To many of our readers, the name WIARTON will bring to mind either the small town and port of Ontario's Bruce Peninsula or else the Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. bulk carrier which originally sailed for the "Steel Trust" as THOMAS LYNCH. But let's go back a few years and take a look at an earlier vessel to carry the name WIARTON, a steamer that was once a frequent visitor to the old Welland and St. Lawrence Canals.
Perhaps one of the best known of the Wolvin operations was the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Company which was formed in 1903 to operate a fleet of canallers from the upper lakes to Montreal. That year the firm had ten steamers built, all very nearly identical. Three each were built at Chicago and Wyandotte, while yards at Buffalo and West Superior each turned out two steamers. The ships were very distinctive in appearance and most of them had surprisingly long careers on the lakes. They were known as "The Wolvins" by all who knew of their early years and especially by the men who worked along the Welland Canal.
One of the ten Great Lakes and St. Lawrence vessels was christened JOHN SHARPLES. She was built at West Superior by the Superior Shipbuilding Company as their Hull 507 and was enrolled at Duluth in 1903 as U.S. 77587. She measured 246.7 feet in length, 41.2 feet in the beam and 15.7 feet in depth, while her tonnage was 1614 Gross, 919 Net. She was powered by a triple expansion engine with cylinders of 14", 25" and 42" and a stroke of 30", steam being supplied by two Scotch boilers measuring 11' x 11'.
JOHN SHARPLES was painted in the same rather drab colours as were many lake steamers of her day. Her hull and funnel were black, her cabins white. Along with her sisters, she traded regularly from the ports of the upper lakes down the Welland Canal to Oswego and Ogdensburg and down through the lower canals to Montreal. She very often brought coal back up the lakes. After a few years, management of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Company passed from Augustus B. Wolvin to D. Sullivan and Company of Chicago. The operation, however, remained generally the same although as the years passed JOHN SHARPLES and several of her sisters were fitted with small whirly cranes on deck to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo. It is thought that for a period of time Wolvin and Sullivan may have operated the line jointly.
Late in the fall of 1910, JOHN SHARPLES ran into a spot of bad luck which was to bring a close to her service with Great Lakes and St. Lawrence. She was downbound in Lake Ontario with a cargo of grain when she ran on Galoo Island, a small island located between Prince Edward Point, Ontario, and Stoney Point, New York, and about nine miles from Main Duck Island. Hard aground, she was badly holed aft and the wreck proved quite difficult to salvage. Several attempts to refloat JOHN SHARPLES proved unsuccessful.
But eventually the Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia and Port Huron managed to haul her off the rocks. The hull was sold to the Charcoal Iron Company of America, Detroit, and after being thoroughly repaired was returned to service in 1916 as (b) CICOA, her name being made up of the initials of the owning company. Her new owners were engaged in the manufacture and distribution of pig iron and to help in the carriage of their products CICOA retained her deck cranes. Her service for Charcoal Iron was, however, destined to be short-lived. Due to the demands of World War I, she was requisitioned for salt water service in 1917 and off she went to the east coast.
CICOA was lucky, though. All nine of her sisters that had remained with Great Lakes and St. Lawrence were sold to the French government in 1916. All went overseas, with the exception of A. D. DAVIDSON and JOHN LAMBERT which were lost in the North Atlantic by enemy action on their delivery trips. CICOA, however, was kept busy on the east coast, operating minus her cranes which had been removed prior to the time she sailed out of the lakes. She remained in east coast service until 1921 which was, strangely enough, the year in which her sisters (the seven that remained) began to drift back to the lakes.
CICOA was purchased in 1921 by the Glen Transportation Company Ltd. and was returned to lake service. The principals of Glen Transportation were Albert Ernest Mathews of the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd., Toronto, and James Playfair of the Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd., Midland. Soon after CICOA was brought back to the lakes, she was renamed (c) GLENVEGAN, having been enrolled as C.150231. Although her name bore the familiar Playfair "Glen" prefix, she was painted in Mathews colours (black hull with white forecastle rail, white cabins, black stack with two silver bands).
This Playfair-Mathews partnership did not last long and in 1925 GLENVEGAN was transferred to the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. and renamed (d) WIARTON. She operated for Mathews in the grain, coal and pulpwood trades on the lakes and the St. Lawrence River until the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. was forced into receivership in February 1931 on the petition of the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. Management of the Mathews vessels was then taken over by the receiver, F. C. Clarkson of Toronto. During 1932 and 1933 WIARTON and a number of the other vessels in the fleet were chartered to Toronto Elevators Ltd. WIARTON did not actually operate in this period but was used from time to time for the storage of grain at Toronto.
Late in 1933 Capt. Robert Scott Misener and the Hon. H. C. Schofield purchased the Mathews vessels and formed Colonial Steamships Ltd., Toronto, to operate the fleet. WIARTON was included in the sale but was sold in 1934 to the Nicholson Transit Company, Detroit. She was returned to U.S. registry as (e) FLEETWOOD (II) and was operated by Nicholson as a scrap carrier. At one stage during her years as a Nicholson boat, she was once again fitted with deck cranes, but she did not have them for long.
She operated for Nicholson until the press for available tonnage during World War II led the U.S. Maritime Commission to requisition the steamer for east coast service in 1942. FLEETWOOD returned to the lakes in 1943 but in 1944 she went back to the coast under charter to the British Ministry of War Transport and the management of Montreal Shipping Ltd. She operated mainly in the coal trade until the conclusion of hostilities. The ship was then laid up and was scrapped about 1946.
Thus ended in the salt water of the Canadian east coast the career of one of the ten Wolvin canallers. She carried her very distinctive profile right through to the day of her scrapping and had not been given any major rebuild with the exception of the addition of a rather high bunker hatch forward of the funnel. In this respect she differed much from Nicholson's FELLOWCRAFT (originally ALBERT M. MARSHALL and BRIGNOGAN) which had been reconstructed to such an extent that she was scarcely recognizable as a "Wolvin".
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.