"The .... big, graceful, red-hulled RENVOYLE of Midland. She is an old sweetheart; whether one meets her on the Upper Lakes or the Toronto Waterfront, she is always a Queen. She has a bold flaring bow that sheds the sea, a long sweet curving sheer that springs her up to meet the next one, and a stern as graceful as a clipper ship's, despite the fact that she tucks a stockless anchor under her starboard quarter like a hanky peeping from a hip pocket."
RENVOYLE was originally named GLENLEDI. She was built as a canaller by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd., of Wallsend-on-Tyne, England. They designed her as their Hull 1144 and she was launched in July of 1925. Upon completion, she was turned over to the Great Lakes Navigation Co. (the Glen Line) and sailed for Canada. Her cargo on this maiden voyage was steel plate which was to be used for lengthening the steamer once she had penetrated the small and confining locks below Lake Erie.
GLENLEDI measured 253 feet in length, 44.3 feet in the beam and 23.9 feet in depth. She entered Collingwood Shipyards in October 1925 and emerged the following spring with a length of 379.1 feet. Her tonnage was 3,571 Gross and 2,172 Net tons.
Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. purchased many of the Glen Lino vessels in 1926 and among these was GLENLEDI, She sailed the 1926 season as such and early in 1927 was renamed RENVOYLE. This was the second C.S.L. ship to carry this name, the previous RENVOYLE being a 1910-built canaller which had foundered on salt water on April 12, 1920.
RENVOYLE was placed in the package freight trade. Her service was confined to the Upper Lakes before the opening of the new Welland Canal in 1932, but after that date she sailed regularly from Toronto and Hamilton to the Lakehead with calls, as required, at Thorold, Leamington, Windsor, Point Edward and Sault Ste. Marie enroute. After the Montreal to Lake Ontario section of the Seaway was opened in 1959, RENVOYLE went to Montreal on occasion, but she generally continued on her Upper Lakes run.
RENVOYLE was a fast ship. A former sailor recalled that "in her heyday nothing on the lakes could touch her for speed." When it was warranted, she had been known to complete a trip from the Lakehead to Lake Ontario ports and return in one week. A master of the vessel, on one occasion, received a very critical letter from head office for outdistancing one of the company's passenger liners on the run to Point Edward. It did not happen again!
RENVOYLE was propelled by a triple expansion engine with cylinders measuring 22 1/2", 37", 62" and a 42" stroke. It had been built by North East Marine Co. Ltd. and provided faithful service throughout her forty-two years of operation. Originally she had two single-ended scotch boilers with cylinders 15 feet by 11 feet 6 inches. These were coal-fired. According to the "Record" of the American Bureau of Shipping, new boilers were installed at Port Arthur during the winter of 1955-56, these being a pair of Foster-Wheeler water tube boilers which had been built for one of the two new passenger vessels planned by C.S.L. The tragic NORONIC fire had ended these plans. In direct contradiction to this information, Canada Steamship Lines state that the ship was reboilered in 1953 with two secondhand Yarrow water tube boilers.
Another former sailor reported that RENVOYLE had a bad habit of "bouncing" along on the open lake when speeds were below 12 m.p.h. Apparently this tendency was reduced when the new boilers were installed. The improved performance was expensive, however, as she burned up to 45 tons of coal per day. Perhaps, on the other hand, her "bouncing" was only caused by the ripening and loosening up of the ship as she grew older.
As with many other ships, RENVOYLE was known to be a bit cantankerous at times. It was especially evident when she was turning to port, and was perhaps most noticeable at Point Edward where a strong back current in the St. Clair River created difficulties when approaching or clearing her dock. She had two accidents in that area. On one occasion, in the early fifties, she severely damaged the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway dock. In a 1967 accident to be described later, she sank the Tomlinson self-unloader SYLVANIA.
During her career, she came to the aid of at least two vessels in distress and brought them to safety. In 1936, the C.S.L. upper laker EMPEROR lost her rudder in Lake Superior and was wallowing in heavy seas. One of her crewmen had already been swept overboard by the time RENVOYLE arrived on the scene. Her crew was able to get a line aboard the disabled steamer and tow her to Fort William. It will be recalled that EMPEROR stranded on Canoe Rocks, Isle Royale, on June 4, 1947, becoming a total loss. Twelve lives were lost that day.
Later, in November 1950, RENVOYLE came to the rescue of the WEYBURN in Lake Ontario. The canaller's cargo of package freight and steel had shifted to port and WEYBURN almost capsized. Again RENVOYLE got a line aboard and brought the vessel safely to Toronto.
On numerous occasions, RENVOYLE served in the grain trade. Her hatches and holds better suited her to this service than the newer package freighters. She usually wintered at Toronto with storage for Canada Malting. She was the only ship that we can recall whose crew placed a flat plate across the top of the funnel each winter as protection against the elements.
By the mid-sixties, the ship was being relegated to reserve duty. The features that once led to prominence were now out of date. Her speed was surpassed by the "Fort" class vessels and even the older package freighters MARTIAN and COLLINGWOOD exceeded RENVOYLE's 4,650 deadweight and 176,000 bushel capacity.
She spent her last winter in Toronto during l965-66. While she was unloading her storage cargo, she was used for the filming of an episode of "Seaway", a serial that appeared on the C.B.C. television network.
In 1966, RENVOYLE laid up at Kingston along with COLLINGWOOD. It appeared that both had reached the end of the line as they were moored west of the Kingston Elevator where so many old C.S.L. vessels had spent their last days. Some navigational equipment was removed from the steamers and few expected that either would run again.
Business conditions, however, were considerably improved in 1967 and both veterans were refitted and returned to service. RENVOYLE was not to operate for long, On June 1st, RENVOYLE was clearing the dock in the quarter mile wide narrows of the St. Clair River at Point Edward. While turning to head downstream, she veered over to the westerly side of the river and struck SYLVANIA which was unloading stone at the dock of the Peerless Cement Company at Port Huron. SYLVANIA sank in about fifteen minutes and rested on the bottom with a severe starboard list, causing vessel traffic in the river to be suspended until it could be made certain that the sunken ship would not slip over into the navigational channel. RENVOYLE was moored 400 yards downstream on the American side and then returned to her dock where she was unloaded.
SYLVANIA was later raised and the gash along her hull was repaired, permitting her to return to service. She continues in operation today in the colours of the Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton & Company. Although RENVOYLE only sustained a rather large dent in her bow, the accident ended her career. She proceeded immediately to Kingston and laid up west of the elevator alongside WESTMOUNT, R.O.PETMAN and MIDLAND PRINCE.
During the legal battle that followed the accident, C.S.L. filed a Limitation of Liability Proceeding with the district court in Cleveland. This forced all of the claimants, including the Tomlinson Fleet Corp. and the cargo interests, to file their respective claims for damages in one action. Under this proceeding, C.S.L. had the right either to put up a bond or file an interim stipulation with respect to the value of the vessel with a further request that the court appoint a trustee and the vessel be sold. RENVOYLE was then towed to Fairport, Ohio, within the court's jurisdiction, and an auction was held. Acme Scrap & Metal Company was the high bidder and the vessel was sold for $21,000. The limitation fund, therefore, consisted of this amount.
Tomlinson naturally was not satisfied, in view of the extensive damage suffered by SYLVANIA, and tried to establish that RENVOYLE had been operating with a defective rudder. The case went to court during the winter of 1970-71. After the trial was concluded, the judge called the attorneys to his chambers and urged that the matter be settled. A settlement was worked out and the case has now been closed.
In the interim, RENVOYLE was towed to the Acme Scrap yard in Ashtabula, Ohio, where, during the summer of 1968, most of her hull was cut up. Part, however, was retained to be sold to Empire Marine Company of Albion, Pennsylvania. It in reported that they planned to have her converted to a salvage and diving barge. As of January 1972, this had not been done and Acme reports that the remains of her hull still lie at Ashtabula.
RENVOYLE was loved by her crewmen as well as the ship watchers. She was well maintained and, although living conditions were crowded by today's standards, they were as good if not better than other ships of her period. Former crewmen recall that "she was one of the finest little ships ever to ply the lakes" and "a real little lady in a sea."
The vessels of today are built for economy and few retain the trim lines and graceful appearance that made RENVOYLE such a beautiful ship. Perhaps FORT HENRY comes as close as any to duplicating these features, but she is not RENVOYLE. A good ship is gone, but not forgotten.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.