Maritime History of the Great Lakes
"Saved by the Bell": Schooner Days MCCLXXV (1275)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 30 Jun 1956
Full Text
"Saved by the Bell"
Schooner Days MCCLXXV (1275)

by C. H. J. Snider

"WILD ALECK" was his nickname in the lake trade. He was a cheery church member, a family man of great respectability and of increasing property ashore. But afloat - he was impetuous, unresting, a regular Vanderdecken to carry sail and to take chances. Some of these paid off. Some didn't. Win or lose he never whimpered. And never swore. Well hardly ever.

Tommy O'Brien, alias "Nosey", who had lost his beak and won his name in waterfront brawl told this on him, after serving as first mate with him in the Augusta.

'Wild Aleck was the dangdest man to pick up fly-by-nights and sailor's torments to squeeze another knot out of his vessel in light airs. When I was figuring on snugging her down for the night while the wind had let go for a while, he came rushing out of his room with his arms full of yacht sails.

"Mak' hay while the sun shines," sez he. "Set these duds flying and we'll get another twenty miles ahead maybe before it blows up, as it will this night. Don't take anything off without calling me.'"

"Six hours later we was up to our necks in water getting those rags off, and the gafftopsails too, and settling the lower sails down in the lifts, and it pitch black and sears spilling aboard on both sides.

"It was Aleck's watch below, and I hadn't had time to call him. In a lightning flash I see him tumble out of the cabin into lake water as high as the hatch. Never a word he sez. He sounded as though he was choking. It came with a rush.

"DOMM!" he - exploded, "IVESTUDONMYTEETH!"

Ye've what?" yelled I.

"Stud-on-my-new-store-teeth," sez he slow and strange, "when she-rolled-me-out-o'-ma-berrth - DOMM!"

"Holy Peter'll be aisy on ye for that swear," I tould him. "He'll know how hard it is for a man to bite his tobacca with his upper and lower plates in bits and pieces. But yer yacht furbelows blew away before I'd time to tell ye they was goin'."


ALEXANDER URE was his real name, Capt. Alexander Ure, sometimes confused with the founder of the Port Dalhousie drydock and with the author of the Maple Leaf, both of whom bore the name Alexander Muir. He was sailing for fifty years, thirty years as master on the lake, and he owned in part or outright in that time thirteen or fourteen schooners, small and large. Four went down under his feet, but he never lost a man.

His father had been drowned at sea. Aged nine, young Alex shipped for his keep as cookbook to a crew of three in the Fifeshire coasting schooner Chance. His first wages were half-a-crown a month, a penny a day in the Scotch schooner Luna. He advanced to able seaman and certified carpenter in deep sea ships, he came out to Canada, married and prospered moderately as a builder and master.

All the time he yearned for church chimes on Sunday, instead of having to turn in or out with the watch every time eight bells struck, Sunday and Monday alike. But six months out of every twelve he had to shut his ears to the church bells. As a Presbyterian, he would not begin a voyage on Sunday or do gainful toil. But duty to himself, to his owners, to his ship, to his crew, called him away Sunday after Sunday, in port and out. His conscience kept arguing with him about works of necessity and mercy, as in the Shorter Catechism.


When he lost everything he had in the three-master Reuben Doud - she had got herself ashore and cost him all he owned in her, 16 shares, in salvage bills - he paid every cent he owed and knelt down and thanked God.

He was never going to sail again. On Sundays now he could listen morning and evening for the Parkdale and Brockton church bells, walk with this three motherless daughters to Chalmers Presbyterian Church on Dundas w., take his place regularly with his fellow elders, and hear the Rev. R. G. Davey expound the Scriptures.

He was through with Sabbath breaking, through with fretting over a fair wind, through with conscience pricks. He knelt again in thanksgiving, and rose happy. He went on contentedly with Parkdale housebuilding and property management six days in the week, and rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment. After a storm-tossed childhood and bushy-bearded manhood of endless anxieties, Wild Aleck lived as Capt. Alex Ure, retired, in a long, serene sunset glow till he moored in Ninety Port. Houses he built in Toronto 70 years ago remain monuments to his integrity.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
30 Jun 1956
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.64039 Longitude: -79.43613
Richard Palmer
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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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"Saved by the Bell": Schooner Days MCCLXXV (1275)