A major landslide along the Welland Canal has forced the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority to take fast action to ensure that the waterway will be usable by the planned opening day of April 1st. With the lower section of the canal dewatered for routine maintenance work, a 700-foot section of the high east bank just below Lock Three slid down into the canal on January 27, spreading 147,000 cubic yards of mud into the shipping channel. A $300,000 contract was quickly let to a local firm to clear the debris and it is expected that everything will be back to normal in time for the filling of the canal in mid-March. The section of the east bank between Bridge Four at Homer and Lock Three has been known in the past to be unstable, but never before has such a large quantity of earth shifted.
The 1976 navigation season will see a new and unique shipping service operating into the lakes. The Newfoundland - Ontario Steamship Company, a subsidiary of Rail and Water Terminal (Quebec) Ltd., will commence operation in April on a route between St. John's, Newfoundland, and Oshawa, Ontario, the latter port being located about 25 miles east of Toronto. To begin the service, two small ships will run the route, but after the first month container and reefer service will also be offered. During the winter months when the Seaway is closed, cargo will be landshipped from Oshawa to Pointe au Pic, Quebec, from whence the ships will carry it on to St. John's. At the time of this writing it is not known which ships will be placed on the route but we imagine that they will be typical St. Lawrence and Gulf coasters, the current descendants of the wooden goelettes that for so long frequented the area.
Yet another company is now planning to operate American-registry salt water vessels into the lakes. A company known as Great Lakes and European Lines Inc. has been formed and will commence service in April, serving the ports of Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, London and Amsterdam. The weekly service will begin with five foreign-owned ships but within three years the company hopes to operate with five American-built containerships, each anticipated to cost $30 million. It has not yet been announced where the ships will be built, but the president of the new firm has conceded that one or more of the ships may be built by Defoe at Bay City, Michigan.
Meanwhile, it appears that the lake service operated last year by Lykes Bros. Steamship Company was a success. Lykes is planning on maintaining the route in 1976 and is at present the only line operating U.S.-flag salt water vessels into the lakes.
As a result of a request by the Columbia Transportation Division, Oglebay Norton and Company, a probate court judge at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, ruled early in February that the officers and crew of the steamer EDMUND FITZGERALD died by drowning in Lake Superior due to the sinking of the ship on November 10, 1975. The judge ordered the Chippewa County coroner to issue death certificates for the 29 men who perished in the disappearance of the vessel.
The Canadian National Railway east coast ferry SIR ROBERT BOND got into a spot of trouble on February 12th when she somehow managed to strike a breakwater and go aground near the entrance to the harbour at Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. Other C.N. ferries stood by the grounded vessel and she was later refloated. Readers will recall that SIR ROBERT BOND was built in 1975 by Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. and cleared the lakes in the autumn for her new duties on the run between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
Work continues at Toronto on the Q & O steamer OUTARDE (III), the former ROBERT HOBSON. In addition to the conversion to oil fuel, the vessel is having a bit of a facelift. The job involves the repair of the cosmetic blemish on her port bow, the legacy of a collision several years ago with the lower end of the Peerless Cement dock at Port Huron.
Another vessel undergoing work at Toronto this winter is the veteran (1906) steamer HELEN EVANS of the Hindman Transportation Company Ltd., Owen Sound. The vessel seems to be getting a general refurbishing. Meanwhile, Hindman's steamer PARKER EVANS is having considerable plate work done this winter as she lies at Owen Sound.
A notable passage of the Welland Canal took place on December 17 and 18, 1975 and was not noted in these pages, mainly because of the fact that we were not aware of it. At long last, in December was completed and delivered by Port Arthur Shipyards (now technically the Thunder Bay yard of the Canadian Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Ltd.) the new passenger and auto ferry designed especially for the ferry service between Kingston and Wolfe Island. Christened WOLFE ISLANDER III, the vessel was escorted down the lakes by the McQueen tug ATOMIC. The ferry measures 205 x 68 x 6, Gross 968, and is licenced for 336 passengers. She will carry about 50 autos. The motorship is a vessel of rather low profile, having a long cabin down either side of the main deck and a pilothouse which rests on a bridge joining the two side cabins. A fairly tall square funnel is carried on each side. It appears that during the summer months passengers will be allowed to sit atop the cabins and take the cooling lake breezes. WOLFE ISLANDER III made the canal passage under her own power, with ATOMIC standing by.
A minor fire occurred recently aboard the Cleveland-Cliffs Steamship Company's bulk carrier WALTER A. STERLING which is tied up for the winter at the Lorain yard of the American Shipbuilding Company. The blaze, which broke out in the vessel's galley when an oil stove malfunctioned, was quickly extinguished by Lorain firemen. AmShip will lengthen the STERLING this coming spring and after the stretching she will be the fourth-largest vessel on the lakes, surpassed only by PRESQUE ISLE, STEWART J. CORT and ROGER BLOUGH.
Once again, plans for the return to the lakes of the passenger steamer SOUTH AMERICAN seem to have fallen through. The most recent scheme involved the refurbishing of the old vessel as a convention centre in conjunction with a harbour redevelopment plan at Duluth, Minnesota. It now appears that the "backing" which was behind the plan has departed, or perhaps was never there at all, and as such another group will have to take over if SOUTH AMERICAN is to come back to the lakes. The ship herself seems to be in no immediate danger from the wrecker's torch. Ships Inc., her former owner, has now gone into bankruptcy. The firm owed money to the Port of South Jersey and so the municipality now has a lien on the steamer.
Meanwhile, we learn that a Chicago area group has been considering the return to service of the Wisconsin and Michigan Steamship Company's passenger vessel MILWAUKEE CLIPPER. The CLIPPER operated for many years on the Lake Michigan cross-lake service between Milwaukee and Muskegon but she has lain idle at the latter port for several years. The ship was built in 1905 at Cleveland and is probably best known for her years of service under the name JUNIATA for the Anchor Line and the Great Lakes Transit Corporation. Details of the new organization are not known, nor is the use to which the vessel might be put.
Winter navigation has been relatively free of problems for the better part of the winter but at last the complaints have started to come from the residents of Sugar Island, that rather vocal community located on the island in the St. Mary's River on the east side of Little Rapids Cut and Lake Nicolet. Ice difficulties were pretty well non-existent for the first half of the winter due to the fact that the U.S. Corps of Engineers put an ice boom across the bottom end of the Lower Soo harbour. The boom kept the ice from packing into Little Rapids and thus the ferry SUGAR ISLANDER was able to operate without interference. But in early February the boom suffered damage in the heavy ice and thereafter the ferry began to encounter problems in making its crossing. The island residents began to scream once again about the delays they encountered when the ferry could not operate as usual. And this time it looks as if somebody is listening to them. Chippewa County has proposed that a bridge be built to the island but in view of the fact that the county has been experiencing rather severe monetary problems lately, we rather doubt that such a project will ever come to fruition unless some other authority coughs up the bucks necessary to build the structure.
Although U.S. Steel is the only lake shipping firm still maintaining service on the lakes during the latter part of the winter, several Canadian tanker fleets have vessels in service on the east coast or in overseas trades. Branch Lines Ltd. of Sorel had six ships in service at last report, two working out of Point Tupper, Nova Scotia, for Gulf Oil and four running east from Montreal for Texaco, Golden Eagle, Shell and Canadian Fuel Marketers. The Hall Corporation has three tankers in winter service. JAMES TRANSPORT is operating on the east coast out of Point Tupper for Gulf, while SEA TRANSPORT is running to Newfoundland and other coastal areas from Montreal for Golden Eagle Canada Ltd. DOAN TRANSPORT is operating between Montreal, Freeport (Bahamas), Beaumont (Texas), and Rotterdam for Dow Chemical.
By the time these words appear in print, the future of the Straits of Mackinac steam carferry CHIEF WAWATAM should be known. The Mackinac Transportation Company has for years been trying to abandon the service but protests from authorities in the Michigan upper peninsula have served to keep the vessel operating. But recently the company has threatened to take the veteran steamer out of service on February 27, thus bringing to an end direct rail service between the upper and lower peninsulas. There is, however, one possibility of saving the ship and her route. The Michigan Department of Highways and Transportation has agreed to provide an operating subsidy and also financial aid for the leasing or purchasing costs on the condition that the Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority makes the necessary arrangements to take over the service from the ferry's defunct former operator. It remains to be seen whether such arrangements can be made.
On another carferry front, it appears that the Lake Michigan service of the Ann Arbor Railroad will continue, thanks to the intervention of Michigan governor Milliken. Funds to allow the bankrupt Ann Arbor to continue service will be available under the recently approved Railroad Revitalization Act which will provide $2.2 million for the service effective April 1. In the first year of the five-year plan, Michigan and Wisconsin will contribute a ten percent share of the subsidy but in each of the last four years the two states will contribute a larger share of the cost, their combined contributions reaching thirty percent in the final year. We now wonder whether similar arrangements may be forthcoming to persuade the Grand Trunk and Chesapeake and Ohio to continue their Lake Michigan ferry operations.
There seems to be considerable doubt as to whether the cruise ship WORLD DISCOVERER will return to the Great Lakes in 1976. Her operators had earlier announced that the 1975 season was a financial success and that the ship would return this year, but it seems that the firm handling the arrangements in the U.S. has withdrawn and no longer represents the vessel. If this is the case, then it would seem that other backing will have to be found very quickly should the ship still be brought to the lakes this year. Quite frankly, ye Ed. would tend to question the statement that the 1975 season was a success for the ship. While she was operating at capacity early in the season, she latterly did not appear to have much of a crowd aboard. We observed her on many occasions as she arrived at Toronto or cleared the port and on very few of these occasions were there many people standing at the rail to watch. While this is, of course, not a professional study of the situation, it might be an indication that support for the service was not all it was cracked up to be.
Ever since she was acquired by the Erie Sand Steamship Company in 1973, the steamer J. F. SCHOELLKOPF JR. has looked a bit out of place. For even though she was given the usual Erie orange and black funnel colours, she still operated with a black hull, a hangover from her years with Boland and Cornelius. Readers will, however, be glad to hear that during her current winter lay-up at Erie, Pennsylvania, the SCHOELLKOPF has been given the green hull typical of all other Erie Sand units.
A late-season casualty which we have overlooked in these pages was the Pringle self-unloader PAUL THAYER which ran aground December 11 near Pelee Island in Lake Erie. The Columbia sister-ship WOLVERINE came to the scene to lighter the THAYER's cargo, whereupon the stricken vessel was released and taken to Lorain for repairs at AmShip. Another December casualty was THORNHILL which found the bottom in the St. Mary's River while en route to Toronto with a cargo of grain. Fortunately for the old vessel, two tugs from the Soo were able to refloat her and she continued on her way undamaged.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.