Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Spring again at Port Union: Schooner Days DXXXVII (537)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 9 May 1942
Full Text
Spring again at Port Union
Schooner Days DXXXVII (537)

by C. H. J. Snider


SPRING, in person, was at the fountain when Schooner Days came back to Port Union through the mist of the opening apple blossoms. Like Rebecca at the well when Abraham's old servant, Eliezer of Damascus, came looking for a bride for young Isaac, Miss Spring-in-Person had brought her mother's waterpail to fill at THE Port Union pump, convoyed by her camera-shy young brother.

Miss Spring was as hospitable to the stranger as Rebecca herself, though he had no camels to water. It turned out that we both worked for the same boss, The Evening Telegram, for Miss Spring's other name is Mabel Wright, and she is a Telegram carrier, and delivers thirteen papers. Which a rapid calculation shows is 200 per cent, coverage for Port Union, for only 6 1/2 homes were visible among the budding trees.

Ah, but there is the transient traffic. Freight trains by the hundred thunder down the "ringing grooves of change" along the lake shore here. Some pause to quench their thirst at the same fountain as Mabel Wright and her little brother, for it takes a lot of steam to drag a hundred freight cars up the Hog's Back grade to Scarboro. That's why Port Union has had a water tank for ninety years.

Yes, despite the false summer of last week, and the false winter of this, spring has found Port Union again. How spring does it, year after year, is spring's secret, for Port Union is pretty hard to find now.

Seventy years ago it was different. How did you want to go? By horse and buggy? Drive down the town line between Scarboro and Pickering till the lake stops you, and you'll be there.

By train? Sure, three a day from the Union Station, on the new Grand Trunk.

By boat? Well, if it's dance night there'll be an excursion steamer going down from Toronto s'evening and she'll lie at the pier or paddle around in the moonlight till two o'clock in the morning, and get you home to Toronto an hour later. Or maybe, the old Southern Belle will be going down to-morrow morning to pick up an excursion for Toronto or Hamilton. You never can tell what those country folks have in mind, you know. They get up these picnics and excursions months ahead, from away back in Markham and drive to Pott Union because it's handy—

Or, if you don't mind the time, you can always get there by schooner. There's the little ones that load shingles and tanbark and cordwood there, or bring rags for the shoddy mill, and pick up fieldstone, or fill the cribs the railway has put in along the shore from Highland Creek east-—sometimes they empty 'em, too, on dark nights—-and there's bigger ones that come with groceries and drygoods and buggies for the farmers of Scarboro and Pickering and Markham, and take away their apples and their wheat and barley and any lumber they've cut. Why—-

MUST be the voice of the velocipede. Port Union wasn't that way in the bicycle era, for Schooner Days first visited the place by that means forty years ago, pedaling hotfoot (we called it scorching) over the Highlands to investigate the wreck of the Lillian, waterlogged and sunk at Centre Point.

Found her on one side, mostly above water, for the lake was only five feet deep where she ran in; her sails hung up to dry, and her crew, much sunburned but otherwise undamaged, watching them from the bank while they awaited salvage operations.

Another stonehooker came down laden with stonehookermen and sixteen big beer barrels. All, we hasten to add, empty. The sixteen barrels were poked and prodded through the Lillian's cabin and her washed-off hatchways until their combined buoyancy displaced enough water from her flooded hold to float her. Then she was towed away to Toronto. One of the beer barrels bobbed out through a hatch and escaped, but by pumping and balling the remaining water in the hold had been reduced, and the Lillian floated as far as Medlar and Arnot's dockyard, and lived happily for twenty years afterwards.

She was flagship of the Samson Fleet, as the Port Credit hookers were called, because Samson was the nickname of George Blowers, the Port Credit strong man who was her master. He was the first to introduce auxiliary power into the stonehooker fleet, but his strength was the temporary undoing of this innovation. The newly installed propeller shaft seized with the swelling of the deadwood, through which it passed, and when George went to turn the flywheel over the 200-lb. disc came off in his mighty hands— and the Lillian needed a new shaft. Poor man, he was killed later by a car on the Toronto-Hamilton Highway near the Lillian's moorings at Port Credit bridge.

THEN the Lillian went ashore at Centre Point, just above Port Union, in 1899 or 1900, that place had a water tank, six houses, a hotel and a pumping station. A timber crib to protect the intake pipe was all there was in the way of wharfage, but Grand Trunk passenger trains stopped daily. The place still has a water tank, six houses, and a timber crib is still all it boasts in the way of port facilities. The old steam pumping engine has been replaced by a gasoline snorter, and that in turn by electricity, and the old hotel has become the very pleasant modern residence of Secor Johnston, of the Ontario Hydro.

But it was not ever thus. Port Union had its day, and the morning of that day was before the first iron horse puffed over the Hog's Back. Should Schooner Day's time and your patience hold out, you shall hear some more about it.


"SAMSON" BLOWERS sailed the LILLIAN, last active stonehooker.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
9 May 1942
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.76682 Longitude: -79.13288
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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Spring again at Port Union: Schooner Days DXXXVII (537)