Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 13 Jun 1877
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A Subject For the Biographer

Career of a Notable Business Man

The new work, relating to the scenery of the St. Lawrence River, to be published by John A. Haddock, of Philadelphia, will contain biographies of many distinguished individuals who have lived in the region of this great river, which are now in course of preparation. Mr. Wm. C. Plumb, in his researches for materials, has discovered several men who have a good local reputation which he proposes to make a little more general. Among the number is Delino D. Calvin, whose biography is given below. Mr. Calvin was for some years a resident of Jefferson County, and we all feel interested in the man.

Delino D. Calvin was born May 16, 1798, at Clarendon, Rutland Co., Vt. His father, Sanford J. Calvin, was a lawyer by profession, but followed farming and died when Delino was very young. His mother's maiden name was Abigail Chipman. In 1818 he went to Rodman, where he lived three years and then moved to Orleans, in the same county, and settled and cleared a farm near Lafargeville - clearing eighty acres in one year - where he now owns 400 acres of farm land. In the fall of 1824 he first engaged in the business which has occupied his attention and energies since, and with a neighbour cut timber on his own and adjoining land and made a raft at Spicer's Bay, (below Clayton) and in the summer of 1825 took it to Quebec, clearing $610 in the enterprise. The two winters following he engaged in the business on a much larger scale and returned from Quebec in the fall, after having sold sixteen times the amount of his first raft with only $30 left of his former profits. In 1831 he married Harriet Webb, of Brownville, and three years later he moved to Clayton, the better to conduct the business he determined to follow. He had been, in the main, successful at farming and lumbering, but preferred the latter. Here he continued to build rafts and take them to Quebec until 1844. He had also begun to build up a forwarding business, and to realize the necessity for quicker and more complete and reliable communication with Montreal and Quebec. His wife died in 1843, and the following year he moved to Garden Island, a portion of which he had previously bought, and upon it established a branch. He then transferred his business to that place. The island contains about 100 acres and lays in Kingston harbor. It has a magnificent water front and sufficient depth of water for the largest vessels. Here the firm was Calvin & Cook, and they began building piers in 1835. Their business consisted in taking lumber from lake schooners, making it into rafts and taking it down the river for the European market. In 1836 this firm built their first vessel, the Queen Victoria, at this point. She was for the timber trade and 140 tons burthen. In 1837 they built two more vessels about the same size, the Wm. Penn and Hannah Counter. They also built that year the steamer Raftsman. She was of about fifty tons and made for towing purposes. The next year they built the Minnie Cook, a lake lumber vessel; and the following year built the steamer Prince Edward, which was run by a company from the Bay of Quinte to Kingston.

In 1844 the Welland Canal was enlarged, and the next year they built the brigantine Liverpool, 340 tons, and soon after the Plymouth and Southampton of the same size, for their rapidly increasing lumber trade. The large lake steamer Wellington was built by them in 1855, and the Hercules in 1856. The same year they built the schooner Oriental; they also finished up several large barges, four barges having been built between 1846 and 1850. In 1859-60 they built six large barges, which are now run by the Chicago and St. Lawrence Forwarding Co. The schooner London, the steamers John A. Macdonald and Hiram Calvin, the schooner Laura Calvin, and the lake vessels Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Siberia, all canal size (182 feet) followed in the order named, with the steamer Chieftain and two barges in 1874-5, and the steamer Traveller last year. In the spring of 1877 they launched the ocean vessel Garden Island, 1,000 tons burthen, which has been two years building, and is said by competent judges to be the best built ever engaged in the business, and the best of the kind ever built in this country. Besides these, many have been rebuilt and repaired, some from the foundation.

In 1856 Mr. Cook left the firm, and Mr. Ira A. Breck, a former book-keeper, and brother of Mr. Calvin's second wife, whom he married in 1844, took his place as junior member of the firm, and the firm is now Calvin & Breck. There is a branch house at Quebec, another at Defiance, Ohio, and an agent at Glasgow, Scotland. The house at Quebec is under the management of Hiram Calvin, son of Delino by his second wife; the branch at Defiance is in charge of a partner, Frederick La Soeur and Francis Aldrich, a nephew of Mr. C. For twenty-five years the pay roll of this firm has averaged $1,100 for each working day in the year for men engaged in ship building, producing lumber from the stump, sailing vessels and steamboats, and making and running rafts. This is aside from the large quantities of lumber bought in the stick or received on consignment, the production of which requires at least one-third as much more money and labor. During this time more than a million and a half dollars worth of business has been done each year. They have many thousand acres of timbered land in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and different parts of Canada. From the branch at Defiance every year is shipped seven or eight cargoes of oak containing full 50,000 feet each. Sault Ste. Marie is the headquarters of the pine district, and from there is received 200,000 feet of pine each season. The lumber is landed at Garden Island in vessels and there made into rafts and taken down the river, often loaded with stores. The rafts are so constructed as to be separated in sections to run the rapids. Mr. Calvin has also been for twenty years gradually working into the wrecking business; raising vessels and repairing them. They have appliances now so perfect that a vessel may be pumped out and raised, or raised full of sand and water. Recently a vessel was raised and brought across the lake containing over 100 tons of sand and water. They also send men who plug and cork a sunken vessel under water. Mr. C. is the inventor of much important machinery, among which is a rotary plunger and a pump worked by steamboat beam, by which 100 tons of water per minute can be removed. For twenty years he had a contract with the government to supply nine steamers for towing sail vessels between Kingston and Montreal, the government fixing the tariff and also giving a specified bonus. He carried the contract through, and made a large amount of money. Others attempted the same contract and utterly failed. He is the owner of Garden Island, which has grown to be a populous, flourishing village of upwards of 800 inhabitants with all the rights and priveleges of a municipality. Upon the island is an excellent school and house of public worship. In connection with the school is a public library of several hundred volumes. Through all the activity and enterprise of these years no accident has occurred at the island by which a single life has been lost, and but one serious accident in connection with the business has ever occurred on land or water. On the 8th of October, 1850, the steamer Hercules burst her boilers in the river near Morrisburg, Canada, while bringing a large tow up the rapids at that point. Four firemen, two wheelsmen, and Dexter Calvin, son of the subject of this sketch, were killed; the deck was blown completely away. The captain and several others were seriously injured. The accident was caused by the pump getting out of order and allowing the water to get low in the boilers, while the boat was put to a very great test of her capacity at this point. Dexter Calvin, who was killed, was a very promising young man, and the Hercules was built for his especial management. The wives and children of those killed have ever since been provided for by Mrs. Calvin.

With all his immense shipping interest Mr. Calvin has never insured any vessels or boats of any kind, and has never lost one that he has built. During these years seven steamboat shafts have been broken, but never one that he has made. He very early saw that nearly all vessels that went ashore became a total loss from wearing out the bottom and going to pieces. To remedy this he has invariably used heavier timber at this point and prepared his vessels to stand the storms of fall and spring, stranded on a beach, to a greater extent than ever before known. The very small loss from this source attest the soundness of his judgement. For the past few years freights on the lakes and all kinds of inland navigation have been prostrate. During 1875-6, freights on grain from Chicago to the St. Lawrence fell from 16 and 18 cents per bushel to 6 and 7 cents, and there was great depression in the value of lake vessels. This state of affairs was brought about by the prostration of the iron business at Marquette and along the coast, as well as throughout the region of the upper lakes, and all the large vessels engaged in transporting iron or ore from the mines and blast furnaces and supplies to them, came into competition for the grain trade. They were larger than the ordinary lake vessels and would not pass the Welland canal, and hence the grain trade has been largely increased at Buffalo, and the exportation from New York greatly increased, while it has fallen off at Montreal and Quebec. Mr. Calvin turned his shipbuilding to the construction of an ocean vessel, more to keep his yard employed than for any other purpose, and the Garden Island, which was built at a cost of $60,000, could have been built at Quebec for $40,000. The attention of the Canadian government being called to the condition of lake navigation, a commission was appointed to advise parliament what course to pursue. Mr. Calvin was chosen on the commission, which was composed of men who understood the subject, and were most closely identified with lake navigation. On the commission were Sir Hugh Allan of the steamship line, C.S. Gzowski, representing large railroad interests; P. Garneau, Mayor of Quebec; Alexander Jardine, ship owner and importer at St. John's; and S.L. Shannon, of Halifax. In the winter of 1871-2 the commission reported, after having examined and investigated all sources of information upon the subject of enlargement and improvement of the canals, which was the only thing to be done for the inland navigation. They recommended the construction of a new canal across a glade of land in Nova Scotia, connecting the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the Bay of Fundy. They recommended the enlargement of the canals of the St. Lawrence from 9 to 12 feet wide (sic), locks from 200 to 270 feet long; they also recommended the deepening from 9 to 12 feet. They recommended alterations in the Ottawa and Champlain canals, and also the important and extensive work going on in the Welland canal, which will provide for the passage of a vessel 260 feet long and 45 feet wide; also a new canal at St. Catherines, making a shorter route and longer levels. These recommendations were all adopted except the new work at Nova Scotia. On the St. Lawrence canals parliament increased the depth from twelve feet recommended to fourteenfeet. The work at St. Catherines and on the old Welland canal is progressing rapidly. It is estimated that the recommendations adopted will cost forty millions of dollars. Mr. Calvin was opposed to the large expenditure of money on the St. Lawrence canals with a view to making them navigable for ocean vessels and thus connecting Chicago and the lake ports with European ports direct without transshipment. He considered the undertaking futile for the reason that ocean vessels could not navigate the lakes, being liable to go ashore for want of a centre-board, and that if the canals would admit of their passage the voyage to Europe would require a cargo of grain to remain on shipboard 15 to 18 days longer. That the handling and cooling of grain at the foot of lakes and again at Montreal greatly improved it. That it can be transported from the lakes to Montreal and put aboard ocean vessels cheaper by barges than in any other way. He presented a very strong argument against attempting to make Chicago a sea-port, but the commission adopted a very broad and liberal policy.

With all his immense business interests he has been more or less engaged in politics. Soon after he became a citizen in 1845, he was appointed a magistrate; in 1858-9 he was County Warden, and for twenty years has been a member of the county council. He was elected to the provincial parliament in 1868, and has been twice re-elected; once without opposition. In parliament he was actively opposed to the policy of the government licensing timber limits by which the land was stripped and left almost valueless on the hands of the government. He was opposed to the system by which the clergy were entitled to the revenue of one-seventh of the land, and labored successfully for reform of this unjust measure. He has also been opposed to the exemption of property of any kind from taxation.

In early life Mr. Calvin experienced religion, and in 1843 joined the Baptist church of which he has continued to be an active member. He has three children by his second wife (Breck) living: Mrs. Hendry, of Kingston; Hiram A. Calvin, at the Quebec branch, and Mrs. Gordon N. Bigelow, of Toronto; Cornelia, a daughter by his first wife, married Joseph Crevolin at Cape Vincent. She died leaving six children. In January 1861 his second wife died. By his present wife, whose maiden name was Catherine Wilkinson, he has one son, Sanford C. Calvin. All his life he has been a very charitable and liberal friend to needy and deserving people, and also a public benefactor in assisting in all good enterprises for the benefit or relief of his fellow beings. He has given liberally to hospitals, churches, public institutions, and always in a quiet way improved opportunities as they were presented to do good with the immense property he has by industry and perseverance accumulated. He still attends personally to his business, and his mind and every faculty seems unimpaired, not withstanding his long years of service. [Watertown Times]

Marine Notes - Passed the Canal: Schrs. Bessie Barwick, Pt. Metcalfe, Muskegon, light; Hercules of Hamilton, Kingston, do; Penokee, do, Erie, do; Wanwanosh, Bay City, Garden Island, lumber; Emerald, Lake Superior, Collinsby, timber; Shannon, do, do, do; Nellie Wilder, Chicago, Kingston, corn; Victor, Bay City, do, staves.

Vessel Collision - On Monday afternoon a collision occurred on the St. Lawrence, near Alexandria Bay. The steambarge Albecorn, which had been wooding at Goose Bay, in backing out into the channel ran in collision with the schr. Skylark. Laden with iron ore, bound from Ogdensburg for Cleveland. The Skylark received such damages that she rapidly filled and sank. Messrs. Calvin & Breck's wrecking party and steam pumps went to the schooner's assistance and brought her here last evening.

p.3 A Bad Smash - as M.T. Co. hoister was unloading the Skylark, part of it was hit by box car on railroad; it sustained serious damage.

Item Type
Date of Publication
13 Jun 1877
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Emailwalter@maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.caWWW address
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 13 Jun 1877