We have frequently featured in these pages the early Canadian canallers, those which were built close to the turn of the century. Indeed, it may seem as if we have devoted excessive attention to these steamers over the years, perhaps ignoring some of the more familiar vessels of the upper lakes. There is, however, a modicum of sense in our madness; these canallers were a great step forward from the small wooden vessels which they superceded and many of them enjoyed extremely long lives, longer, perhaps, than was originally intended when they were built. Of more importance to us, though, is the fact that, while many of the upper lakers have had the details of their careers preserved in print in the various marine historical journals, few of these old canallers have been as fortunate. As the canallers were indigenous to the area which the Toronto Marine Historical Society calls home, we consider it part of our duty to preserve in print their stories, particularly those which have not been featured under other circumstances.
It was probably late in 1902 that the Mackays let to Russell and Company of Port Glasgow, Scotland, a contract for the construction of a steel-hulled package freighter of canal dimensions. Built as the yard's Hull 509. she was a little smaller than the usual canallers of later years, measuring 230.4 feet in length, 37.1 feet in the beam and 21.8 feet in depth. Her tonnage was registered as 1575 Gross and 976 Net. She was powered by a triple expansion engine built for her by J. G. Kincaid and Company, Greenock, with cylinders of 18, 28 and 47 inches, and a stroke of 33 inches. Steam was provided by two coal-fired Scotch boilers built for the ship. They measured 12'6" by 10'6".
The hull was launched on March 13, 1903, and was, in due course, enrolled as Br.102577 with a port of registry of Glasgow, Scotland. Like many of the British-built canallers, she was originally registered in Great Britain, a practice which continued to be in vogue until the 1920s. It was, of course, no great problem to transfer such boats to Canadian registry at a later date and most eventually made the change, particularly those which managed to survive the First World War or were built subsequent to the conflict. As the British and Canadian registries were closely allied, a change from one to the other did not result in any change in official number.
The new steamer was given the name WAHCONDAH, a rather unusual name but one which bore certain similarities to the name NEEPAWAH which was given to her near-sister, built the same year for the Mackays. "Wahcondah" appears to be a variant of the Sioux word meaning "creator" or "great mystic spirit". It is not known why the Mackays chose this particular name for their new boat, but it appears to have suited her and she kept it throughout her half-century of lake service.
Most of the early canallers built in British shipyards were designed along the lines of seagoing ships of their period, with the bridge set back off the forecastle. NEEPAWAH was of this type. By contrast, WAHCONDAH had her square texas and likewise square pilothouse, with open bridge atop, set directly above a completely flush forecastle. Period photographs, showing her forward end completely encased with ice after late-season trips, vouch for the fact that this arrangement caused her to be an extremely "wet" ship. She carried two masts, one abaft the first hatch and the main about two-thirds aft, each mast carrying cargo booms slung both fore and aft.
WAHCONDAH must have been launched in a nearly-completed state, for it was less than a month later that she sailed from the shipyard. She cleared the United Kingdom on her delivery voyage en route to the Great Lakes on April 11, 1903. She arrived in Canada during May but soon had the misfortune of being involved in an accident. Upbound in the St. Lawrence canals with a cargo of firebrick and drawing 14 feet of water, she stranded at Farran's Point and subsequently settled in a spot in the canal where the river was 17 feet deep. The ship was soon raised and quickly repaired.
Although she had been designed and built for the package freight service, WAHCONDAH spent a considerable period of time after her arrival on the lakes carrying iron ore from Michipicoten to Point Edward. The Mackays had contracted in May of 1903 to deliver 150,000 tons of ore during that navigation season to the Hamilton Steel Company (later known as the Steel Company of Canada Ltd.). WAHCONDAH carried her ore only as far as Point Edward, from which port it was sent by rail to Hamilton. Also used in this service were the canallers DONNACONA (I) and STRATHCONA, which were managed by R. O. and A. B. Mackay for the Hamilton Steel Company.
Upon the termination of the Michipicoten ore contract, WAHCONDAH joined NEEPAWAH in the package freight trade between Montreal and Fort William, operating under the management of the Montreal-Lake Superior Line. This arrangement remained in effect during the 1904, 1905 and 1906 seasons and, during 1906, the other steamers used on the service were the three sisterships A. E. AMES, H. M. PELLATT and J. H. PLUMMER, as well as the iron-hulled veteran ARABIAN. For the 1906 season, the New Ontario Steamship Company was formed by the Mackays to operate both WAHCONDAH and NEEPAWAH.
At the close of navigation in 1906, however, the Montreal-Lake Superior Line was dissolved. In 1907, the Brothers Mackay became managers of the newly-formed Merchants Montreal-Lake Superior Line in association with G. E. Jaques and Company of Montreal. That year, the vessels used in the package freight service between Montreal and the Lakehead were Mackays' WAHCONDAH, NEEPAWAH and ROSEDALE, Jaques' BICKERDIKE, the Montreal Transportation Company's ADVANCE, and the Mathews Steamship Company's sisterships EDMONTON and HADDINGTON.
It was in June, 1907, that the Wahcondah Steamship Company was formed with a capital of $100,000 in order to take over ownership of WAHCONDAH. The directors of the new company were R. O. Mackay, W. G. Walton, F. A. Magee, F. H. Whitton, J. Milne, J. P. Steedman and C. E. Doolittle. Be all this as it may, the New Ontario Steamship Company appears to have continued to manage WAHCONDAH within the Merchants Montreal consortium.
In May, 1908, the Inland Navigation Company Ltd. was incorporated by the Mackays under the Dominion Companies Act with a capital of $2,000,000. The new firm took over not only the ten Mackay steamers, including WAHCONDAH, but also the wharfinger, cartage, warehousing and coal business of R. O. and A. B. Mackay at Hamilton, the shed and wharf privileges at Montreal, and the business and property of the Mackay-affiliated New Ontario Dock and Coal Company Ltd. at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. With this reorganization, R. O. Mackay withdrew from active participation in the family's shipping affairs, but A. B. Mackay continued to represent their interests as vice-president of the new company.
It was in 1909 that the registry of WAHCONDAH was patriated from the U.K. to Canada. The name of the port of Glasgow was removed from her counter stern and, in its place, appeared that of Hamilton, Ontario, the city in which the Mackay Brothers resided. It was not long, however, before the ownership of WAHCONDAH again changed.
In March, 1910, James Playfair of Midland, Ontario, gained control of the Inland Navigation Company Ltd. by purchasing a large block of shares, including the 27,000 owned by the Mackays. Playfair then reorganized the company as Inland Lines Ltd., bringing together into one fleet the former Mackay boats and those previously operated by the Playfair interests. At this time, A. B. Mackay retired from management of the fleet which his family had built up, but he did not leave the shipping scene, for he then became an active vessel broker. The departure of the Mackays did not, however, mean that the Inland fleet was without a driving force whose name was one with which to be reckoned. James Playfair, himself, was a major shipping entrepreneur whose empire was to grow considerably throughout the following three decades. The majority of the large Canadian fleets which today are engaged in the moving of solid bulk cargoes cannot but admit that, in some stage of their development or that of their predecessors, they came under the influence of James Playfair. In point of fact, it is difficult to imagine what the state of the Canadian lake shipping industry might be today were it not for the influence of the Mackays and of James Playfair during the first four decades of this century.
WAHCONDAH operated for Inland Lines Ltd. for three full seasons but a major change came in 1913. That spring, there occurred the totally unprecedented amalgamation of Canadian lake shipping firms which resulted in the formation of what was first and briefly called the Canada Transportation Company Ltd. but was soon rechristened Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. The main proponents of this merger were Roy M. Wolvin and Capt. J. W. Norcross, and the story of how they dealt to create the largest fleet ever to operate under the Canadian flag on the Great Lakes is one which would fill many pages. Their methods may have been "questionable" at times, but there is no doubt that they were able to build a strong organization, one which continues to function as a corporate conglomerate almost seven decades later.
WAHCONDAH remained in lake trade under C.S.L. colours until 1915, at which time, due to the demand for tonnage created by the First World War, she was taken to salt water for service. Before leaving the lakes, however, she was involved in a most serious collision on Lake Huron. She was downbound in the early morning of July 12, 1915, with wheat from Fort William for Montreal, when she was beset by a dense fog. Whilst off Presque Isle, she collided with the "monitor" type straight-deck bulk carrier CHOCTAW of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company. (The "monitors", CHOCTAW, YUMA and ANDASTE, were the unsuccessful product of a blend of the whaleback and straight-back designs.) CHOCTAW was upbound light and was struck between the first and second hatches; the wound was mortal and she sank within a matter of minutes. WAHCONDAH's bow was badly crumpled but, after rescuing CHOCTAW's crew, she was able to proceed down Lake Huron under her own power for inspection at Sarnia.
A formal investigation was instituted by the Dominion Wreck Commissioner, the acerbic and much-feared Capt. L. A. Demers. He convened an official hearing at Kingston and, on July 28, 1915, the court of enquiry found that the captain and first mate of WAHCONDAH, Capt. Cornelius Dineen and David Chambers, respectively, had each contributed to the casualty. The master was held at fault for not being at his post during thick weather and for allowing his vessel to proceed at full speed during a fog. The mate was faulted for not stopping WAHCONDAH when he heard a warning signal from CHOCTAW, and for not calling the master to the bridge earlier. Both of WAHCONDAH's officers suffered the indignity of having their respective certificates suspended for the period of one year.
After she was repaired from her collision damage and returned to service, WAHCONDAH was sent to salt water to aid the war effort. In 1916, C.S.L. sold her to the Seatonia Steamship Company Ltd. of West Hartlepool, England, of which Hessler and Company was manager. She reverted to British registry at this time and her home port was changed from Hamilton to West Hartlepool. She operated under the British flag for the remainder of the war. On August 27, 1917, WAHCONDAH was badly damaged in a 60 m.p.h. gale off Scully Island, whilst en route to Swansea, Wales. One member of her crew lost his life in this encounter with the sort of seas which the steamer was never designed to withstand. But WAHCONDAH survived the storm and she remained under the management of Hessler and Company until 1920, when she was sold to Williams Brothers of Cardiff, Wales, operators of the St. Mary Steamship Company.
On October 26, 1922, WAHCONDAH was repurchased by one of her original owners, A. B. Mackay, who, as a result of "difficulties" in Canada, had become a resident of London, England, and the Isle of Wight. He returned her to the lakes and sold her to Capt. James B. Foote, who acted in the sale for the Union Transit Company Ltd. of Toronto (the Toronto Insurance and Vessel Agency Ltd.).
When WAHCONDAH came back from her deep sea service, she sported a raised forecastle, much as did most other canallers by that time. It is not known exactly when she gained this benefit, but one can hardly imagine her operating in ocean service with a flush forecastle, a combination which would have led to much damage in her forward quarters. It seems reasonable to assume that the raised bow was given to her when she was repaired after the CHOCTAW collision, but it is possible that it might not have been done until after she crossed the ocean. After all, she did make her delivery voyage from Glasgow with a flush forward end and emerged none the worse for that experience.
One other strange point is worth noting. As built for the package freight trade, WAHCONDAH had sideports for the loading of general cargo. She used these regularly until she left to go to war but, when she came back, she no longer had the sideports. One might have thought that they would simply have been welded closed or plated over, but no, her entire sides had been replated in such a manner that it was impossible to tell where her cargo doors had been. Such a rebuilding was extremely unusual.
The Union Transit Company Ltd. ran WAHCONDAH until 1925, when she was sold to the Wahcondah Navigation Company Ltd., a subsidiary of the Spanish River Pulp and Paper Company Ltd. of Iroquois Falls, Ontario. This company was absorbed in 1930 by the Abitibi Power and Paper Company Ltd. Its vessel-owning subsidiary, the Abitibi Navigation Company Ltd., took control of WAHCONDAH and, on May 6, 1930, her registry was changed to Toronto. From 1930 onwards, WAHCONDAH operated in the pulp and paper trade and, for this purpose, she was fitted with two chain hoists which were positioned over the first and third hatches in order to handle cargo. It was during this period that she was also given a new pilothouse with a slightly rounded front. She was at Toronto on several occasions with paper cargoes and, when she first came here, she did not have the new cabin. It is likely that she gained this new appendage during the late 1920s.
As a result of the poor business conditions during the Great Depression, WAHCONDAH saw little service during the early 1930s. She was laid up from 1933 until 1936 in Martindale Pond above old Lock One at Port Dalhousie. Her companions for much of this period were the old Mathews steamer MALTON and the barge TURRET CAPE, these being joined at various times by assorted vessels of the Eastern Steamship Company Ltd.
She was refitted in 1936, however, and at this time her two original masts were replaced by poles fore and aft. She was returned to service by Abitibi Navigation, for whom she served for the next two decades. During this period, she was given small enclosed wings on each side of her pilothouse (which itself had received a new rounded front); they somewhat resembled the wings added to the pilothouses of the early Boland and Cornelius self-unloaders. We do not know for sure why WAHCONDAH was given these wings, but we suspect that it had something to do with providing an enclosed position of visibility for her officers during loading and unloading work.
WAHCONDAH, by this time more than fifty years old, had outlived her usefulness to Abitibi by 1955 and she was then retired from service. She was sold on August 11, 1955, to Benjamin Newman of St. Catharines, the proprietor of a scrap metal firm which dismantled many canallers at Port Dalhousie and which is still active today in the marine scrap business. It seemed apparent that WAHCONDAH's career was over and that she would shortly be scrapped.
On June 29, 1956, William Forest Dods of Montreal was appointed manager for WAHCONDAH's operations and, on July 23, she was reregistered at Montreal. She traded on the St. Lawrence River, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the east coast, and the only major change made to her during this time was that she was fitted with a rather ungainly kingpost equipped with four long booms.
The rather rag-tag Ahern fleet ceased operations in the early 1960s and the fleet was dispersed. WAHCONDAH was sold in 1963 to Aceitera y Transportadora Continental de Puerto Mexico, S.A., of Vera Cruz, Mexico. She was taken to the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico and was renamed (b) ALALC by her new owner. She apparently was not particularly suitable for service in Mexican waters, perhaps because of her steam machinery, and by 1964 she was laid up at New Orleans, swinging at anchor in the Mississippi River.
Whether ALALC ever operated again is not known, but we suspect that she did not. It was reported that she was dismantled in Mexico in May of 1969. Her life ended far from the waters of the Great Lakes which she had sailed for so many years, but she left behind fond memories for those who had seen the peculiar little steamer with the odd name as she bustled about the lakes.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.