The Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. was incorporated under the Ontario Companies Act in 1917 by the following: C. S. Boone, President (President of the C. S. Boone Dredging and Construction Company Ltd.); John E. Russell, Vice-President and Managing Director (a prominent Toronto vessel owner and operator); Lawrence Solman (Manager of the Toronto Ferry Company Ltd.); John J. Manley (C. S. Boone Dredging and Construction Company Ltd.); and Henry J. Dixon (former operator of the old Shickluna shipyard, St. Catharines). The company was formed to operate a vessel repair yard and located its premises on the south wall of the Keating Channel, a cut situated north of the ship channel and connecting the harbour with the Don River. Keating's Cut, as it is generally known, was created during the course of the Toronto Harbour Ashbridges Bay development.
The Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. started business with a floating drydock about 160 feet long which it acquired in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. In 1920 John E. Russell purchased a drydock in Montreal which had formerly been used as part of the plant established by the United States Emergency Fleet Corporation. This drydock had been used in connection with the joining together of parts of Great Lakes vessels which had been sent through the canals in sections to the seaboard during the war. The sectional dock was towed to Toronto and was linked with the unit purchased in 1917 to form a dock capable of accommodating full-sized canallers.
As time passed, Henry J. Dixon became the principal owner and manager of the yard, assisted by his son Harold who eventually became manager. During the 1940's a subsidiary company, Toronto Towing and Salvage Company Ltd., was formed to take over and operate the tugs which were used in general harbour work, in lake towing and salvage operations, and in the Toronto Island winter ferry service. Some of these tugs were for a time registered as being owned directly by Harold Dixon. The company's tugs were for many years identified as wrecking tugs by the "running horse" insignia which they displayed. As the years went by, the company concentrated more and more on the towing aspect of its business and the drydocking and repair side of the firm received less and less attention. This was due mainly to the decline in the number of small vessels which could be serviced by the drydock or which could be taken into the Keating Channel, a body of water which has the unfortunate habit of silting up rather badly as a result of the great masses of effluent pouring down the Don River.
But over the years countless tugs, barges, ferries and freighters were rebuilt at the yard. Dixon acquired numerous tugs and dredges and scrapped them in the yard, thus building up a supply of spare parts for use in repairing other vessels. Probably the most notable building jobs were the steam tug NED HANLAN (1932) and the 115-foot Island ferries SAM McBRIDE and THOMAS RENNIE constructed in 1939 and 1951 respectively.
The Toronto Drydock Company Ltd., and its subsidiary went into voluntary liquidation in 1964 and in January 1964 the yard and drydock were sold to Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. The operation was soon closed down and all repair facilities were moved to the main repair facility at St. Catharines. The drydock was sold and was taken away, presumably for breaking up. The remaining tugs, all coal-burners, were likewise sold for scrapping, the new owner having no use for them at all. The company's office building and surrounding premises, fronting on Villiers Street, have been taken over by the Toronto Harbour Commission. Fortunately, Mr. Harold Dixon kept quite a collection of interesting marine artifacts, most of them coming from vessels which had been an integral part of the waterfront scene, and the majority of the items from his collection are presently on display at the Marine Museum of Upper Canada.
There follows a listing of the harbour tugs that the Dixons operated over the years. Because of the very nature of their business, the list may not necessarily be complete and we would welcome comments from anyone who may have additional information. We have not included in this listing a rather extensive fleet of small (30-foot) motor workboats which the company used in its later years to supplement the steam tugs.
H. J. DIXON, (a) ABNER C. HARDING, (b) ARKANSAS (50). (U.S.204588, C.190900). Steel harbour tug built 1907 at Chicago for the Great Lakes Towing Company, Cleveland. 74.0 x 20.0 x 11.6, Gross 98, Net 34. Operated mainly at Detroit and Toledo but during World War I ventured as far east as Montreal to assist in handling the requisitioned lakers cut in sections for the eastward canal passage. Acquired 1948 by Harold J. Dixon and the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. and rebuilt 1949 for the general towing and Island winter ferry service. Canadian dimensions 75.9 x 20.0 x 9.6, Gross 100, Net 68. Soon transferred to the subsidiary Toronto Towing and Salvage Company Ltd. Known as one of the best icebreakers on Toronto Bay. Towed to Hamilton 1965 and scrapped at Strathearne Terminals by United Metals Ltd.
EBESS. (C.137926). Wooden tug, originally steam and later converted to diesel, built 1915 at Chatham, New Brunswick. 62.4 x 16.3 x 7.0, Gross 58, Net 17. Owned 1918 by Charles Reinsborrow, Chatham, N.B. Owner in 1924 and 1927 shown as Howard Smith Paper Mills Ltd., Montreal. Prior to World War II owned by J. R. Allard, Cross Point, Quebec. Requisitioned by the Canadian government for war use at Halifax. Sold 1945 by the Minister of Munitions and Supply, Ottawa, to the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. Dismantled at Toronto 1947.
ELSIE DORIS. (C.138184). Wooden tug built 1921 at Midland, Ont. 63.5 x 14.5 x 7.0, Gross 64, Net 22. Built for the Minister of Mines, Province of Ontario. Acquired by H. J. Dixon and the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. in the 1930's. Operated as a harbour tug at Toronto until November 1945 when her boilers and engine were removed. Hull towed out into Lake Ontario and scuttled in deep water.
FRANK W. (U.S. 120839). Steel tug built 1891 at Buffalo by the Union Drydock Company for F. W. Gilchrist, Alpena, Mich. 74.8 x 18.6 x 11.5, Gross 93. Net 46. Later acquired by Drake and Maytham, Buffalo. Absorbed into the fleet of the Great Lakes Towing Company, Cleveland, 1899. Retired as a "G-tug" in 1943 and sold 1948 to H. J. Dixon and the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. She does not appear to have ever been officially registered in Canada. Operated for a few weeks in 1949 but spent the rest of her time at the company dock in the Keating Channel, Toronto. She was partially stripped, apparently with the idea of repowering, but this was never accomplished. Scrapped at the yard during 1955.
A. E. GIBSON, (a) SIR JOHN. (C.133939). Wooden tug. Original date and place of build not shown in register but rebuilt 1902 at Sorel, Quebec. 81.2 x 17.3 x 8.0, Gross 94, Net 41. Owned 1914-1918 by the Minister of Public Works, Ottawa. Purchased early 1920's by H. J. Dixon and the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. During the spring thaw of 1925 she was swept from her Keating Channel dock by ice moving down the Don River. She was carried under the Cherry St. lift bridge which was in the closed position at the time. Her deckhouses were stripped off and the hull severely damaged. Rebuilt by Dixon at Toronto. Owned in 1927 by the Dominion Towing and Salvage Company Ltd., Midland, and in 1940 by Janin and Company Ltd., Montreal. Out of documentation by 1946 but disposition unknown.
H.J.D. NO. 2, (a) INTERNATIONAL (39). (C.173512). Iron tug built 1884 at Cleveland by the Globe Shipbuilding Company. 71.0 x 17.1 x 8.3, Gross 58, Net 22. Built at a cost of $15,000 and fitted with a high pressure engine. Commissioned in June 1884. Originally owned by the International Bridge Company which was controlled by the Grand Trunk Railway Company. The railway owned a bridge across the Niagara River between Fort Erie and Black Rock (Buffalo), the bridge having a draw for vessels passing up and down the river. Due to the strong river current, it was a requirement of the bridge company's charter that the owners provide a free tug service to assist ships passing through the draw. INTERNATIONAL was also ready to help vessels in trouble in the area. Acquired 1939 by the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. and was towed to Toronto where she was rebuilt and repowered with diesel engines. She was intended for Dixon's own use in Toronto harbour but was sold soon after commissioning to J. P. Porter and Sons Ltd., Montreal. They in turn sold her to the Minister of War Transport for the United Kingdom. Taken to Alexandria, Egypt, for service as a fire tug during World War II. Final disposition unknown.
HOME RULE. (C.97001). Wooden tug built 1890 at Thorold, Ont. 74.9 x 17.0 x 9.4, Gross 81, Net 45. Owned at one time by James Whalen and the Canadian Towing and Wrecking Company, Port Arthur. Owned 1914 by Miss A. M. Hackett, Amherstburg, Ont., and apparently was a unit of the Hackett family towing business. Owned 1918 by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. By 1920 she was owned by Henry J. Dixon and the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd., although she was not long a Dixon unit. Final disposition unknown.
LUCIA. (C.103969). Wooden tug built 1898 at Sorel, Que. 66.7 x 15.1 x 7.1, Gross 41, Net 28. By 1902 she was owned by Sincennes-McNaughton Line Ltd., Montreal, and stayed in their ownership into the first war. Owned 1918 by Mrs. Thomas Simpson, Montreal. Rebuilt 1918 at Sorel, 59.9 x 15.7 x 6.8, Gross 54, Net l[sic]. Owned 1924 by John E. Russell and Henry J. Dixon and apparently operated for the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. during this period. Owned 1927 by C. S. Boone Dredging and Construction Company Ltd., Toronto, of which several officers were also principals of Toronto Drydock. Final disposition unknown.
TUPPER PORTER, (a) FANNY ARNOLD (41). (C.85322). Wooden tug built 1882 at Owen Sound. 89.0 x 18.0 x 9.0, Gross 73, Net 50. Owned at least during the period 1902-1927 (if not longer) by the Spanish River Company, Spanish River, Ont. By 1940 she had passed to the Burke Towing and Salvage Company Ltd., Midland. Sold 1941 to J. P. Porter and Sons Ltd., Montreal. Acquired 1944 by the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. and largely rebuilt at Toronto. Remained active in their service until 1948. Dismantled at Toronto 1949.
PRINCE RAY. (C. 126395). Wooden tug built 1909 at Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. 73.6 x 18.8 x 8.2, Gross 72, Net 39. Owned during the period 1914-1918 (and probably longer) by the W. J. Poupore Company Ltd., Montreal. Owned in 1923 and 1924 by Knox Bros., Montreal. By 1927 she was owned by Henry J. Dixon and was operated by the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. Sold about 1930. After a prolonged period of lay-up in the Welland Canal at Ramey's Bend, she was salvaged by the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. and was brought back to Toronto where the engine and boiler were removed. Hull towed out into Lake Ontario and scuttled in deep water.
J. C. STEWART, (a) J. C. STEWART (18), (b) COL. M. J. McDONOUGH (46). (C.137896, U.S.213259). Steel icebreaking tug built 1915 by Johnston Brothers at Ferrysburg, Mich., for the Canadian Stewart Company Ltd., Toronto. 71.0 x 20.0 x 8.7, Gross 113, Net 30. Originally operated in Toronto harbour. Sold c.1918 to the U.S. government and operated in the service of the U.S. Corps of Engineers, stationed at Buffalo. Acquired November 1946 by the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. for use during the winter months under charter to the City of Toronto for the Island ferry service at a daily rental of $230. She had a capacity of 90 passengers. Later transferred to the Toronto Towing and Salvage Company Ltd. Operated on Toronto Bay and in towing duties on Lake Ontario and the Welland Canal until dissolution of the company in 1965. Towed to Hamilton and scrapped 1965 at Strathearne Terminals by United Metals Ltd.
GEORGE A. WALLACE (47), (b) FOUNDATION WALLACE. (C.170511). Steel fire tug built 1916 at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for the city of Cleveland. 78.1 x 20.5 x 10.3, Gross 129, Net 66. For some reason she never appeared in the U.S. register of Merchant Vessels. After being laid up for a considerable period of time, she was acquired in the 1930's by the Toronto Drydock Company Ltd. and was rebuilt. Sold 1941 to Maritime Towing and Salvage Ltd., Halifax, a subsidiary of the Foundation Company of Canada Ltd. Saw service out of Halifax during World War II. She was back in Toronto in 1947 when Foundation was laying an intake pipe for the new Scarborough waterworks plant. Out of documentation by 1956 but final disposition unknown.
Although the company used a variety of colour schemes for its tugs in the early years, it settled on green hulls and red cabins during the last few years of operation. During this period, stacks were black with two narrow silver bands and a wide red band. An exception to this appeared in the summer of 1957 when J. C. STEWART and H.J.D. NO. 1 were used for the filming of the Canadian television series "Tugboat Annie". Unofficially renamed NARCISSUS and SALAMANDER respectively (although sometimes these names were reversed) for the filming, the two tugs were painted up with white cabins and white funnels with a narrow black smokeband.
GARGANTUA, wooden tug - "Seafarer" hull completed 1923 for the Lake Superior Paper Company. Dixon had purchased the hull from Cowles Shipyard Company, Buffalo. It had been built for the U.S. government at Marine City but never completed.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.