Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Parks and Port Lights: Schooner Days DCCCXLIX (849)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 29 May 1948
Full Text
Parks and Port Lights
Schooner Days DCCCXLIX (849)

by C. H. J. Snider

OURS was the high honor at H.M. Customs, of being first to "clear foreign" out of the port of Toronto, Friday, May 21st, 1948, Friday always being our lucky day if we can get away on it.

It blew very heavy.

We waited until it dropped to fast freight speed, say 30, and then cast off under storm sail—reefed mizzen, mainsail and topsail stowed, full staysail and No. 2 jib. That was a comfortable rig, or would have been if fur lined, for the wind did cut like a razor! Too much sea on the south shore to try Olcott in the dark, so we hauled her up for Bronte on the north for shelter.

After four hours of perishing cold we got there, in the after glow of a clear sunset and moderated wind. It was a good thing we had daylight, for there was no lighthouse, the starboard entering pier was in ruins, with fangs and snags projecting under water, and the whole aspect of the place had been changed by the new west pier of steel sheet piling, which replaces one completely washed away.

Neat new houses of the Northern Shipbuilding & Repair Company, with the filling of the marsh below the old mill, and hundreds of feet of new wharfage on the shipyard front were other great improvements. Dredging had given 16 feet of water in the creek. But the trunks of fallen trees, fallen piling, loose stones, planking and debris, and absence of a lighthouse, make the harbor a menace instead of a haven, at this opening of navigation for 1948.

The fishboats are nearly all laid up, but Mr. Greb's fine little schooner yacht Heron, fitting out at the shipyard, gives the port a smart appearance, like the new building plant. Heron never looked better, nor the countryside, full of bursting leaves and budding fruit flowers. Bronte was—and still could be—the brightest and most picturesque small-craft harbor on the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario. It might have a prosperous tourist traffic this summer and be a good commercial and fishing port again—but a vast amount of clean-up work and new construction is needed.


What a contrast was Olcott, N.Y, when we did arrive, after a grand day's sail, bright with sun, and cold as deep freeze! Olcott harbor, in the mouth of the Eighteen Mile Creek, is smaller than Bronte. It is forty years since it had any cargo trade and steamers used to run excursions thither. Also it has suffered as much from high water since the Ogoki development began, as any Ontario port, and its piers are now almost awash. But it is safe and popular and crowded with yachts, as large a fleet as the National or Royal-Canadian, and they have admirable accommodation.

The old wooden lighthouse was moved back to safe moorings inside the harbor, but a new red light was installed on the west pier end. It is only a pole light, it is true, but it is kept up, and more easily discernible than the dim bulbs that might as well be on the Canadian shore. We have in mind Whitby, the Gull Rock, and the one at Oakville, until they changed it to green. Any street lamp would outshine all three. Oakville's is better than it used to be, but it is only a fixed light, like a drug store. It should be a flashing light and electrified.

Olcott has a yacht club house on the west side, and the Hedley Boat Works on the east; a fine plant capable of handling anything up to 80 feet or 80 tons dead weight. Capt. Hedley is the king of the castle, and long may he reign. The power boats are parked at little piers as snugly as sardines, or moored with the sailers to piles or buoys, laid out as regularly as box stalls. There are also two guest-buoys for strangers.

You get as much hospitality and service when you come in as if you were a 600-footer entering that great Lake Huron harbor of refuge which Abraham Lincoln bestowed upon lake mariners at Harbor Beach, Mich. There the port master hails you from the pierhead light, gives you the water depths, and assigns you a berth, either inside the breakwall or in the anchorage; and all as though he was pleased to see you. Same at Olcott, N.Y., with Capt. Hedley and the Olcott Yacht Club. Canadian public works please copy. Also the GR post office.


We were followed into Olcott by a long low rakish craft, ice-blue but not with cold, just painted that way, like Jim Hyland's Mermaid. She was a home town boat. R. P. Allsop's "Yankee-One" Circe, of the Queen City Yacht Club, Toronto—so called because her class is a one-design class, the first of which was named Yankee.

The Olcottians rushed to the waterfront as one man and one cartridge, and fired a royal salute, as the Circe dropped her mainsail, for not only was she welcome, but she had won the Olcott Loving Cup.

This harks back to ancient Spanish custom on Lake Ontario, when Olcott presented a loving cup to Bill Churchill, of the Medora, Q.C.Y.C, veteran voyager to their pretty port. Accompanying the trophy was a large galvanized bucket, with two handles, for convenience in holding ice and other cooling agencies. The trophy was deposited with the Queen City Yacht Club, and each year about Exhibition time Olcott yachts came over to Toronto to race for it. If they win it, as they did last year, they take it home, and the first Queen City yacht into Olcott next season wins it something like the harbormaster's hat, and takes it back, to be raced for again-either at Toronto or Olcott.


That's a much nicer way to do than was done in the War of 1812. Russell Whipple's new schooner Enterprise of Pultneyville, built 1811, was chased into Olcott by Sir James Lucas Yeo's squadron, known as the Slippery Six. She was laden with stores for the American fleet at Sacket's Harbor. Capt. Whipple thought he might hide her in the Eighteen Mile Creek, and stripped her of her sails and spars and towed her two miles up the winding river towards Newfane. But Yeo sent in a couple of man-o'-war gigs, and they captured everything that floated in the harbor, and took a lot of flour, and then rowed up the creek and caught the Enterprise, like Moses among the bulrushes. They towed her down, refitted her, and sailed her away. She became a British transport.

Later, when the American fleet chased British transports into the Ducks at the foot of the lake, one was burned, the schooners Lady Gore, Hamilton, Confiance, sloop Mary Ann and cutter Gen. Drummond were captured, and only one escaped alive into Kingston. That one was the ex-American Enterprise. Apparently she remained in British hands even after the war.

Olcott is an old established port. The village cemetery, groomed like a fenceless lawn with all the monuments standing straight as soldiers in rank facing the sun, has one tombstone dating from 1810. And many old ones, the best names being Col. Zebedee Stout and his wife, Thankful. The picnic grove, kept better than Toronto's parks—and more hospitably—has oaks and pines in it at least a hundred and fifty years old.


Talking parks, the pleasure of visiting Cobourg's parks in the sunlight of the Sabbath evening made us proud of Canada. The trailer camp section was clean and bright as the Parliament Buildings' lawn. The campers had not taken over yet, but we have seen the camp in action, and it is always well managed, and the parks maintain a nice balance between sport, recreation, accommodation and sheer natural beauty of tree and flower and grass and lake.

The women of Cobourg are erecting memorial gates for another park section, at the entrance on the highway, the old Kingston road, and these will contain Cobourg's honor roll in World War II.


We saw, too, the old Donegan Park, now McClelland Memorial Park, on the old Fitzhugh property (hope the names are spelled right, we only go by ear) which is full of fine old beeches. Capt. Dan Rooney, master of the Eliza Fisher, Picton, Annandale, Annie Falconer, Jessie Drummond, Charlie Marshall, Sophia J. Luff, and a few more schooners, showed us around. He pointed out some of the beeches by their names in his boyhood, which was eighty years ago. He is the Corktown member of the Senate of Coburg, which sits daily at the town hall, a noble custom. We are not sure of who represents Kerry or Factory Hill in the Senate, probably Capt. David Ewart, brother of Capt. John, with whom we sailed on the Albacore. Long, long ago, yes.

One beech tree in the park was called the Northumberland, after the biggest Cobourg-built vessel, with masts a hundred feet high, a "brig" (really brigantine) of 344 tons, launched in 1853. Another tree was the Baltimore, after the 193-ton "brig" named for the horsey village north of Coburg, and owned in the port. She was built in Kingston. The schooner Atlantic, built in Coburg, 1842, having a square topsail and topgallantsail, also had her tree. The boys favored square- riggers, because their yards suggested the spreading branches of the beech, and presented the same facilities for climbing. But at least one fore-and-after was included, the pretty schooner Hannah Butler, named after Capt. Butler's pretty daughter. She, too, had her tree and perhaps also the fore-and-afters Eliza Fisher and Mary Taylor, which were Cobourg favorites. The battle chanty of these beech-tree mariners, who were occasionally chased from the Fitzhugh property when endeavoring to furl beechnut the top- gallantsails was.

"Pinner Fitzhugh!

Split a beechnut in two!"


Not to count one day lost with low descending sun without another gripe at Canadian public works—Cobourg's parks are good, Cobourg's piers terrible. The pierhead lighthouse and other structures, which should shine like marble in the sun, are shabby and dirty for lack of even a coat of whitewash. The, Canadian National ferry pier, is cracked, ragged and dangerous in contrast to the two immaculate big white Ontarios No. 1 and No. 2, car ferries which bring thousands of passengers and could bring thousands more, with better landing facilities. And the eastern harbor wall is a menace to any craft that tries to come alongside, with dozens of bolts sticking out like daggers to rip the bowels out of small boats and punch the plates of big ones. The timber stringpiece has not been replaced. The few hundred dollars needed to replace it would avert a disaster such as overtook the George Cup winner Aphrodite in Toronto three years ago.


OAKVILLE, May 22nd, 1948, had improved piers, rehabilitated lighthouse and a dredged harbor. Still needed clean-up dredging inside and electricity and more candlepower—for its lighthouse. The port once owned twenty ships, built five vessels in a winter, and sent commerce to South Africa in Oakville bottoms.


R. P. ALLSOP, of Scarboro, consulting engineer and owner-skipper of CIRCE (below), receives the time-honored bond of friendship which exists between the Olcott Yacht Club and the Queen City Yacht Club of Toronto.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
29 May 1948
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.39011 Longitude: -79.71212
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.95977 Longitude: -78.16515
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.4411054187223 Longitude: -79.6672988146973
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.33783 Longitude: -78.71476
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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Parks and Port Lights: Schooner Days DCCCXLIX (849)