Many times in these pages we have commented upon that strange breed of lake vessel, the canaller. These little boats, once so common not only along the St. Lawrence and Welland canals but also on the upper lakes, have virtually passed from the scene but they have not been forgotten by those of us who knew them so well.
One of the more interesting features of the canallers was that they did not come from the shipyards in ones and twos as did the larger upper lakers, but nearly always in large groups of near-sisterships. This came about because, especially during the 1920's, many operators ordered large numbers of canallers at the same time from various builders in the British Isles and, in addition, many of these same builders constructed numbers of canallers on speculation in that hope that they could be peddled to lake operators. In most cases, the builder of any of the various groups of canallers could easily be identified by the distinguishing features of the appearance of vessels which it produced.
This month we feature just such a group of ships, five canal steamships built for Paterson Steamships Limited (later known as N. M. Paterson and Sons Ltd.) of Fort William, Ontario, at British yards in 1927. It was not really surprising that the Paterson fleet, under the direction of Norman M. Paterson who for many years was a Canadian senator, would order such a group of boats. The fleet, formed back in 1915, had operated previously with a motley collection of second-hand canal steamers and had greatly expanded its operations in 1926 when it bought a considerable number of upper lakers from American owners for use in the grain trade. With the addition of these boats, it was reasonable that the company should enlarge its canal fleet to ferry the grain down through the old canals.
Paterson crossed the Atlantic with an order for five canal steamers and in early 1927 the contract for their construction was let to the famous firm of Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. which divided the work between its yards at Wallsend-on-Tyne and Sunderland, England, the latter being known as the Southwick yard. All five vessels proved to be similar in dimensions and appearance and were quite impressive, particularly as they were the first such boats built to Paterson's order. They were rather different in appearance from the many other canallers which Swan Hunter was to build over the years for various lake operators.
The first of the new boats to be launched was KINGDOC (I) which was put into the waters of the River Tyne at Wallsend on April 2, 1927, her sponsor at the launching and christening being Miss Elizabeth Paterson, the daughter of Norman M. Paterson. She was her builder's Hull 1297. The second to take the big splash was LACHINEDOC (I), launched at the Southwick yard on April 8, her sponsor for the event being Mrs. Norman M. Paterson. The vessel was Hull 1311 of the yard. The third in the series was TORONDOC (I) which was Hull 1299 out of the Wallsend shipyard. She hit the Tyne waters on April 14 under the sponsorship of Miss Greta Pybus and she was ready to run her trials on May 13th.
The five boats were, according to Paterson custom, named after places in Canada, namely the municipalities of Lachine, Quebec, and Toronto, Hamilton, Welland and Kingston, Ontario. The "doc" suffix signified the Dominion of Canada and has been used in the names of most of the line's ships since the formation of the company.
KINGDOC (Br. & C. 149429) - 252.8 x 43.4 x 17.8, Gross 1926, Net 1152.
All five were powered by triple expansion engines with cylinders of 15, 25 and 40 inches and a 33-inch stroke. Steam was provided by two coal-fired, single-ended Scotch marine boilers measuring 10' 1-3/l6" by 10'10". In the case of the Wallsend-built trio, the machinery and boilers were built by Swan Hunter at the shipyard, but the engines and boilers for the Southwick boats were manufactured by MacColl and Pollock Ltd. of Sunderland.
The steamers were built to the requirements of the British Corporation and were given sunken (or half) forecastles 35 feet in length and raised quarterdecks measuring 100 feet from step to fantail. Each boat had seven hatches of which two were located in the quarterdeck. They were without the benefit of kingposts or cargo booms but each ship had two pole masts, one just behind the forward cabin and one abaft the funnel. Coal for the boilers was carried in bunkers fed through a hatch immediately behind the stack.
In normal Paterson manner, the ships were painted black with a white forecastle and white cabins. The stacks were black and carried a large white 'P'. As designed, the boats were to be given the usual canaller-type stack, fairly thin and of medium height, but when they emerged from the builders' yards, they sported very tall and thin "sawmill" funnels with the 'P' up close to the top. Before many years had elapsed, however, the stacks were cut down considerably and the letter appeared about half way down. This change was for the better as far as eye appeal was concerned but the taller stacks had been more interesting. At no time were the stacks noticeably raked and neither were the masts.
The ships were given typical square texas cabins but their real trademark lay in their pilothouses which were quite distinctive and unlike those of other canallers. They were flat across the back but the front consisted of seven angled "sides", the after one on each side containing a door and the other five sporting large windows. They were without the benefit of sunvisors but awning stretchers were provided over the wheelhouses and bridge wings. Originally, each ship carried a very small monkey's island atop the pilothouse, this area being surrounded by an open rail which led out to the starboard side where a ladder was fitted. In later years, the monkey's island was enlarged so that the rail extended all the way around the top of the house. As time passed, the pilothouses of the various ships gained either full or partial visors and, in fact, the houses were enlarged on KINGDOC and LACHINEDOC so that they protruded out over the forward edge of the texas. This improved their appearance considerably.
The five ships in due course found their way across the Atlantic to Canada and it would seem likely that some of them carried Welsh coal on their delivery voyages, for this was normal practice with canallers built in Britain during this period. They served their owner well over the years, hauling grain downbound and pulpwood upbound on most voyages, although they often carried coal as well. They were excellent carriers and, in fact, HAMILDOC once managed to carry a record cargo of pulpwood. As time went on, however, the line acquired other British-built canallers which were just a bit larger than the original five and as a result, when the hard times of the 1930's hit lake shipping, the quintet spent much time at the wall.
With the onset of the Second World War, the hitherto unremarkable and unspectacular careers of the five steamboats changed and thereafter they led different lives. Two of them became war casualties but three survived to see to an end the age of the canaller.
The first to go was TORONDOC which was requisitioned for salt water service by the Canadian government in 1941. As were many of the canallers, she was used primarily in the bauxite trade, carrying this precious cargo from the Demerara River area of South America across the Caribbean and up the east coast. This was a dangerous run and one that attracted the attention of the enemy, for bauxite was a most important commodity. TORONDOC was not to last long in ocean service for on May 20, 1942 she fell victim to enemy action in the Caribbean and was a total loss.
HAMILDOC likewise was requisitioned for salt water service by the Canadian federal authorities in 1941 and she too found her way onto the bauxite run. Her end, however, was far different from that of her sister for she foundered in the Atlantic on New Year's Day 1943 after having broken her back in an extremely heavy three-day gale. The canallers may have weathered without undue difficulty the worst that the lakes could throw at them over the years but they simply were never built to withstand the seas which the Atlantic can kick up in a good storm. HAMILDOC was not the only canal boat to perish in this fashion.
WELLANDOC, like her sisters, was requisitioned in 1941 by the Canadian government for wartime service on salt water and she too found herself in the bauxite trade from South America to the east coast. She was sold in 1942 to the United States Maritime Commission which paid $587,322 for her. The sale, however, meant little but a change of flag for her as she continued in the bauxite trade until the end of the war, at which time she was laid up in the James River reserve fleet, her services no longer required.
WELLANDOC, however, did not lie idle for long because back on the lakes, canallers were much in demand, so many of them having fallen victim to the enemy during the hostilities. Strangely enough, it was not Paterson who brought her back to the lakes but rather Capt. Robert Scott Misener whose Sarnia Steamships Ltd., Port Colborne, purchased her in 1947 from the U.S. Maritime Commission. She returned to fresh water and was given a thorough refit by Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. It was at this time that she was renamed (b) BRAMPTON in honour of the town which lies to the northwest of Toronto. The use of the "ton" name was a throwback to the naming scheme used by the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd., many of whose boats found their way to the Misener fleet after the dissolution of the Mathews interests during the Great Depression.
It was during her refit at Port Weller that BRAMPTON lost her distinctive little pilothouse. Presumably thinking it to be inefficient and outdated, Misener had her fitted with a much larger square steel pilothouse. While it is doubtless true that this modern structure was much appreciated by all those who sailed in BRAMPTON, it did little for the appearance of the boat. The Port Weller rebuild altered her tonnage to 1975 Gross, 1137 Net.
BRAMPTON served steadily for Misener and in 1951 he transferred her from Sarnia Steamships Ltd. to Colonial Steamships Ltd., also of Port Colborne. Eight years later, there came another change for early in 1959, all of the Misener boats, which by then had been consolidated into Colonial Steamships Ltd., were transferred to a new firm, Scott Misener Steamships Ltd. The change meant little to BRAMPTON for she was never to operate for her new owner. The 1959 season saw the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Misener was one of the first Canadian vessel operators to discard its now-uneconomical canallers. BRAMPTON was tied up along with eight of her former running mates above Locks 27 and 28 in the Galop (sometimes spelled Galops) Canal, part of the Williamsburg Canal system, just above Cardinal, Ontario. There she remained until 1961 at which time she was sold to Crawford Metals Ltd. and dismantled at the Bay of Quinte port of Deseronto, Ontario.
The wartime career of LACHINEDOC was closely parallel to and no more spectacular than that of WELLANDOC. She too went to salt water for the Canadian government in 1941 and ran in the bauxite trade through the war even though she also was sold in 1942 to the U.S. Maritime Commission for the same price of $587,322. When the hostilities terminated, she too was laid to rest in the James River reserve fleet. She lay there for less time than did WELLANDOC, however, for it was in 1946 that the interest of Capt. Misener focused on her.
Colonial Steamships Ltd. purchased LACHINEDOC from the U.S.M.C. in 1946 for the sum of $113,800 and she was brought back to the lakes where she was refurbished by Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. As a result of this rebuild, her tonnage was increased to 1976 Gross, her Net dropping to 1137. She did not lose her old pilothouse in the reconstruction but instead it was enlarged, retaining its same distinctive shape but now protruding rather prominently over the forward bulkhead of the texas. It was proposed to rename her ALLISTON in honour of the small town located near Barrie, Ontario, but instead it was decided that she would become (b) QUEENSTON, her name taken from the historic town which sits above the Niagara River on the edge of the escarpment.
QUEENSTON served Misener's requirements well and in 1959 she was transferred to Scott Misener Steamships Ltd. But like BRAMPTON, she would never sail for the new firm and, in fact, the two ships lay close together in ordinary in the Galop Canal. QUEENSTON, however, was a bit luckier that her sister for in 1961 she was sold to the operators of the amusement park located on BobLo Island in the Detroit River. QUEENSTON was hauled up the Welland Canal on September 30, 1961 by the Pyke Salvage tugs SALVAGE PRINCE and SALVAGE MONARCH and in due course she was cut down for use as a dock at Bob-Lo Island, a function that she still serves to this day.
KINGDOC was salvaged and was brought back into the lakes. Paterson arranged for her to be put on the drydock at her namesake port, Kingston, for repairs and it is said that the job of repairing and refurbishing the steamer was the largest such job that the Kingston shipyard ever had. KINGDOC was put back into service by the Paterson fleet which was undoubtedly very pleased to have her back since so many of its boats were away on salt water doing wartime chores, a number having already been lost. It does not seem that KINGDOC drew any extended service on salt water for the remainder of the war although she undoubtedly ran at least as far east as the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
KINGDOC was sent to Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd. in 1949 for deepening, this result being achieved by raising the entire forward part of the hull so that it was level with the quarterdeck. Her new depth was measured as 21'9" and the rebuild altered her tonnage to 2211 Gross and 1520 Net. KINGDOC was the only one of the five ever to undergo this operation and she was also the only one ever to carry kingposts and cargo booms, these being fitted at the time of her deepening. It is probable that the enlargement of her pilothouse (a la QUEENSTON) was done a bit earlier, perhaps during her stay in the shipyard at Kingston six years before.
N. M. Paterson and Sons Ltd. was not as quick to dump its canallers after the opening of the Seaway as were other operators and, in fact, the company's last two steam canallers (TROISDOC and SORELDOC) lasted through 1965 in operation. The fleet still runs one canal-sized motorship, TROISDOC (III). But still the ranks of Paterson canallers were decimated by gradual attrition and late in 1961 came the turn of KINGDOC. Most of them were retired as they came due for regular inspection and survey or else needed expensive reapirs. Towards the close of the 1961 season, KINGDOC was sold to Marine Salvage Ltd., Port Colborne. As we recall, she was downbound in the Welland Canal under her own power with a cargo of grain on November 4, 1961, that being her last downbound trip. She returned under steam to Hamilton and there in 1962 was scrapped by the Steel Company of Canada Ltd.
As the years passed, Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. was to build a great many more canallers for lake operators but to our way of thinking, none were more distinctive than the first five. They proved to be staunch and successful and had it not been for the intervention of the second war, it is likely that all five would still have been in the Paterson fleet until the advent of the Seaway. Even after they were gone, their memory lived on for their names were given to other vessels in the Paterson fleet and even today there is still a KINGDOC operating on the lakes, albeit a much different ship than her earlier namesake.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.