Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Day-of-Rest on the Lakes: Schooner Days MCCLXXXII (1282)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 11 Aug 1956
Full Text
Day-of-Rest on the Lakes
Schooner Days MCCLXXXII (1282)

by C. H. J. Snider

WHEN the Ten Commandments were our law as salvation was the gospel, even on the Great Lakes sabbath observance was counted for righteousness. More than one schooner master practised it, and none was ever heard to regret doing so. It had no effect on the luck of the vessel, though some believed that it did.

"It served us right." said Capt. R. J. Edmunds of Port Hope in his old age, describing a particular disastrous voyage he had made,"for we loaded on a Sunday."

Old Capt. George Sherwood who had the little green clipper bowed schooner Mail of Montreal, sailing out of Presqu'isle, would not sail on Sunday, or even start out on Saturday night, although of course if he was on passage when Sunday came along he would have to keep her vessels moving for safety's sake. Capt. John Joyce of Bronte, however, would heave the Erie Stewart to, that is, stop her under sail, from Saturday midnight to Monday morning.


"We didn't mind that," said Bobby Dale who sailed with him often. "He was a good man, and our pay went on and we got our three meals and midnight lunch whether the Erie Stewart sailed or stood still. He lost the Reuben Doud on Toronto Island but that wasn't punishment for Sunday keeping nor bad seamanship. It was just hard luck to have her rudder jolted out of the gudgeons when she was almost into the Eastern Gap."

Capt. Sherwood in the Mail had a great rival in Capt. Ed. George with the Centurion, a little larger schooner. The two raced together to Montreal with cargoes of wheat and came back with loads pigiron for Hamilton. Both were frozen in at Presqu'ile and spent the winter there. They fitted out in the spring and sailed for Hamilton, and the rivalry went on all next year. Capt. Sherwood kept the sabbath. Capt George, like the majority of lake masters, didn't - if he had a fair wind, At the end of the season the smaller and slower Mail, in spite of pious delays, had made 31 trips to the faster Centurion's 29. That, philosopher Bobby Dale, commented was just her good luck.


Even the stonehookers, wrong-fully regarded by many farmers and sailors as no better than pirates, shunned to rake stone on Sundays. Fishermen would not lift or set their nets.

The 19th century may not have grasped the implications of the sabbath being made for man, but it remembered the sabbath day to keep it holy. With a wry face, perhaps but remembering.

Canals were closed from Saturday night to Monday morning, which gave twenty-four hours of rest a week to hundreds of weary tow horses, mules and oxen. And to tugmen, lock keepers, helpers, - and sailors - when steam replaced two and four-footed traction. The first Sunday canal operation was when the fall grain runs and threats of freezeup jammed, the Welland with forests of masts and topped-up jibbooms hastening homewards.

Alex Muir, pioneer Welland Canal drydock master and builder of large fleet of schooners, would not operate his dock on Sunday on any terms.

Once when in Clyde-built steamer Macassa, on the Toronto-Hamilton run, was in the Muir drydock for urgent repairs, the work went on after the 6 o'clock whistle had blown Saturday evening. Old Alexander told the engineers they were welcome to work till midnight, but that the Muir dock closed from Saturday night to Monday morning for the Sabbath, and no work would be permitted in the interval.


They drowned the old man's foghorn voice with he racket of rivetting hammers, and spike mauls, and he went away to his home on the high bank above the dock. At midnight they saw Alexander in a long white nightshirt framed in his doorway, shading his eye under the glow of a lamp held high. He roared something which sounded like "watter turred on forr the sawbath!" and vanished and the boiler belters jeered. Their jeers and their noise-making ceased abruptly when the great valves that filled the dock suddenly spouted thousand of gallons per minute and the Macassa began to float off her keel blocks.

Alexander had gone to bed, and he had the keys to the pump house, and all knew he would not permit dewatering of the dock till, Monday morning

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
11 Aug 1956
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.20011 Longitude: -79.26629
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.014166 Longitude: -77.706111
Richard Palmer
Creative Commons licence
by [more details]
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
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


Day-of-Rest on the Lakes: Schooner Days MCCLXXXII (1282)