Accidents and blockages in the present-day canals of the Great Lakes produce headaches not only for those in charge of operation of the waterways but also for the crews and managers of vessels involved as well as those held up by traffic stoppages. But if such events are problematical these days, just imagine how much more troublesome they were back in the days of the old St. Lawrence and Welland canals when not only were there a great many more vessels in operation but when the canals were made up of a multitude of small locks and narrow, congested connecting channels.
The following item from the July 1926 issue of Canadian Railway and Marine World gives an indication of the massive traffic delays caused by the scrap tows of World War One "Lakers" during 1925 and 1926:
In August 1925, Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer of Detroit, Michigan, bought from the United States Shipping Board 198 (sic.) ships built during the Great War, for $1,706,000 to be taken from the ports at which they were lying on the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast to Detroit to be scrapped. The first of them arrived in tow at Montreal in November 1925 and were taken on to Detroit and this season the first arrivals at Montreal were on May 19 and they continued regularly thereafter, two ships being towed in every four days.
It was not until they reached the canals that any great difficulty was experienced but on May 30 it was found that the towing of them was holding up the regular traffic and had forced a temporary cessation of work at the Port Colborne grain elevators. Complaint was made by ship owners and grain shippers using the canals to the Railways and Canals Department (of the Canadian government) which was followed by a protest from the Dominion Marine Association regarding the blocking of the canals by these ships at the busiest part of the season. It was shown that the running time of a steamship through the Welland Canal, which under normal conditions is about 14 hours, had been increased by from 23 to 36 hours, while the delays on the Lachine, Soulanges and Cornwall canals ran up to 12 hours.
The Department ruled that the Ford ships should give way to Government-owned ships, ships on regular schedules carrying passengers, general merchandise and package freight ships embarking or delivering freight at all points and on regular schedules, ships built to carry bulk cargoes, and pleasure boats such as yachts, skiffs and canoes, as provided for in the regulations. The Dominion Marine Association applied to the Department on June 4 for a copy of the ruling, placing the Ford ships in what was designated as a fifth category, and was advised as follows: - "No further material delays are expected to be caused to normal traffic, as definite instructions have been issued giving priority rights to all self-propelled boats. This and rigid adherence to canal rules and regulations 18, 24 and 67 render unnecessary the establishment of a fifth class of vessel."
(Ed. Note: Not all Ford's hulls were towed up. Some were scrapped on salt water and the scrap taken to Detroit in other hulls. The Ford Motor Company set up in the River Rouge what might be called a "disassembly line" which made short work of cutting up the old "Lakers". Ford did, however, keep 13 of the steamers and cut them down to barges. Towed by a fleet of 7 extremely handsome Shipping Board tugs which had also been used to tow the "Lakers" up from salt water, these unique barges served Ford in the ore trade until the Second War.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.