Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Fitting Out Time Fifty Years Ago: Schooner Days DXXII (532)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 4 Apr 1942
Full Text
Fitting Out Time Fifty Years Ago
Schooner Days DXXII (532)

by C. H. J. Snider


THE ESPLANADE was a river of black mud over the boot tops at this time fifty years ago, but a grand place for all that, in silver sunshine of April with the pussy willows peeping.

The brave winds that come round the 24th of May were needed to make the muck fordable on foot, but the coal carts could cross it, and kids could hook on behind or hunt for where workmen had raided a car of cedar ties and laid them down for a floating bridge.

The Esplanade, with its lofty name and lowly use, was a wide track-way, officially called Esplanade Street East and Esplanade Street West, that curved along the lost line of the beach of Toronto Bay. It had houses, hotels, factories, stables, and railway stations on one side of it, the north, with a wooden sidewalk, and on the other a web of railway tracks, with no sidewalk but a cinderpath and coal yards, lumber yards, stone yards, boathouses, warehouses, grain elevators, aquatic clubs, basins, slips and wharves. What we called the Docks.


Down along the Docks was Heaven at this time of the year—-or any, other time but winter-—though the angels were red-nosed bums black-snaking in the sunshine over a community quart from the bars on the north side of the street, or Maggie and Martin, grimy old children of God who lived by picking up coal and bits of wood and railroad iron, or sooty coalheavers, who worked in their bare skins even in April in the dusty holds.

And there were the sailors—-steamboat deckhands, looked down upon, although they had not sunk to the present-day enormity of wearing gloves,--and "real sailors," schooner men from South Bay and the S'n Lornce to the Highlands or Flamborough Head. They were very red of face and long of moustache, and whether home-born or foreigners from Hamilton, Kingston, or the south shore, yea, even Above, they regarded our city with reverence. It was a big place. More'n a hundred thousan' they would say wtih the judicious air of far travelled men.

"Above" was the Upper Lakes. "Below" from the Bay of Quinte east.


From Yonge street eastwards was the best of the waterfront. In the Yonge street slip the old Trade Wind of Whitby would have wintered with the new Rapid City of Toronto, an excellent waterfront jest. The Rapid City was called after some settlement on the prairies out west, then as little known as Malaya.

Out West was where we had had the North West Rebellion five years before, but Fort Garry, Fish Creek, Cut Knife and Batoche were the only landmarks. There was talk of Winnipeg and a place called Vancouver, but it was doubtful whether that was a town, an island, a strait, or just a name.

Around the corner of Yonge street the ugly Laura of Windsor would be fitting out, a "contrack-built" vessel which was held against her as a bad mark. She was one of the Mathews fleet, ever painted green above, with red lead below ever fading from submersion, and her name and line name in yellow letters on her quarter.

The sainted John Wesley, much littler but no less ugly, a survivor from Mackenzie rebellion times, had been a winter neighbor of the Laura's, but fitted out ahead of her.


Seventeen or eighteen schooners would winter in Toronto, and a dozen passenger steamers and propellers, with part of the ferry fleet. The "big boats," the "palace steamers" of the old Doty fleet and Toronto Ferry Co. (these were the Primrose and the Mayflower), were too precious to risk in the bay ice and usually wintered with others of the ferry fleet up at Oakville, where Commodore Bob Williams had his home. Ferries ran from Brock street, at the foot of Spadina avenue, from York street, less often, from Yonge street, also seldom. From Church street frequently, and from Parliament street and the Don. They had funnels which would lower, to let them under the bridges.


Church street slip, now buried under a railway viaduct, was the hub of the waterfront. Hence six ferries—-the Arlington, John Hanlan, Luella (even then ancient), Jessie L. McEdwards, Gertrude, Truant, ran regularly for Ward's Island, Island Park and the Wiman Baths. Brock street had the Mascotte, with her ploughshare bow, the Sadie and Canadian, with guest artists from Church street as required.

How the ferries made their landings in the Church street slip, which was not wider than Church street itself, 66 feet, was a springtime miracle, for then the slip would be already occupied by the Shickluna, a green mountain of a propeller—-the James G. Worts, three-masted schooner with the deepest hold in Toronto—-the big St. Louis, with three square sails and two batwings on her foremast—-and the excursion steamer Eurydice, whose name, of course, was Your A Dice, even to Sunday School scholars who did not know the singular number of those spotted cubes used in games of chance.


All these belonged to the Sylvester brothers, retired lake captains who had the wharf and warehouse on the east side of the slip, and did a big business in importing block stone and unloading it with their horsepower derrick. This was also used for lifting out masts or hoisting in boilers. Their warehouse handled grain and baled hay and pressed straw, and their vessels traded everywhere from the head of the lakes to Halifax. Often Toronto would never see them again, after the elaborate spring fitout, until December's ice would freeze them in the bay, and they would be unloading their western wheat into sleighs for the Gooderham elevator at the east end of the bay.

Down there, at this time of year, in Medlar and Arnot's shipyard at the foot of Berkeley street, the lovely Gooderham yachts would be fitting out—-Mr. Willy's great Aileen, built right there on the lines of the fast English cutters; Mr. George's, or old Mr. Gooderham's, early Orioles—-he had two — the second the sweetheart of the Great Lakes, the conqueror of the great Idler of Chicago in the championship match in the Straits of Mackinaw. There were many lovely yachts then, steam and sail, the latter mostly cutters, and perhaps a hundred little sloops and pleasure boats in addition. The Gooderham yachts were always black above and red below, with gilt striping. Ah, those were good days.


FIFTY years ago last Sunday the stonehooker White Oak pushed her square nose through the muddy waters of the Western Gap and Opened navigation for 1892 in Toronto Harbor.

The traditional ceremony of awarding the harbormaster's hat was performed with dexterity and promptitude. Dally Peer, of Port Credit, master and owner of the good ship White Oak, walked into old Capt. Hall's office with fifteen cents in one pocket for harbor dues on three toise of stone for the new cribs for the Eastern Gap. He walked out with three dollar bills in his other pocket in lieu of the "best hat money could buy," a better hat than any stonehooker man could wear.

There were exaggerated reports of a silk "plug" costing as much as $7 "in the States," but that was set down as either travellers' tales or an example of the wickedness of Chicago or the luxury of the Prince of Wales.

The gay nineties were no gayer than that in Toronto for us who were there.


They were mainly hot in summer, cold in winter, hungry all the time, and happier than now.

The summers were hot because God made them so and man had not yet made electric fans and frigidaires.

The winters were cold because we knew nothing about oil fuel, apartments or insulation, and heated our draughty-halled, high-ceilinged houses with reluctant self-feeders and base burners and cast-iron stoves that burned hardwood "cut and split, $4 a cord with great voracity.

Outside we defended ourselves with fur caps, woolen mitts and overshoes. We were just getting over putting the street cars on sleighs for the winter and heating them with a stingy allowance of peastraw on the floor.

We were hungry because we hadn't heard of vitamins, proteins and calories, and couldn't buy them if we had, even at the rankly extravagant "corporation" wage rate of 15 cents an hour-—which was a sin and a shame, we were told, when plenty of good men were hunting jobs at $1 a day, and the work day only began at six in the morning and ended at six at night.

No, the nineties were not so gay in the beginning, when there was talk of war with Portugal and the McKinley bill killed our barley trade, and the great Sir John A. died and left us looking for prosperity from his N.P.

The unemployed—-there were no reliefees yet hatched—-carried the black flag along Front street in midwinter and were mollified with a handout of loaves of bread from the old News office on Yonge street and promises at the City Hall of work at laying cedar-block pavements next summer.

The House of Industry, House of Providence, Salvation Army, and a swarm of missions were Relief. And the Jail. Governor Greene and the Don flats put many a down-and-outer on his feet and kept him there.

Toronto, with 150,000 inhabitants, was in the debris of a busted real-estate boom at the beginning of the decade, and groaned under a tax rate of sixteen mills on the dollar in the middle of it. Beer cost five cents a glass, dispensed at a couple of hundred bars and speakeasies.


We saved and saved. The Spanish caravels came to visit us and some of us followed them to the World's Fair at Chicago in 1893, though it cost a king's ransom, $33 return railway fare, and a dollar to get in. And we saved and saved and bought bicycles when they came out, the newfangled safeties, with both wheels the same size, and hard rubber tires that got thicker and softer and hollow as the nineties got gayer in the second half.

The war with Portugal didn't come off, neither did the attempt to coerce Manitoba, the country got the Grits instead of the Tories, the Growing Time hove its head above the horizon, also the Full Dinner Pail, and Simcoe and Jarvis streets, the first asphalted, shone with twinkling handlebars night and morn and noontide.

Bicycle suits, costing $2.50 to $25 and looking better than 1942 war tailoring is likely to look, staved off the High Cost of Living—-temporarily—-for males. Everybody wore them to business, whether he came on a wheel or a street car or the first newfangled horseless carriage.

Bloomers and divided skirts never made near the same hit, for males or females, but "fibre chamois" to help sleeves puff and skirts flare was a feminine compensation, coupled with shirtwaists and high starched collars, changed every day by the best-dressed ladies.

Muscle men or day laborers continued to wear grey flannel shirts with no collar at all, but the white collar class was rising.

Men making "good money"—-up to $1,000 a year—-reluctantly passed from paper collars, 15 cents a box of 12, to celluloids and white rubber —-15 cents apiece, but washable and outlasting linen ones which cost only 5 cents, but had to be laundered.

Deficits on the Toronto Exhibition dwindled until surpluses became possible and the country had enough money to make a respectable splash at good Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and Oom Paul Kruger's funeral, being the South African War, after we had had a rather boring preview of a phony war between the United States and Spain.


BUT what the—

This started out to be a companion piece to Percy Elkington's Shipping London in the Gay Nineties, and look at what's happened!

Have you patience to hear what I was going to say? Next week?



Sir,—I have been a reader of your very interesting articles for some years, and am still more so now that you have gone deep water sailing.

The picture of the "Port Jackson" is a very good one, as I sailed in her years ago, and have before me my discharge. I signed on in London, Wells street, and the discharge is dated 18.6.98, place of discharge, Sydney, N.S.W., 19.9.98. We made the passage from the South East India Dock to Circular Quay, Sydney, in 82 days, with a general cargo and some 20 passengers (all first class). The crew consisted of captain, two mates, school master, carpenter, boatswain, sailmaker, 26 A.B.S., two boys, six apprentices, six midshipmen, and a doctor. In addition, there were two cooks, two stewards, two mess boys and a purser. The passengers were supposed to be invalids on a round-the-world cruise, seeking pure fresh air, and they got it. We had a very fine trip, and on arrival in Sydney, they were the picture of health.

The Port Jackson was built in Aberdeen, owned by Duthie Bros., of Aberdeen, but operated by the Aberdeen White Star Line, and was 2,132 registered tons.

I also knew the "Cutty Sark" very well, as I sailed in her under the command of Capt. Woodget, and the best trip from the start to Sydney was 77 days. Here are a few measurements that may interest you—

Bowsprit and jibboom 60 feet.

Foremast (deck to truck), 129 feet.

Foreyard, 78 feet.

Spanker, 52 feet.

From outer end of flying jibboom to end of spanker boom, 280 feet.

When I signed on the Port Jackson, it was for the trip to Sydney only. I then went to the Solomon Islands trading for copra, pearl-shell, and catching beche-de-mer. There were three of us, and our headquarters were at Rubiana, New Georgia Island. We traded around New Guinea to the Phoenix Islands, through New Britain, Solomons, Santa Cruz, New Hebrides, Gilberts and Fijis. When I was in the Solomons, there were only 12 white men in the whole group.

I am mentioning these places, as they are so much in the news now; I thought it might interest you.


258 Wellesley west.

Dear Mr. Snider—As an interested reader of your "Schooner Days," I was especially pleased with your review of Mr. Elkington's talk.

I have hanging in my dining room what I take to be four water colors by A. P. Palethorpe, 1878, and about 8" x 12", of the "City of Berlin," "City of Richmond," "Spain," and "Britannic." They are ships of steam and sail on open sea scenery as your reproduced "City of Rome." I have also my father's diary of his trip to Australia from England in 1865, which gives the daily log. This was a passenger sailing ship—the "Norfolk."

The "light to light" and non-stop trip took 69 days, and he is very descriptive of the messing and social life aboard.

As they near Williamstown, Australia, he speaks of passing the Confederate cruiser, "Shenandoah," and of the "Great Britain," and "Southern Ocean," and the arrival of the S.S. "Royal Standard," which sailed two weeks before the "Norfolk."


6 Sparkhall avenue.


"The picture of a steamer with sails in last Saturday's very interesting article," says D. S. R., "reminds me that in February, 1895, I crossed from Liverpool to New York on a vessel equipped with sails as well as steam power. She was that "ocean greyhound," the Teutonic of the White Star Line which,, in 1890 made a world's record for the westward crossing of 5 days 19 hours and some minutes—-Land's End to Sandy Hook.

Well do I recall the little fore and aft sails she carried on her short masts, an innovation replacing the square sails and full rig which had been an auxiliary to steam, and could take its place if the engines broke down. Later they became merely a steadying influence in rough weather, and soon after 1895 disappeared altogether from liners.

Compared with the gigantic ships of later years the Teutonic was a midget. She made her last runs many years later in a humble capacity out of Montreal. But 47 years ago she was considered a marvel of speed and luxury and size. What chiefly impressed this Toronto lad who had never been to sea was the sumptuousness of her bill of fare. The tables groaned with good things—-which, alas, seasickness prevented me from enjoying. A kindly steward brought food to my berth and later to my deck chair, where he tempted appetite with oysters on the half shell and roast pheasant.

But not till we stopped in calmer waters to meet the tender from Queenstown, Ireland, could I enjoy the delicacies of the cuisine. My last breakfast, aboard was a memorable gorge of which fresh caught sole, just brought aboard, is an abiding memory. Wireless, of course, had scarcely been dreamed of. It was the time when ships disappeared without a trace. Vessels communicated by flags or lights. I recall a blue flare gleaming from a ship that passed in the night. A veteran traveller remarked that was the greeting signal of the North German Lloyd Line.

D. S. R.


This was Owen Sound's waterfront at fitting out time, but it gives a fair impression of Toronto's up to the gay nineties.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
4 Apr 1942
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.585 Longitude: -80.938888
  • 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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Fitting Out Time Fifty Years Ago: Schooner Days DXXII (532)