Maritime History of the Great Lakes
"Sullivan's Pride" - Why: Schooner Days CCCCXCVIII (498)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 30 May 1941
Full Text
"Sullivan's Pride" - Why
Schooner Days CCCCXCVIII (498)

by C. H. J. Snider


THEY call it Fleet street, here in Toronto, and later on Lake Shore boulevard, and a stranded lighthouse, with a nice inscription plate, marks it. But, if I had my way, I'd name it—or that part of it from, say the old lighthouse in as far as the Shell Oil place—"Sullivan's Ride." I'll tell you why.

It would commemorate a grand old master mariner, graduate of the Welland Canal from horseboy to fleet manager, one whose Irish grit did much to make Toronto port what it is, and Fleet street where it is.

That old lighthouse was a sort of red back-light into the old Western Gap, which wound into the harbor where Fleet street's traffic now flows.

The Gap was cribbed on both sides, the north cribbing forming the Queen's Wharf of last century. Originally this wharf merely jutted into the harbor where a natural channel gave entrance. The red light was several hundred yards east of the present stand of the lighthouse. Where it is now was open water.

LEAKING from the tossing she had received coming over from Erie, Pa., with the barge P.B. Locke in tow, the steam barge Resolute anchored in the lee of the western sandbar, off the old Queen's Wharf, Toronto, on Nov. 21st, 1906, to wait for water to get into the safety of the harbor. She drew 11 feet 6, and her consort 11 feet. The Western Gap had been dredged to rock bottom at 11 ft. The Resolute had tried to enter by the Eastern Gap, but the sea there ran too high.

Six hours later, after getting her pumps to suck, Capt. Jack Sullivan, manager of the Haney and Miller fleet of barges, lowered a boat from the Resolute and pulled in to the Western Gap and took soundings himself, but a bare 11 feet was the best he could get. The wind was lulling for a shift, and the water was smooth at the anchorage, so they made another try for the Eastern Gap, leaving the Locke at anchor. Capt. Sullivan had been master of the Resolute earlier, but had been succeeded by Capt. Fahey as master. He had made the trip to Erie with his successor.

Outside the Island the sea was running so high it swept over the Resolute's pilothouse when she nosed into it. She ploughed and plunged and got well to windward of the Eastern Gap before attempting the hazardous turn to come in.

But again she was swept to leeward, and in the tossing she almost rolled her funnel out. Leaking worse than ever she steamed back to the Western Sandbar, anchoring again well out, to the north of the Schooner St. Louis and the P. B. Locke, abreast of the "New Fort" or Garrison," as Stanley Barracks were still called, and directly in line with the mocking western entrance to safety. The St. Louis was like the others, waiting for water.

Again the pumps got her free, but at sunset of this Wednesday evening, Nov. 21st, a new wind began to come in from the southwest. This put all three vessels on a lee shore. Everyone who has gone to the Exhibition knows what an ugly corner of water Humber Bay becomes in a southwester.

Had the Western Gap been deep enough to let them in they would have weighed with the change of wind and been in permanent shelter in a few minutes. As it was they resolved to ride it out, hoping that the clockwise shift of the wind would continue until it got northwesterly and gave them shelter again, blowing from the land.

Instead it blew a gagger from the lake, shifting with the clock. SW, SW by W, WSW, W by S, Capt. Sullivan, bending over the coal-oil lighted binnacle in the Resolute's wheel-house, watched the lubber-line crawl past the letters on the card. Then back it would creep as the Resolute ranged on her anchors in gust after gust—-west-by-south, west-south-west, southwest by west, southwest—-and again it would swing westerly like the clock hands. Would it never get to northwest? Would the wind never come off the land and make a lee? The anchors were not dragging, the cables were holding, the Resolute was plunging bows under. If it would only get north of west the sea would flatten under the wind's scourging—ah, here she heads west at last. One point north of that W.-----

"We can't keep her clear with the pumps!" yelled Capt. Fahey, bursting into the wheelhouse like a midnight gust. "She's settled by the stern and the coal's shifting aft on top of the water. In five minutes the fire's going to be out."

"Well," said Capt. Sullivan, "you better slip your cables and run her into the Gap as far as she'll go."

Descending to the plunging fore deck he met some of his old Wellland Canal shipmates rushing up the ladders to get their lifebelts.

Have ye unshackled the bitter-ends of your cables?" he demanded.

"Can't get at 'em."

"Cut a link on the windlass with a cold-chisel or upend one and bust it with an axehead!"

"The sea's chased us out of the forecastle!" shouted Capt. Fahey. "The windlass is under water and you can't get at the cable unless in a diving suit. And the water's up to the fire bed. I'm getting both boats ready. 'Bandon ship."

"Call the cook!" Capt. Sullivan reminded him. Veteran of forty years' warfare with the Great Lakes, he knew who was the likeliest to be drowned in a wreck.

The cook on a freighter has to be able to sleep through gales and tempests and the racket and roar of loading and unloading. The Resolute's cook was still asleep. Bareheaded and bare-footed, Mrs. Lizzie Callaghan of St. Catharines, was dragged from her berth with no time to get more over her nightgown than her cloth skirt, Capt. Fahey tore off his own coat and wrapped it around her.

The Resolute's boats were carried on her engine room house at the stern. The port boat was got down, and John Harrison, chief engineer; David White, deckhand; Harry Gregory and John Barnes, firemen, and Nels Nelson, wheelsman, got into it. Mike Haney, of Buffalo, first mate of the Resolute, was paying out the painter from on board, easing this boat astern, when the iron davit above him was carried away and struck him in the head, knocking him overboard. He came up beside the second boat, the starboard one, which had already been dropped, and was dragged into it. The first boat, swept shoreward before the men in her could get their oars working, capsized. All five in it were swept away, their cries coming fainter and fainter against the gale. All drowned. Some, floated by their lifebelts, washed up on the island beach many days afterwards.

The starboard boat had an easier time, for the Resolute's stern was now level with the water, and she was listing to starboard as she sank. Into the boat were tumbled the cook, Andy Hicks, wheelsman, Ernest McBeth, deckhand, Capt. Fahey, and the half-stunned mate.

"Oh, captain, aren't you coming?" called Mrs. Callaghan, for overhead she saw Capt. Sullivan's grizzled moustache, as he thrust his head out beyond the edge of the cabin top. Clinging there he was clearing the davit tackle, when the Resolute dipped stern under and went down, down, till all that showed of her was her gaff and topmast and her loosened foresail, thundering in the moonlight like a gigantic bat. Like all the old rabbits, she had a tall mast forward, with a standing-gaff and brailing sail.

Thanks to Capt. Sullivan's final effort the second lifeboat floated clear of the wreck. It was swept inshore and landed at the old National Yacht and Skiff Club's western quarters, which then fronted on the bay above mentioned, north of the Queen's Wharf and red lighthouse. The club had another landing at the east end of the Queen's Wharf as well. The shipwrecked reached the deputy harbormaster's house, which stood near the lighthouse. Mrs. Callaghan, more dead than alive, was taken in, and the men shut out. They were passed a drink through the window, and told to go and find a hotel. They were taken in and treated well at the Mayflower, up Bathurst street, kept by a chap named Andy.

Capt. Sullivan was the last man to leave the Resolute, for she went down with him on the cabin top. Torn loose by the waves, the top floated up as the ship went to the bottom in seven fathoms of water. Capt. Sullivan was still clinging to it. As it came up it picked up another man, Thomas Topping, of Deseronto, the second engineer. He had either missed the first engineer's boat, or had been capsized from it. He was much exhausted when Sullivan saw him. "Hang on; we'll come through all right!" the older man encouraged him, while the raftlike top whirled towards the shore.

It was weakened by a large round hole in the centre, through which the funnel had risen, and it began to go to pieces. As they neared the south pierhead of the western gap it broke in two, with one man on each half.

"Good-bye," gasped Topping, "I'm done."

"No, hang on, hang on," urged Sullivan, "we're almost in safety now. I'll keep hollering for us both!"

A very strange thing happened. The backwash from the pierhead tossed the pieces on different courses. The one to which Topping had clung went in on the Island shore without him. Sullivan's piece, diminished to just enough wood to float him, bumped into the pier end and bounced off into the Western Gap. Spinning around and around in the wind and the current, it made a course right down the channel without touching either pier again, and entered the harbor. The captain, kneeling on it, his fingers I locked under the heavy canvas with which it was covered, kept calling "Help! Help! Help!"

It was after midnight, and nothing showed except the mocking lights of the deserted streets. Suddenly he felt a bump, and the little raft touched the cribwork of the old Northern elevator opposite the foot of Portland street. At the same time a voice called "Who's that? Where are you?" and a watchman from one of the Niagara steamers came swinging his lantern. He helped the dripping Neptune up on to the wharf, and made him drink the hot coffee he had prepared to keep himself awake.

The tough old lake-dog shook himself and made his way back to the Queen's Wharf, got the Haney, and Miller offices on the telephone, looked after the survivors of the crew. Tugs in the company's employ raised steam in the harbor but they could not get outside the Gap. It was blowing sixty miles an hour, and the great grey seas were pouring into the Gap as into a funnel. It was well on into the morning before the tug Maggie Mitchell, of St. Catharines, with Capt. Wm. Ward end the government lifeboat in tow, worked out to the wreck. The seas were then so big that the lifeboat crew could not see the tug ahead of them when they were in the hollows.

They got up to where the Resolute's mast and flapping sail reared stark above the wavetops, and made sure no one was clinging to the rigging or floating on the trunks, tables, deck fittings and lifebelts that littered the lake as the after house broke up. Nearer the Island shore than the Resolute, the barge Locke, still afloat, was flying a white tablecloth at the head of her after mast, as a distress signal, and the St. Louis, much nearer in shore, had a large red ensign streaming from her mizzen truck. Both vessels were hanging on to their anchors like grim death, but the wind still stuck at west, refusing yet to swing off the land and offer any lee.

When the tug ranged up alongside the wallowing P. B. Locke, her master reported eleven inches of Water in her, so the lifesavers took him and his crew aboard, with great difficulty. Running back to the harbor the lifeboat transferred her load to the tug Roy Mac, and again the Maggie Mitchell towed her out, this time on a very wild trip through the trough of the sea, to the laboring St. Louis. This vessel was riding well and not dragging, but the sight of the sunken Resolute and the abandoned Locke was too much for her master, and he got into the lifeboat, with his mate and cook and crew of four. The noon factory whistles joined the great roar of cheering from the crowds on the Queen's Wharf as Capt. Ward brought in his second load of rescuees.

Then the wind changed and came off the land, and with the first smoothing the crew of the Locke got out and aboard again, by means of one of the Haney and Miller tugs; and the St. Louis men soon followed. Soon afterwards, scraping the bottom, both vessels were towed in.

For years sailors had been inveighing against the limitations of the Western Gap, the only entrance for vessels in a heavy gale, and an impossible one for vessels drawing more than 11 feet. Complaints from "Tory Toronto" had fallen on deaf ears at Ottawa; but the fate of the Resolute got a hearing—-and action. Commander Spain, R.N., held a marine court of inquiry at Toronto, which brought out all the facts. The picture of the polished, service-medalled navy man, contrasted with the lean, grey, weather-beaten old veteran of the Welland canal, Captain Jack Sullivan, and their quick, sympathetic understanding of one another, is one which will dwell long in memory.

Both men showed well in the inquiry, Commander Spain by his intelligent questions, John Sullivan by the clearness and modesty of his answers. Up to this time "Cap" Sullivan, as a Grit politician, had been supposed by all good Tories to wear horns and hoofs; but from that day onward to this observer had a halo above his thinning grey hair. Whatever his politics he was a good sailorman and a modest hero. Undoubtedly his evidence clinched the case for a better harbor entrance. Eighteen months later the steam shovels were biting their way through the western sandbar, a thousand feet south of the old Western Gap, where borings showed you could deepen to forty feet before hitting the hardpan. In 1911 the present entrance was completed and open to navigation. In 1912 the Toronto Harbor Commission was formed and the present modern harbor initiated, though it took years to complete. In 1917 the old entrance was filled in, to become part, of Toronto's great waterfront highway. John Sullivan had not ridden through on a raft in vain, The old Resolute was raised eleven months after she sank, and was rebuilt and rechristened the John Rolph. She continued in commission for years, and often came through the new entrance and into the new port which her wreck had brought into being.



Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
30 May 1941
Personal Name(s)
Sullivan, John
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.6302333109824 Longitude: -79.4474446777344
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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"Sullivan's Pride" - Why: Schooner Days CCCCXCVIII (498)