Shipping enthusiasts are always interested in new developments in the marine transportation field and, in particular, in the appearance of newly-built carriers. It seems, however, that even more interest is generated by what is about to, or has just faded into the past, to be lost forever from our sight. Perhaps this explains why one particular small steamer seems to have attracted more attention recently than she or her sisters ever did during the better part of their careers.
In fact, the ONTADOC, of N.M.Paterson & Sons Ltd., Fort William, seems to have become a symbol of the many small Upper Lake bulk carriers which were built around the turn of the century and were the mainstay of the ore trade, but whose numbers are now reduced to a mere handful. Granted, there are some vessels now in operation that are older than ONTADOC but most are in specialized trades and even they are rapidly disappearing. Ships of her type are now too small for most trades and are too expensive to operate in competition with newer tonnage and their future is very much in doubt.
ONTADOC began her active career when she left the Chicago Shipbuilding Company's yard in October, 1903. Known during construction as Hull 62, she had been christened R.L.IRELAND and entered the service of the Gilchrist Transportation Co. of Cleveland. Two coal-fired single-ended Scotch boilers supplied steam at 130 lbs. pressure to her triple expansion engines. With a length of 416 feet, she had a beam of 50.3 ft and a depth of 24 ft. giving her a tonnage of 4470 gross and 3143 net,
She was typical of the steel steamers of her day in having exceptionally good lines to her hull, well-raked masts and funnel, and a turret pilothouse with an open bridge above. The Gilchrist livery, white cabins and a black hull with high grey boot top, made her look very smart indeed.
The Gilchrist fleet became one of the largest of the lake operations of the early century but difficulties arose during the 1907 recession and worsened with the serious illness of the company's dynamic founder and president, Joseph C. Gilchrist, the same year. Those who took over did not seen to have sufficient experience to carry on the sane type of management and the stockholders could not agree on a plan to get the operation on its feet again. The company went into receivership in 1910 and the ships were finally sold by the court at public sale in 1913.
R. L. IRELAND, along with a large number of her companions, passed at this tine to the Interlake Steamship Co. of Cleveland, Pickands Mather & Co. being the operating managers, and it was decided to rename the ship SIRIUS in line with the fleet's custom of naming their units after heavenly bodies. She continued in the ore trade and was rebuilt at Fairport, Ohio, by her owners in 1925 but her tonnage was not greatly altered. By this tine, her open bridge had been replaced by a closed upper pilothouse.
Ships of her size were rapidly becoming unprofitable to operate in the American ore trade and a number of ships of the Interlake fleet, the SIRIUS included, were sold in 1926 to Paterson Steamships Ltd. of Fort William. The name ONTADOC, signifying the Canadian Province of Ontario, was chosen for her and she was given the famous Paterson black stack with a large white "P". Most of her career under Paterson ownership has been spent in the grain trade but the past few years have seen her running coal from Lake Erie to Toronto and Hamilton, a duty that she inherited from her former companions SOODOC, SASKADOC and FORT WILLDOC.
One by one, her many running-mates of so many years were sold or scrapped and, in fact, the Paterson fleet has undergone such extensive changes that not one of the other ships listed in the fleet as late as 1953 remains under the company's ownership. As the last of Paterson's conventional steamers, should cargoes not be available for her or should she require costly repairs, she will almost certainly make the one-way trip to the ship-breaker's yard. Let us hope that business conditions improve and that the waters of the lakes are kind to her so that a few more years of operation will be possible for this handsome vessel.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.