings, ex-yacht became a stonehooker; and sometimes even then she could outrun the Wings. Charlie, however, did not join her for racing excitement, and this was just as well, for the excitement and the racing he got were of another kind.

A Bronte man was sailing the Ferguson at this time, having recently bought her. She was of just that size that she was more than enough for two men to work, so the captain, having already a mate, chose Charlie as the third argonaut for his voyage to Colchis and points east. There had been a good trade in cordwood then, for both steamers and railways used cordwood for fuel well up into the '70s. The Ferguson classed high enough to get a chance also at the lumber trade, then booming. So, after bringing a cargo of cordwood and some other material down to Toronto, she hauled into the old Northern and Northwestern dock near the still older Queen's wharf, and there loaded a cargo of lumber for Niagara. The lumber not only filled the hold but was piled six feet high or higher on deck. The Ferguson had deep bulwarks and she was broad-bosomed and buoyant, taking a big load. The lumber was piled around her cabin and extended forward past the fore rigging. A little well or cockpit was left aft around the tiller to permit of steering, and another larger well was left forward where the handspike windlass could be worked and the three headsails could be trimmed.

The schooner was ready to go out as soon as breakfast was over. While all were eating, a tremendous commotion was heard. There was as much splashing astern as though a carload of square timber had been dumped into the bay for rafting, only this timber must have been very vocal, for the air was full of squeals and squeaks and shouts and yells; and from every wharf boats were seen putting out.

"Danged if a carload of hogs hasn't jumped into the Bay!" proclaimed the captain. "Drop the boat, boys, and see if you can help round 'em up."

The Ferguson carried a little yawlboat on stern davits in those days —- something superfluous when she devoted herself later to the stone trade, which demanded a towing scow -— and the boat was quickly dropped. Pigs are poor swimmers, for their sharp hooves make them cut their throats when they try a water marathon. Some of the porkers had committed hari-kari before their would-be rescuers reached them, and others drowned, and others were picked up. The Ferguson's lifesaving crew had to content themselves with one particularly vigorous lad around the hundred-pound limit who thought he could beat them to Niagara. They overhauled him and the mate grabbed him by the hind leg. He turned on his rescuer, and the mate changed the hold to an ear and foreleg and hoisted him into the boat, almost capsizing it. The ungrateful beast made a charge at him and the mate almost capsized the boat again in dodging him. Mr. Pig could not stop, and shot back into the water.

"I'll get him!" shouted Charlie. "You just lay us alongside of him and I'll snare him in a running bowline."

Charlie must have been good at porcupine rodeos, for a pig has never seemed to us to have any neck to lasso, but he swung the boat's painter for a lariat and got the bight over Mr. Pig's ears and chin at the same time. This took the fight out of him and he seemed content to be towed along to where the Ferguson lay waiting for wind, and the return of her crew. Arrived alongside, another strop was passed around the pig amidships, and the fore throat halliards were unhooked from the gaff and transferred to him. A few heaves and a couple of ho's and he was high but not dry above the deckload. They lowered him tenderly into the little well forward of the lumber, and he closed one eye, emitted one grunt and lay down to get his breath.

The breeze began to make. Up went the foresail, and the Ferguson cast off. Up went the jibs for the wind was fair, and up went the mainsail, and the bluff bowed lumber wagon began to talk. Then a tug began to blow a whistle.

"Betcha they're after ye for that pig," opined the mate. "Nobody can say I did it."

"All right," said the skipper resignedly. "Let go them jibsheets and we'll come 'round."

The mate and the boy scrambled forward as the captain gathered in the mainsheet, but they scrambled back before he could catch a turn on the cleat.

"The pig won't let us," they said in chorus. "He's taken charge for'ad and we can't get down from the lumber to get the turns off the pins."

"Well," said the old man, "you're witnesses that I tried to bring him back. Guess we got to go on."

So on they went. The wind was light and it was a slow passage to Niagara.

"What that animal needs," said Capt. Osborne after supper, "is care and kindness. You upset him by handling him too rough. What kindness does an animal appreciate most? Food. Watch me. I'll have him eating out of my hand."

He gathered the scraps of the evening meal on a tin plate and carried them forward over the deckload. The lumber was piled so as to form steps down to the foredeck. The captain descended stiffly, cooing "Pig-pig-pig-pig-pig" in an insinuating diminuendo. This suddenly became a solo crescendo appassionato as he shot up like a rocket, clasping his hands behind him. His high C was accompanied by the clatter of the tin plate amid sundry oinks, unks and ooks, and a very healthy damn.

"Did he eat out of your hand?" asked the mate respectfully.

"Do I look as though I've been handfeeding a prize bacon hog?" demanded the sufferer.

"No," said the truthful mate. "You look as though you'd set down on a red-hot stove."

"He's taken the seat out of my pants," explained the captain. "Is a pig's bite poisonous?"

"No, painful but—-"

"Painful butt! You needn't tell me!" said his anguished superior. "Throw that blasted grunter overboard. I've heard of men going mad years after being bitten by a dog, if the dog wasn't killed. I'm not going to go around squealing and grunting like a pig, after saving that fellow's life."

"It was Charlie that saved him," the mate mentioned. "No one can say I did it."

"Well then, Charlie better get rid of him," the skipper hastily agreed, unbuttoning.

By this time the wind was coming stronger and pushing them in against the Niagara current, and in the bustle of changing nether garments, lowering sail, and making the little basin above the steamer landing, the captain thought of a stratagem.

"You slip up to the butcher shop, Charlie," said he, "and sell them that pig on the hoof. You can have what you can get for him. Mind, don't take less than a dollar, and he's dirt cheap at that."

So Charles, captain-to-be in the fullness of time, opened negotiations with the butcher, who also kept the general store. They proceeded so far that it was agreed that the pig should be delivered on the dock as well as on the hoof, and the dollar would be paid if the animal proved as good as represented.

Down to the Ferguson came the avenger of the captain's blood, in the person of the storekeeper. "Fine beast," said he. "Bring him ashore. They tried lassoing from the eminence of the deckload but he wasn't having any this time. They laid a gangway of planks and tried coaxing and prodding with poles. Piggy was unresponsive. So, greatly daring for his dollar, Charlie got down the steps recently so fatal to the seat of authority. The captain was wearing his oilskins now, with a wad of oakum for a poultice on the tender spot.

"Get the bight right over him, Charlie," he encouraged, bending from the safety of the fore gaff.

Hearing the voice of kindness once more the pig gave a responsive grunt and scrambled up the gangway as though it were cleated. Before anyone could even say "Pig-pig-pig-pig-pig" again he was a hundred! yards up the wharf and still going. Not very still. A trail of squeals and oinks followed like backfires from a faulty motor.

"Well young man" said the unsated slaughterer, "I'll tell ye what I'll do. I won't give no dollar for a pig I can't see, but you come up to the store and pick out what you'll take for my chance of having him when I catch him."

That sounded fair enough, but Charlie only got a cracked vase out of it. Still it was something to take home to mother for Christmas, and this was the last trip in the season. His captain applauded his artistic sense. The man warned all and sundry he had had nothing to do with it.

All the time the Ferguson was unloading old Niagara resounded with the view-halloo tally-ho, yoicks-yoicks or what have you, of pig hunters in relays. Occasionally but not often, a grunt or a squeal floated down on the breeze. More often it was a yell as the pig, cornered, charged his pursuers and sent them flying faster than the Italian navy.

"We're well rid of that pest," said the captain, standing up to herringbone entire new sitting-room quarters in his former uniform.

As he spoke a shot rang out.

"Got 'im!" hailed the storekeeper from the depth of the wood.

So the Mary E. Ferguson sailed for home with her master happy in the knowledge that he would never go mad and grunt and squeal like a pig, and the mate happy that no one could say he did it, and Charlie Tufford happy with a present for his mother.


THE MARY E. FERGUSON "coming up the crick" in Port Credit harbor thirty-nine years ago.

The WHITE WINGS as a stonehooker.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
4 Jan 1941
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.25012 Longitude: -79.06627
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.55011 Longitude: -79.58291
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.65011 Longitude: -79.3829
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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Christmas Pig Tale: Schooner Days CCCCLXXVII (477)