Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Farewell, Willow: Schooner Days MCCI (1201)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 1 Jan 1955
Full Text
Farewell, Willow
Schooner Days MCCI (1201)

by C. H. J. Snider

AH, those old days at the Queen's Wharf, when Capt. Wiliiam Hall, who had graduated from shipowner to harbormaster, there reigned supreme under the willow trees, in his white house behind the picket fence!

He was a terror to small boys. Schooner Days was then one. Here began his first schooner voyage; in 1890.

Capt. Pat McSherry, God rest his soul—his father and three brothers were drowned in the Belle Sheridan ten years before, and all the McSherry boys are now gone—Pat McSherry then had the little schooner Marcia A. Hall, in the lumber trade to Wilson, N.Y., across the lake. He sailed her with two men. She was lying at the Queen's Wharf this day and he wanted to get her across to Pier 9, in the old Northern Railway lumber docks. Wind was blowing stiff from the eastward, the Marcia could not afford a tug, and her crew of three had not enough beef on their bones to budge her with the help of either windlass or capstan.

So Pat appealed for assistance from wharf hangers on, and even accepted Schooner Days' 70 pounds as a makeweight. Parking two smaller brothers (rejected as being too little and too light) in the lee of the most easterly of Capt. Hall's willows Schooner Days launched into the deep. He pulled and hauled and "swat and reekit" on endless wet ropes, until, ages later, they got the stubborn Marcia across the raging main to the next pier. After which he walked back around the wharf heads to the waiting brethren, and was received as one returned from the dead.

Not relying upon the ability of the little fellows to refrain from "telling mamma," he made a clean breast of his adventure before he said his nightly prayers. Mother was very understanding. She loved schooners, too.

In the scant daylight, of this departing December, Fleet st. traffic may have glimpsed the mutilated torso of a giant willow tree at the foot of Bathurst st. It is opposite the Maple Leaf Stadium in Ross Lipsett Ltd:'s parking lot.

The blackened trunk is all that is left of the marker of the unambitious "first voyage" just described.

This giant was the final survivor of six which long ago marched in file towards the red pierhead light and the white green-shuttered harbor master's house on the old Queen's Wharf. Harbor improvements left him standing in a wilderness of brick, steel, asphalt and wires, like a date palm in a dried-up oasis. The original Western Channel in front of the Queen's Wharf, 11 feet deep and, 400 feet wide, became, when filled in and paved over, the heaviest wheel-traffic artery in Toronto, and almost a quarter-mile from the nearest water.

But the ancient giant long survived the fumes of a million exhausts. His roots were deep in the past, and in the lake which sand-pump and concrete mixer could displace but could not destroy. He waved mighty arms in defiance of every gale. Summer and winter, to the winds fingering of his lithe twigs like harpstrings, he sang lyrics of wreck and rescue, harbormaster's hats and late arrivals, venturesome voyages and happy returns.

He remembered the barque Swallow coming in oh Dec. 31 with stone 1885, certainly late in the year, and the Defiance, arriving Jan. 5, 1898, being refused "the hat" as first arrival on the quibble that the new season had not yet started.

The first voyage of Schooner Days was truly child's play compared to some of which the old willow sang. He saw the Sea Gull set out for South Africa in 1865.

Next year — Saturday after next if God spares us—we shall tell of some of his songs and sights. Mutilated as he is he may survive to the end of the century and have more stories to tell. We doubt it. It is hard to kill a willow. But, for 1954 at least, goodbye old willow tree, from whose roots we first "sailed" sixty-four years ago.

Snider, C. H. J.
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Item Type
Date of Publication
1 Jan 1955
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.6365697195586 Longitude: -79.3996369842529
Richard Palmer
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Farewell, Willow: Schooner Days MCCI (1201)