There are probably quite a few of the "minor" Great Lakes shipping companies about which most observers would draw a complete blank if they were asked to describe the firm or even to name just one of the ships it operated. We would venture to say that this would probably be true of the Port Colborne and St. Lawrence Navigation Company Ltd., a Toronto-based concern that was active in lake shipping during the second, third and fourth decades of this century.
Port Colborne and St. Lawrence was formed in the years just preceding the first world war and was the lake shipping subsidiary of the Maple Leaf Milling Company. The parent firm operated a grain elevator and flour mill at Port Colborne and this structure, although much rebuilt as a result of a disastrous explosion and fire occurring on October 7, 1960, still stands at the end of the West Street wharf. In addition to the grain that was brought to the mill by steamer for processing there, much grain was trans-shipped from the larger upper lake carriers to the small canallers that would take it down the Welland and St. Lawrence canals to Montreal. Maple Leaf Milling Company was later absorbed into the Norris - Leitch group of companies and it became known as Maple Leaf Mills Ltd., being for some years affiliated with the well-known Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Company Ltd. of Toronto, now known as Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd. Maple Leaf Mills was, just a very few years ago, the principal object of a bitter power struggle within the Norris and Leitch interests.
One of the principals of the Maple Leaf Milling Company (and hence of Port Colborne and St. Lawrence) was Toronto financier Cawthra Mulock. This gentleman was also connected with the National Iron Company Ltd., Toronto, and its affiliated National Steamship Company which, during the period 1913 to 1916, operated the canaller NATIRONCO (C.133741), (a) PIONEER (I)(U.S.150589). This vessel had formerly been owned by the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, Cleveland, Ohio.
The first vessel actually owned by Port Colborne and St. Lawrence was the steel canaller ALGONQUIN (C.95051) which had been built in 1888 at Yoker, Glasgow, by Napier Shanks and Bell Ltd. She measured 245.0 x 40.1 x 20.6 and her tonnage was 1806 Gross, 1172 Net. She was originally owned by the Canadian Northwest Steamship Company but soon after coming to the lakes she was transferred to the St. Lawrence and Chicago Steam Navigation Company Ltd. of Toronto. The Port Colborne and St. Lawrence Navigation Company Ltd. acquired ALGONQUIN about 1912 and operated her in the grain trade until December 29, 1915 when she was sold to A. B. McKay of Hamilton. She was taken to salt water in 1916 and the following year was transferred to U.S. ownership. She kept her name and was assigned official number U.S.214637. Lost by enemy action off the Scilly Isles, Cornwall, England, on March 12, 1917, ALGONQUIN was the first U.S. flag vessel to fall victim to the enemy in World War I.
Another vessel operated by Port Colborne and St. Lawrence was CATARACT (C.77698). She was a composite package freighter and bulk carrier built in 1882 at Hamilton for Myles and Company of that city. Christened MYLES, she measured 175.0 x 33.6 x 14.6. Tonnage was 957 Gross, 598 Net. During her early years, she was involved in several strandings and collisions which necessitated extensive salvage operations. She was owned in 1904 by Williamson of Hamilton but before 1910 her registered owner was the Myles Transportation Company of Niagara Falls, New York. She was badly damaged by fire at Brockville while fitting out for the season on March 26, 1910, her owner at that time being the Cataract Ice Company of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Her name had been changed to (b) CATARACT in 1906.
By 1914 CATARACT had passed to the Port Colborne and St. Lawrence Navigation Company Ltd. but she did not stay long in their ownership. She was cut down to a barge in 1916 for the Touzin Sand Company Ltd., Montreal. The hull was sold in 1918 to the Montreal Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal, and was rebuilt as a steam-powered bulk carrier by the installation of engines built in 1904 and boilers dating back to 1890. With the rebuild her tonnage became 839 Gross and 451 Net. Along with the rest of the M.T.Co. fleet she passed to Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, in 1920. About 1927 C.S.L. disposed of her after she was in collision with the steel canaller DONALD STEWART in the St. Lawrence canal system. Ownership passed to the Sorel Sand Company Ltd. and once again she was reduced to a barge. She was later owned by Sorel Harbour Tugs Ltd. as (c) THERESE T. and in 1942 she was registered in the name of John F. Sowards of Kingston. Eventually she was laid away in the boneyard at Kingston beyond the causeway and there her last remains rotted away.
And so, after 1916, Port Colborne and St. Lawrence was left without a vessel to carry Maple Leaf Milling's grain. For the next five years it appears that chartered tonnage was used and until 1920 it seems probable that grain was carried in M.T.Co. bottoms.
Our scene now shifts to the Ecorse yard of the Great Lakes Engineering Works where in 1914 the firm completed its Hull 135, a steel canaller measuring 250.1 x 43.0 x 17.1, Gross 1728, Net 1074. When commissioned, the steamer entered service as INTERNATIONAL (I)(U.S.212420) under the ownership of the Atlantic Coast Steamship Company of New York. This concern seems to have been an outgrowth of the old J. L. Crosthwaite fleet which carried pulpwood from upper lakes ports to the plant of the Niagara Falls Paper Company which was located on the Niagara River about two miles above the Falls. Soon after entering service, INTERNATIONAL (I) was sold in 1915 to the Societe Nationale d'Affretements of Rouen, France. She was transferred to French coastal waters as (b) S.N.A. 1.
Perhaps we should digress at this point and mention that the Ecorse yard of Great Lakes Engineering Works laid down a sister hull of similar dimenions in 1915. Built as Hull 146, she was christened INTERNATIONAL (II) (U.S.213738). Her name was soon changed to (b) CLINCHFIELD but she too ran for only a very short time in the service of the Atlantic Coast Steamship Company. As had her sister before her, she passed to the ownership of the Societe Nationale d'Affretements and she was renamed (c) S.N.A. 3. Her life was short for in 1917 she was lost by enemy action.
To return to the first INTERNATIONAL, she was in service through the war and about 1921 she returned to lake trade under the ownership of the Port Colborne and St. Lawrence Navigation Company Ltd. which had emerged as a vessel owner once again. For her new duties she was given the name (c) BENMAPLE and she was placed in the grain trade, mainly between Port Colborne and the St. Lawrence River ports. She was a frequent caller at Toronto Elevators Ltd. and could often be seen there during the thirties.
BENMAPLE served Port Colborne and St. Lawrence well for fifteen years and undoubtedly would have operated for many more had not her career been brought to a premature end in a tragic accident. On September 1st, 1936 BENMAPLE was downbound in the St. Lawrence River below Quebec City. A dense fog hung over the river and visibility was extremely poor. The little canaller was just off Father Point when she was run down by the French liner LAFAYETTE, inbound from an Atlantic crossing. BENMAPLE foundered almost immediately and salvage operations were quite out of the question because of the depth of the water in which she sank.
Thus ended the life of a canal steamer which would have continued to serve Maple Leaf Mills for many years to come. Undoubtedly if she had continued in service she would have become part of the fleet of Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Company Ltd. which was then in its formative years and, barring the chance of being lost on salt water during the second war (a fate that befell many canallers), the possibilities are good that she would still have been in the fleet up until the time Upper Lakes began casting off its canallers after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. But as it was, BENMAPLE was not to last that long and neither was the firm that owned her. Finding itself once again without a vessel, the Port Colborne and St. Lawrence Navigation Company Ltd. was wound up and thereafter the Maple Leaf Milling grain was carried by Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence vessels.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.