PRIDE OF CANADA was the registered name of a lake barquentine built by Louis Shickluna at St. Catharines in 1859. She was a good vessel of her class, the Old Welland Canal type, limited by the locks to 138-foot length and 365 tons register, the most that could be dragged over the sills.
All the soft soap in Frontenac County had been gathered up to grease the ways. Two tugs were required to start her. The launching bottle was broken and the christened name pronounced - MINNEDOSA. Minnedosa is a Sioux word meaning waters of the rapids. "Fastwater" would be an English equivalent.
Down the ways slid the great hollow-sounding hull, until the bow was almost clear. Then she hung. Her great weight had spread or broken the huge oaken timbers of the slideways under water. A diver had to go down to ascertain what was holding her. It was a perilous task to remove the obstruction without injuring the vessel or being crushed by her. Scholars thought of the origin of the launching custom of shedding the blood of the grape on the bow, which is said to represent the blood of the human sacrifices with which pagan launchings were accompanied of yore. Sailors said that if she killed a man at her launching, she would go on killing men all her life.
The MINNEDOSA really justified the name of "Pride of Canada", although she never wore it. She was the last and the greatest of the thousand schooners built in Canada for the lakes. Her builders lavished labour and decoration upon her, She was as good a vessel as could be built from oak and iron in the 19th century. She was 250 feet long from stem to stern, 242 feet on the keel, 38 feet beam, 17 feet deep in the hold. These figures from Dominion Illustrated, May 10th, 1890. I have not her registered tonnage. The Great lakes Red Book credited her with 2000 tons capacity as an ore carrier.
Her floor frames, the heaviest part of her ribbing, were oak timbers 18 inches by 16 inches, as heavy as those of the famous Kingston-built three-decker H.M.S. ST. LAWRENCE, of 102 guns, and there was only five inches of space between them. Her bilge planks were great lengths of oak eight inches thick. Her sides and ceiling were 5-inch oak plank, All this oak was reinforced by a steel sheerstrake 5/8 of an inch thick belting her all around at the deck level and 18 inches deep. Below this, inside, she had diagonal straps of steel forming three 5-foot squares and landing 2 1/2 feet on the floor frames. This was to prevent hogging.
She had four masts and the mainmast was 150 feet from heel to topmast truck. She was not a lofty vessel, for her proportions of beam to length (one to seven) and the impracticability of carrying ballast called for a relatively low-sail plan. But she had four topmasts, and was fully rigged on all masts, carrying twelve working sails. With the wind abeam she was capable of making fifteen knots.
She had six cargo hatches. Her forecastle was a high, square deckhouse under the foreboom. Nearly all other lake schooners had their forecastles forward, in the eyes of the ship, and below deck. She had a handsome poop cabin aft, where her deck was raised. The cabin had two doors and two windows in the forward bulkhead, four windows on each side, and a large skylight over the dining room, which was in the after part of it. The jiggermast came through the cabin roof, forward of the skylight.
The stern was rounded with a beautiful elliptical transom and her stem had a graceful cutwater knee and trailboards, culminating in a lifesize half-length figure of Ceres, the Grecian goddess of harvest. Behind her, inverted cornucopiae, or horns of plenty poured out the bounty of corn and wheat and the fruits of the earth, flowing back in a beautifully carved Greek scroll running along the cheek-knees. On the headrails which braced the figurehead was, at each end, a Canadian beaver with a maple branch in his mouth. Between the lines of the rails the name was carven deep. A thousand dollars were spent on goldleaf and painting for this figurehead. It was the finest ever set afloat on fresh water. It was designed and its construction supervised by N. Henderson, Kingston artist. The gilding, all in gold leaf, was done by John Martin. The artist who did the carving was Louis Gourdier, one of the most skilful wood workers in Canada. He even finished the catheads, the great foot-square oak timbers projecting from the bows for catting the anchors, with the heads of cats as large as tigers, carved in relief on the ends of the timbers, and these were painted to look like life.
It took 65-foot oak sticks, 14 inches square, to build up her main keelson, and her sister keelsons were also 14 inches square. She had two decks and two shelf-pieces. 36 x 7 inches on each side, with doubled deck frames supported by 140 iron hanging knees, each weighing 400 lbs. She cost between $60,000 and $70,000 to build in 1890. It is doubtful if the work could be done now at ten times the figure, if it could be done at all. We have neither the oak nor the carpenters.
MINNEDOSA was meant to sail, and did sail as fast as any steamboat could do. Her first voyage to Toledo to load grain was in tow of the tug WALKER, because they knew she would need a tug to get her through the Welland Canal and up the Maumee River, The WALKER couldn't keep the towline taut when they made sail on her, and cast off. When they got to the canal there was little use for the tug there either, for MINNEDOSA was so long that she filled the new (then) locks completely, and the tug had to lock through ahead of her or after her. The tug came in handy of course on the long level, and in light winds especially if they were ahead.
The MINNEDOSA had to tow through the canal with horses, and it took four teams to move her - six or eight if the wind got strong. That was one of her drawbacks. And twelve men are said to have been needed to sail her - whether twelve all told, or twelve in the forecastle and four in the cabin is not known. That is one of the reasons why she was cut down to be a tow barge. She needed a smaller crew. There were only eight in her when she was a barge.
The MINNEDOSA's first master was Capt. John Geoghan of Kingston; her last, Capt. Phillips. Capt. Geoghan was succeeded by Capt. John Irwin of Kingston, who had successful seasons in her in 1896 and 1897 but had to give her up from a fatal illness contracted on board. Her freights from Fort William to Kingston ran sometimes as high as $3,000 a trip. In the plain living and high thinking 1890's, with sailors' wages at $1 a day and "corporation pay" considered extravagant at fifteen cents an hour, any vessel earning a $1,000 freight was a money maker,
Capt. "Cham" Irwin (Robert Chamberlain were his first names) succeeded his father, John, in 1897 and he sailed MINNEDOSA until 1904, when he left her and went into steam, in the English-built 'midship-bridged steamer WEXFORD, lost in the Great Gale of 1913. Capt Irwin was not in her. He died in Collingwood in 1909 after laying the WEXFORD up.
Capt. John Irwin's name lived long after him on the lakes in the tanker JOHN IRWIN, now the CYCLO-BRAVE (and later TEXACO-BRAVE -ed.) of the McColl-Frontenac Oil Company Ltd. She was built in the old country.
Before becoming master of MINNEDOSA, Capt. Irwin had been master of the schooner EDWARD BLAKE for seven years when she was owned by Samuel Fraser. Capt. John Irwin was an old employee of the Calvin Company, timber-merchants of Garden Island, and of James Morton of the Kingston distillery. Later, he sailed his own schooners, the LILY, lost off Long Point in a storm - his only disaster - and the CHAMPION and QUEEN of the Bay (of Quinte - ed.). He was in partnership for a time with James Falconer. He was 47 years a lake mariner.
One error in judgment was made in building the MINNEDOSA and it cost dear in the end. It almost broke the builder's heart although he was in no way to blame for it. The management was persuaded that the ship would have too much freeboard, that is, she was going to have her side unnecessarily high out of the water so that with her hold full to the hatches she would draw so much water she could not get through the canal. So they gave the order when she was in frame to finish her with 18 inches less topsides than planned. As originally designed she could have carried 90,000 bushels and been the most seaworthy vessel on fresh water.
She seemed to do well enough as it was, but the testing time came when she was fifteen years old and crowded with cargo in an effort to establish a new record for a big load from Fort William to Kingston. With 75,000 bushels in her she had not enough buoyancy and spare freeboard to rise with the waves like a duck or a gull; instead, she dipped like a helldiver. This befell her in an autumn gale on October 20th, 1905, 2 1/2 miles off Harbor Beach in Lake Huron, across the lake from Goderich.
She was in tow then of the steamer WESTMOUNT (I), behind the barge MELROSE, for the tall topmasts had long since been taken out of her and her masts reduced to stumps. She had become a towbarge, just another of the weary caravan trailing up and down the lakes behind tug or steamer. Running for shelter in a great gale, she went down in a sea and never came up and she took good men with her, six sailors and Capt, Phillips and his wife. Seeing that she was foundering, Capt. Phillips is believed to have cut the towline so as to save the MELROSE ahead of him from foundering too.
(Ed. Note: The above description of MINNEDOSA was penned more than a quarter century ago by the late. C. H. J. Snider and we hope that our readers will enjoy it as much as we do. Mr. Snider wrote in a very distinctive manner and was, of course, an authority on sailing vessels.
We may add a bit to the description of the big schooner, MINNEDOSA was one of only a handful of four-masted schooners ever to sail the lakes. Her official number was 94884 and her tonnage was 1315 Gross, 1041 Net. She spent her entire life in the service of the Montreal Transportation Company Ltd. Even when still fitted with her topmasts, she was usually towed rather than sailed under her canvas and her usual towing steamer during the early years was the 170-foot 1872-built wooden freighter GLENGARRY. The big steel canaller WESTMOUNT (I) appeared in 1903 and took over charge of MINNEDOSA which was by then cut down to barge rig.
Incidentally, despite Mr. Snider's flattering comment to the effect that the tanker JOHN IRWIN was named for the second skipper of MINNEDOSA, the fact is that the steamer was actually christened in honour of another gentleman of the same name, a Montreal financier and one-time president of the McColl-Frontenac Oil Company Ltd.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.