The steam-powered canal-sized bulk carriers and package freighters which were built in such large numbers for the lower lakes service during the first three decades of this century were generally considered to have been a pretty hardy group of vessels. Granted, many of them fell victim to enemy action during the two wars and a few were overcome during the war years by severe weather conditions on the high seas, conditions for which they were never designed, but by and large the majority of them lived uneventful lives, trading up and down the lower canals until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway rendered them uneconomical to operate.
Keystone Transports Ltd. was a subsidiary of the Montreal Light Heat and Power Company Ltd. which, in association with the Koppers Coal Company of Pittsburgh, founded the shipping line in 1909 for the purpose of carrying coal to its Montreal power generating plant. The company began operations with two chartered Norwegian steamers, C. SUNDT and DRONNING MAUD, which ran to Montreal with coal from Sandusky, Ohio. The same year, Keystone Transports Ltd. ordered three canal-sized bulk carriers from Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd., Wallsend-on-Tyne, and these were to be the first of fourteen canallers that would be built at various yards for Keystone and its affiliates.
The three vessels were not exact sisterships, but they were very similar in appearance and design. The first two to appear from the builder's yard were KEYWEST (I) and KEYPORT, built in 1909 as Swan Hunter's hulls 817 and 818 respectively. Third ship in the series was KEYSTORM (we do not know her hull number) and she made her appearance on the lakes in June 1910, having sailed across the Atlantic under her own power. She was 250.0 feet in length with a beam of 42.6 feet and a depth of 18.0 feet. Her tonnage was registered as 1720 Gross and 1295 Net. She was designed for a carrying capacity of 2300 tons on light draught of 14 feet.
KEYSTORM was given Official Number 129749 and like her two sisters was registered at Newcastle, England. KEYPORT and KEYWEST were, of course, transferred to Canadian registry in later years but KEYSTORM did not last long enough for this change to affect her.
KEYSTORM was powered by a triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 15, 25 and 42 inches and a stroke of 30 inches. This was the same machinery that was fitted in KEYPORT and KEYWEST but unlike her sisters, which received two scotch boilers each, KEYSTORM was fitted with one larger boiler. This change reduced slightly her carrying capacity compared with the other two ships, but she gained the advantage of being able to make better time. On her trials KEYSTORM achieved a speed of 10 knots per hour, not bad for a canaller.
KEYSTORM entered regular service soon after her arrival on the lakes and spent most of her time carrying coal to Montreal from various Lake Erie ports. Like her sisters, she was a very good-looking ship and was quite advanced in design compared with some of the other canallers then in operation. She was given a three-quarter forecastle but her quarterdeck was not raised and was flush with the shelter deck. Her large texas cabin was given a rounded front and atop this house was carried a rather large pilothouse, again with a rounded front. On the monkey's island atop the pilothouse was carried an open bridge and this was surrounded by a very prominent canvas dodger or weathercloth. To provide shade for the men on the bridge she was given awnings which were raised over the bridge wings and monkey's island.
KEYSTORM was fitted with two very heavy spars equipped with booms for cargo handling. The foremast was stepped abaft the first hatch while the main was located well forward of the after cabin. In this aspect she differed markedly from KEYPORT and KEYWEST, both of which carried the foremast right behind the forward cabin and the main aft of the funnel. KEYSTORM was given a very tall but not too heavy funnel which, like the masts, was virtually unraked. The hull had almost no sheer at all. The steamer was painted in the usual early Keystone colours, olive green hull with white cabins and a black funnel with a wide silver band on which was carried the familiar red, black and silver keystone insignia.
But KEYSTORM was to have a very short career, one that was brought to a sudden end in an accident caused by the negligence of her master and first officer. In the early morning hours of October 26, 1912 she ran aground on Outer Scow Island Shoal in the St. Lawrence River below Alexandria Bay while downbound with a cargo of coal. Some five hours after the accident she slipped off the shoal and foundered in deep water from which she was never raised. The facts of the accident and the results of the investigation which was later held can be reported in no better fashion than by quoting from the official report of the Dominion Wreck Commissioner.
Following is the finding of Commander H.L.G. Lindsay, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, who was assisted by Captains F. Nash, F.J. Thomson and J. McGrath, acting as assessors:
The KEYSTORM, a vessel of 1037 tons register, belonging to the Keystone Transportation Company of Montreal, engaged regularly in the coal trade between various coal ports in the United States and Montreal, left Charlotte, N.Y., on October 25, about 3:00 p.m., for Montreal with a cargo of 2,273 tons of coal and arrived off Tibbett's Point in the St. Lawrence about midnight. At 12:15 a.m. on October 26, the master gave over the charge of the navigation to his first mate, with orders of a very definite nature as to what he should do, but for some reason or other did not go below to his quarters, but remained on the forward deck, evidently not being quite satisfied of the first mate's ability to run the vessel in the intricate channel in that locality and also being doubtful as to the state of the weather, which was at that time unsettled.
At 3:00 a.m., the ship being off Alexandria Bay, the master retired to his bed, the weather conditions, according to his evidence, being the same, but he did not take off his clothes, evidently expecting a call. From that point the vessel proceeded safely up to Sister's Island Light, which was a perfectly straight course from Sunken Rock Light. When passing the Sister's she ran into a bank of fog which obscured all lights and land marks. The first mate then showed a total disregard of prudence or common sense and, not knowing what course the vessel should steer by compass, never having, as he said, paid any attention to such a method of navigation, he tried to take the customary course by using what he supposed was the glimmer of the light on Sister's Island over the stern, but without being able to see the gas buoy on Chippewa Point Shoal which under ordinary circumstances would have shown on the starboard bow. Then, being doubtful of the ship's position, and without any reduction of speed, he sent down to call the master, but before this could be done the ship struck on the Outer Scow Shoal and became a total loss.
The court finds that the master, Louis Daigneault, showed a lack of judgment in allowing the mate to take charge of the navigation of this valuable vessel in this particular locality where the greatest amount of care is necessary for navigation even during the daytime, knowing as he did the limited experience the mate had in this work, and his going below at 3:00 a.m. was an act of culpable negligence as there were still dangers to avoid and in less than two hours it would have been daylight. The court therefore suspends his certificate from November 1, 1912 to November 1, 1913.
With respect to the conduct of John Leboeuf, the mate, the court is of the opinion that his neglect to call the master when the weather became thick, his lack of initiative in not stopping the engines when he lost his bearing, and his utter disregard of the compass course to be steered, was gross and culpable negligence, and suspends his certificate from November 1, 1912 to November 1, 1914.
The court severely reprobates the very loose method of navigation which seems to be customary on vessels of this class, and particularly the want of compass courses, and suggests a printed card of all courses and distances on the various runs, the card to be hung up in the pilothouse, ready for instant reference in case the leading lights or marks become obscured as happened in this case.
The court is of the opinion that everything was done in the engineroom with regard to the pumping arrangements, but in spite of this the water gradually gained and ultimately caused the vessel to slip off the shoal into deep water and founder about five hours after stranding. No attempt seems to have been made to try to get the vessel off the shoal and it is the court's opinion that under the circumstances it was just as well that such was the case.
KEYSTORM at the time of her loss was valued at about $125,000 and her cargo at $300,000 and accordingly her owners were understandably reluctant to abandon her. In the early spring of 1913 a diver was sent down and he reported that the steamer was lying on her starboard side in deep water, with her bottom ripped out for a distance of about 60 feet back from the bow. The diver's opinion was that it would not be possible to salvage the ship and, as a result, KEYSTORM was officially abandoned in April 1913.
The underwriters let a salvage contract to A.J. Lee of Westmount, Quebec, and he arranged for salvage gear to be brought from Quebec, with airlocks and compressors coming from New York and divers from Halifax. It was determined that the stern of the ship was resting in 102 feet of water and it was thought that if the vessel could be lifted by means of compressed air, she could be shifted about three shiplengths into much shallower water and there the remainder of the necessary work could be accomplished. Lee was apparently interested in proving certain of his theories on the subject of compressed air and its value in salvage work and he started work in the fall of 1913 to seal up the wreck in preparation for the lift.
Lee went back to work on KEYSTORM in the spring of 1914 when weather conditions were suitable, but his efforts proved unsuccessful and the sunken collier stayed right where she lay on the bottom of Chippewa Bay. As the years of the First World War passed, other salvagers talked of the possibility of raising the ship and reclaiming her cargo but nobody ever succeeded in bringing the canaller to the surface.
If KEYSTORM had a short career on the lakes, her sisters did much better for themselves. KEYWEST ran through 1946 at which time she was condemned. Laid up at Kingston, she was scrapped there in 1947 and her remains were shipped by rail to the Sault Ste. Marie plant of the Algoma Steel Company. KEYPORT was to survive the longest. Keystone Transports was taken over by LaVerendrye Line Ltd. (Quebec Natural Gas Corporation) in 1957 and during 1957 and 1958 the less economical Keystone ships were retired. Five steamers, however, were kept in operation through the autumn of 1961 at which time operations were closed down, LaVerendrye Line being acquired by the Hall Corporation in 1962. The ships that finished out the service were KEYBAR, KEYSTATE, KEYSHEY, KEYVIVE and the oldest ship in the fleet, KEYPORT. She lay idle at Kingston until 1963 and on June 5 of that year was towed to Port Dalhousie where she was scrapped in the old drydock by A. Newman and Company.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.