For many years the name of Clark was prominent on Toronto Bay in the business of carrying freight to and from the Toronto Islands. It was back in 1890 that Tom (T. J.) Clark, in partnership with a brother, took delivery of a wooden screw ferry which was built at Toronto specifically for the Clark freight operations. Not surprisingly named CLARK BROS., this vessel (C. 94984) measured 80 x 16 x 5. 5 and was a single-deck steamer. Later sold to the Toronto Ferry Company, she was rebuilt as a double-deck passenger ferry and remained in service through the 1929 season.
Over the years the Clark family business prospered and in due course was incorporated as Clark Limited. In 1911 a composite twin-screw freight steamer was built by and for the firm at the Clark's dock property at the foot of Yonge Street. Given registry number C. 126838, she was christened T. J. CLARK, although throughout her life she was familiarly referred to by all and sundry simply as "the T. J." Measuring 69 feet in length, 20 feet in the beam and 6 feet in depth, her tonnage was shown as 75 Gross and 51 Net. As the term "composite" implies, her frames were of steel while the hull planking was wood. Her decks, bulwarks, pilothouse and boilerhouse were of steel.
T. J. CLARK's twin screws were driven by individual compound engines built by the Polson Iron Works, Toronto, but she was equipped with only one rudder. The engines were non-condensing and exhausted through one "puffer" mounted beside the stack. Thus when operating at full speed, the individual engines produced a loud and distinctive beat, but one that was only sometimes rhythmic due to the fact that the engines were not synchronized.
"T. J." was fitted with fire fighting equipment and she served, in addition to her regular duties, as harbour and island fireboat until 1923 when the Toronto Fire Department took delivery of its own vessel, the wooden pumper CITY OF TORONTO T. F. D., soon renamed CHARLES A. REED. Even in later years, long after the CLARK had ceased functioning as a fireboat, she still carried her pumping gear although all external equipment had been removed,
In the early years of her service, "T. J." had no passenger cabins at all and her looks could only he described as utilitarian. The foredeck was completely open and the after deck was covered only by a flimsy steel canopy. A small steel cabin situated aft on the starboard side looked for all the world like a rural outhouse and actually did service to the same purpose.
For many years Clark Limited and T. J. CLARK were managed by Tom Clark himself, but upon his death active management was carried on by his widow Margaret, Mrs. Clark was certainly not afraid of hard work and on occasion could be seen helping to clean out the "T. J.'s" boilers at fit-out time. She always stood out in a crowd by reason of her flaming red hair.
Two trips a day were made to the Islands, the freight consisting, to a large extent, of the personal effects of residents moving to or from their summer homes on the Islands. All manner of other goods were carried for delivery to island addresses by Toronto's two big department stores, Eatons and Simpsons, and in addition the CLARK took all the groceries, meat, bread, and dairy products for the account of island merchants. All the freight handled directly by Clark Limited was taken to the Manitou Road wharf located at the eastern end of Long Pond at Centre Island, but goods for many other accounts were landed either at Ward's Island dock or at Stevenson's Landing, a dock inside the lagoon at Hanlan's Point.
On the morning trip over to the Island, the delivery men, island merchants returning from market, and some of the crew usually indulged in a few hands of poker played on a packing case or any other flat object available. It is interesting to note that in those days vehicles travelling to the Island were not simply controlled as they are today. Up until the Second War, no motor or horse driven vehicles were permitted on the Island at all (except for garbage collection) and therefore all freight brought over on the CLARK had to be distributed on hand-drawn wagons and carts.
Mrs. Clark continued to operate the business until 1926. On April 3rd of that year, Clark Limited and T. J. CLARK passed to the management of R. G. Dibble, a Toronto coal dealer. This new management lasted only one year, however, as the Register indicates that T. J. CIARK was acquired by the Corporation of the City of Toronto on May 6, 1927. As in the case of all other Island ferries owned by the City, her operation was placed in the hands of the Toronto Transportation Commission. This body actually assumed full ownership in 1948.
In the spring of 1930, "T. J." was converted for passenger service to replace the worn-out veteran CLARK BROS. which was burned at the stake at Sunnyside Park later in the year. As a matter of fact, the reconstruction was done in the east slip of the Bay Street ferry docks while "T. J." lay alongside the older vessel. Many pieces of equipment were transferred to "T. J." from CLARK BROS. as the work progressed. T. J. was given an enclosed passenger cabin amidships but the stern remained open at the sides providing an "observation" deck fitted with canvas curtains which could be dropped to close in the area during damp weather or on cool spring and fall days. The reconstruction altered the CLARK's tonnage to 87 Gross and 59 Net.
T. J. CLARK kept the same name throughout her life but, although few people are aware of the fact, it was proposed to rename her TORONTO ISLANDER at the time of her conversion to passenger service. Her ringbuoys and other pieces of equipment were relettered with the new name, but no official change was ever made and the name did not appear on her hull. The rumour was that the re-registration charges were too steep, but perhaps the T. T. C. simply realized that the familiar old name would probably have stuck with her daily riders whether it was actually changed or not.
Despite the addition of the new after cabin, the CLARK entered service with a completely open foredeck. Passengers were quick to complain that the voluminous quantities of soot mixed with condensing steam from the exhaust puffer caused considerable inconvenience to anyone forced to ride up forward during the crowded rush hour periods. She was soon fitted with a canvas canopy in an effort to cut down on cleaning bills for passengers' soiled clothing, but the canvas was only temporary and proved to be most unsatisfactory. It was replaced by a permanent steel canopy into which were cut two holes, partly covered by a hood, in order that the skipper might be able to see the bow of the ship while docking, a view otherwise obstructed by the upward lift of the canopy near the forward end of its length.
As the years passed by, the speed of the "T. J." gradually decreased and in spite of the composite construction, her hull flattened out and showed evidence of sagging aft. In 1952 she reverted to her original role of a freight carrier although she retained her mid-ship cabin in modified form. Whether the heavy freight loads she was carrying once again disagreed with her, or whether the old girl objected to the practice of some crews of stopping her at the dock by throwing the rope onto the dock mooring post rather than by reversing the engines, she soon showed even more evidence of age. By the way, this docking technique played havoc with the docks as well as the ship and led to the partial collapse of the west pier of the old dock at Ward's Island and the complete destruction of the dock at Stevenson's Landing which fell into the lagoon as a result of the CLARK pulling on it.
The CLARK's certificate was finally withdrawn at the end of the 1959 season and she was offered for sale. She spent the summer of 1960 peacefully dozing in the sun in the west slip of the Bay Street docks but her condition was by then so bad that no takers came forward and, in order to dispose of her, she was sold in December 1960 for the magnificent sum of one dollar to the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. She was soon taken to their yard at the extreme eastern end of the Keating Channel and was lifted out onto the dock. By the end of April 1961 she had been reduced to a pile of rubble on the pier.
The memory of "T. J." occupies a very special place in the minds of Islanders past and present and all those who saw her in the course of her daily duties around the harbour. As mentioned previously, her double exhaust sound was unique and it stands out in memory as her very own trademark. Perhaps it was most noticeable when she was turning on a springline around the end of the Manitou Road freight dock. The other "voice" of the "T. J." also is well remembered. She originally carried a very large brass whistle, the strident tone of which was most disturbing and unpleasant. After she was put into passenger service, she fell heir to the high melodious chime whistle which came from LUELLA when that steamer was retired in 1935. The whistle had served until 1929 on JOHN HANLAN.
Longtime Islanders will find that they cannot think about the CLARK without remembering her crews over the years. Up until the 1930's, she had very few captains. One of her earliest masters was the famous Captain Benedict. He was succeeded by the wiry Joe Grace who was descended from French Canadian and Canadian Indian stock. Joe was a past master when it came to handling and docking the "T. J." and he used her twin screws to great advantage. Strangely enough, he shunned her steering wheel, always preferring to use the joystick also mounted in the pilothouse.
Later on when she was in passenger service with shift crews in charge, several captains simply could not get the hang of the twin screw method of docking (steering with the engines) and sought other employment rather than trying to master the technique. Her last skipper was Capt. Eric Foote who was an expert at handling the little steamer. After her retirement, he went on to the larger ferries and stayed with the ferry service until 1972.
Memories are fine, but we would have liked to have seen the whole of the CLARK preserved. Unfortunately, this was not possible bearing in mind the old girl's condition, but it is gratifying to know that the "T. J. 's" Dake Steam Steering Gear has been preserved and is presently in storage at the Marine Museum of Upper Canada awaiting suitable display space. A little bit of T. J. CLARK will live on always in the hearts of all who knew this unprepossessing little steamer as she puffed her way across the bay each day.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.