Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Lifeboating With the Ward Boys-2: Schooner Days MCXCVIII (1198)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 18 Dec 1954
Full Text
Lifeboating With the Ward Boys-2
Schooner Days MCXCVIII (1198)

by C. H. J. Snider

WE left off last week somewhere in the middle of the Western Sandbar, having pushed off with the Ward boys on a bitter cold Sunday in May, to the rescue of the crew of the stranded schooner St. Louis.


Between dips it was grand to watch the scenery, great green-walled gorges of rushing water, with moving mountaintops shutting out the sky. Maintaining the proper respectful pace as each approached we would soar up like a climbing plane, poise on the crest without a splash - sometimes - and catch a glimpse of the flaming flag of distress, nearer a little, each toss up. We would slide downhill as the wave rushed by, and steady ourselves in the green-walled gorge for the next onrush.

All the time Frank Ward chanted: "Steady, Ed. Pull Fred.-—Pull, both starboard, Ed. — Back, Fred. — Port, both —- Steady, all. Pull all."

Never cross. Never excited. The pulling was at no time hard, for the oars were short and the rowers' effort was properly controlled, their strength never wasted. The fishboat did not try to push through the combers. She would meet them end on, without headway, and only go ahead after they burst.

Next we were under the bowsprit, and the St., Louis was looking at us in surprise through her red-rimmed hawsepipes. Being full of coal and lake water she sat bedded in the sand, solid as a wharf. The black thing we saw flailing over the stern was a tarpaulin they had stretched across to hold the oakum in her timberports.


Like the round end of a pier the full bows made a little lee, in which we rose and fell in ten-foot leaps. On the bowsprit as far outboard as the spritsail yard the crew hung, steadying themselves by the headstays and the stowed standing jib.

Six men. One woman.

An old man called in a cracked voice: "Take care of me-—I'm a sick man."

And he was. He was Capt. Geordie Williamson, lake mariner sixty years and twenty of these master of the St. Louis. Poor man, he was all in, but, faithful to his charge, he was in a hurry to get ashore at once -- to arrange salvage.

"Next time we rise let go and we'll catch you, Cap!" roared Frank, when a sea lifted our heads to the level of the captain's boots. We dropped like falling downstairs.

Up we soared again, just dodging the down-stabbing dolphin striker spiking our boat. The old man fell into Ed's and Fred's arms: "We can save her yet, once I get ashore!" he shouted.

His brother was mate aboard her, and a good sailor too.

"Ladies next!" Frank shouted up. "Come on missus!" This to the woman cook.

"Wait a minute," she called back. "I'm not going to lose my good hat."

She perched up there on the spritsail yard, and judiciously jabbed two more hatpins through her skypiece and her jetty black ringlets. She was dressed in her best. She was a sensible woman. She was not going to leave her good, clothes aboard for the lampreys and lake gulls and beachcombers.

Two more rises, and she was ready. Stepped off the spritsail yard into the boat at the proper split second, and sat down suddenly in the bailer. It was rather rude to deprive her of that seat, but we really needed the bucket to keep the boat free of water.

It took three trips to get them all off, but the Ward boys did it.


The Lakeside Pavilion of the Hospital for Sick Children on the Island was the real lifesaver that day. The staff stoked up the kitchen till the ranges were red hot and dried us all out and fed us before they would let us out the door.

And—to make a happy ending all round—the gale blew out, the St. Louis was lightered off intact, Sylvester Bros. found a purchaser for her, Capt. Williamson recovered and retired with honors, and the cook got a new outfit which the Queen of Sheba might have envied. The cargo of coal eventually reached Bronte, whither it was consigned, all the better for having been thoroughly wet—for it weighed more and sold well as water washed fuel, guaranteed free from dust, grit, and non-combustible substances. It was the biggest coal cargo that ever came into Bronte by sailing vessel and probably the last. In 1909, this was.

Snider, C. H. J.
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Item Type
Date of Publication
18 Dec 1954
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.61681 Longitude: -79.3829
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Lifeboating With the Ward Boys-2: Schooner Days MCXCVIII (1198)