During those years when the operation of vessels built to the dimensions of the old St. Lawrence and Welland Canals was necessary, many different types and designs of canallers could be seen. One of the most interesting ship profiles was that displayed by the ten small coastal steamers which were brought from French waters to the Great Lakes in 1923 by the Tree Line. Most of these unusual boats had left the lakes again by the beginning of the Second World War and, by the time that the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed, only three remained afloat on fresh water, with one additional hull resting in the depths of the St. Lawrence River.
The ten canallers were built in 1919, 1920 and 1921 by various French shipyards to the order of the French government, which intended them for coastal service. They were all of generally similar dimensions and all were named for professions which were somehow related to ships, their construction, operation, or cargoes. The boats were christened CHARPENTIER (carpenter), GREEUR (rigger), MARINIER (mariner), MINEUR (miner), PEINTRE (painter), PERCEUR (driller), RIVEUR (riveter), SOUTIER (stoker), TOLIER (sheet-iron manufacturer) and TOURNEUR (lathe operator).
PEINTRE was built in 1921 at Aries-sur-Rhone, France, by Soc. Anciens Etab. Henri Satre. A dry-cargo coaster, she was given a length of 219.4 feet, a beam of 34.3 feet and a depth of 12.7 feet. She was propelled by twin screws which were driven by two triple-expansion engines built by Soc. des Moteurs La Chaliassiere at St-Etienne, France. They had cylinders of 13 3/8, 19 3/4 and 31 1/2 inches and a stroke of 16 1/2 inches. Steam was supplied by two Scotch boilers which measured 9'8" by 11'6", and which were manufactured by Chantiers Nabals et Chaudronneries.
PEINTRE was a most unusual steamer, as also were her near-sisters. She possessed a remarkable sheer for such a small hull and her bow was gracefully flared. She carried a full forecastle with a closed rail which ran back for about half its length. Her deck sported a raised trunk into which were fitted the hatches, and this trunk made her look much like a tanker. Her quarterdeck was raised a half-level above the spar deck and the cabin that sat atop it was completely plated in down its sides and around the stern. As a result, PEINTRE showed a particularly long counter and one that was even more remarkable in that it curved upwards and inwards to the boat deck. We have no idea why the sterns of these ships were constructed in such a manner, but the thought may have been that such a design would help to throw off the heavy seas which these coasters might encounter on the North Sea and in the English Channel.
The centre section of PEINTRE's after cabin was extended forward to the break of the quarterdeck and, immediately above it, was placed the pilothouse, which was of exactly the same width as the lower appendage. The pilothouse had four large windows across its front and above it was an open navigating bridge equipped with wide bridgewings. This small pilothouse was the only cabin that appeared on the boat deck, and its only companions there were two very large ventilator cowls, several smaller ventilators, a pole mast, two lifeboats, and a rather scrawny but nicely raked stack which rose out of a high apron with its own cowl.
PEINTRE was duly placed in the service of the government of France but, almost immediately, was renamed (b) BEISSARD. Five of her sisters were also renamed at this time, but the rest retained their original names until they came to Canadian waters. We know nothing about their service at this time, and so it is not surprising that we have no idea why the ships were given other names. As a matter of fact, we do not even know whether there may have been other vessels operating in the French government's service which had been built to the same design.
When POPLARBAY was placed on the Canadian Register, her Gross Tonnage was shown as 1263 and her Net as 664, She had three hatches, one over each of her three cargo compartments. It is not known whether her cargo-handling equipment was original but, when she made her debut on the lakes, she carried cargo booms on the foremast, set at the break of the forecastle, and on a kingpost which was located between the second and third hatches. It was not long after POPLARBAY and her sisters arrived on the lakes that they were given new and more modern pilothouses. These new structures were wooden, roughly square in shape, and had either seven or five (POPLARBAY had seven) windows across the front, the centre window being wider than the others to provide added visibility for the officers on watch. The new pilothouse was placed atop the old monkey's island, and awnings were provided to give some shelter to the bridgewings onto which the master could now venture simply by walking out of the pilothouse door. Some of the steamers appear to have had the indented forward corners of the quarterdeck cabin made flush with the centre section but, strangely enough, this little operation seems to have been done only on the five boats that had the five-windowed pilothouses, namely ASHBAY, BEECHBAY, ELMBAY, OAKBAY, and PINEBAY. These five also had larger stacks than did the other ships.
The original intent of the Bay Line Navigation Company was to carry grain from the Lakehead or from various transfer points down the old canals to the Ogilvie mills at Montreal, but the line also booked coal, sugar, and pulpwood cargoes for its boats. The original name of the managing company was changed in 1923, for it seemed that certain parties confused it with the Bay Steamship Company Ltd. which was operated by the Hudson's Bay Company. When litigation was threatened, Ogilvie changed the name of its transportation subsidiary to the Tree Line Navigation Company Ltd., Montreal. Although Ogilvie originally planned that its ships would operate in the bulk trades, the Tree Line was, by 1928, established in the package freight trade between Montreal and Fort William, with calls at major ports en route. As time passed, the package freight service was also extended to include calls at Chicago and other major Lake Michigan ports.
The Tree Line operated in competition with Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., the conglomerate which had bought out the Montreal Transportation Company Ltd. in 1920. It is significant to note that, up until the demise of that fleet, the M.T.Co. had attended to the shipping requirements of Ogilvie Flour Mills. No doubt it was the inability of the much larger C.S.L. fleet to serve Ogilvie's needs adequately that prompted the company to involve itself in the business of owning and operating lake vessels.
The Tree Line ships were originally painted green with white deckhouses and forecastle, and a black stack on which appeared a large white 'T'. On the bow, below the white upper section of the forecastle, appeared the white outline of a shield in which, also in white, was inscribed the line's 'T.L.N.' monogram. The ship's name appeared in white abaft this design.
Like all lake shipping companies, the Tree Line was dealt a nasty blow by the Great Depression of the 1930s, and it became more and more difficult to keep the vessels of the fleet gainfully employed. The Tree Line began to sell off its French-built canallers (the original wooden boats having long since been retired) and, in 1937, the company itself became the Tree Line Division of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. ASHBAY and OAKBAY were sold out of the fleet in 1935. CEDARBAY and WILLOWBAY in 1936, MAPLEBAY and POPLARBAY in 1937, BEECHBAY and PINEBAY in 1939, ELMBAY in 1942 and SPRUCEBAY in 1945. Most of the steamers were sold for operation off the lakes but some of them managed to stay in fresh water. POPLARBAY was one of the lucky ones, and was thus assured of a rather longer life than were those of her sisters which returned to the corrosive nature of salt water.
When POPLARBAY was sold out of the Tree Line in 1937, her ownership passed to Transit Tankers and Terminals Ltd. of Montreal, a firm operated by Gaston Elie. POPLARBAY was actually registered to an affiliate, Tankeroil Ltd. of Valleyfield, Quebec. She was immediately sent to the Muir Bros. drydock at Port Dalhousie for conversion to a tanker, a conversion which meant little change in outward appearance (except for the removal of her cargo gear) in view of the already strange configuration of the ship. Her conversion by the Muir yard followed a similar reconstruction done to her sistership CEDARBAY, which had been sold in 1936 to Lloyd Refineries Ltd. Sold to Transit Tankers the same year as POPLARBAY was a third sister, MAPLEBAY, which was registered to Transcoal Ltd. and then sent off to Les Chantiers Manseau Ltee. at Sorel for her tanker conversion.
TRANSLAKE was given a black hull with white forecastle (the whole forecastle, not just the upper portion of it) and white cabins, although in later years the forecastle was painted black and only its rail was white. The Transit Tankers stack design incorporated a black funnel with two narrow yellow bands, a wide blue band, and the letters 'T.T.T.' in yellow or white, varying from year to year. For a while, the 'T.T.T.' insignia also appeared on the forecastle, but this practise was soon discontinued.
In 1947, TRANSLAKE and TRANSRIVER were joined by JOAN VIRGINIA, the last of their lake-running sisterships, the former CEDARBAY, which had been bought by Transit Tankers from Lloyd Refineries and which was operated by Gaston Elie under yet another affiliate, Coastalake Tankers Ltd. of Ottawa. This steamer kept her old name until 1952 and was then renamed (e) COASTAL CASCADES .
TRANSLAKE's career with Transit Tankers was generally uneventful, such as any tanker operator might wish, with the exception of one major accident, one which, but for exceptional circumstances, might have resulted in the loss of two vessels. On September 24, 1947, TRANSLAKE was proceeding upbound in the St. Lawrence River with a cargo of crude oil. Near Pine Tree Point, some three miles west of Morrisburg, Ontario, the pilot on board, Capt. Charles A. Willard, failed to port the wheel sufficiently to prevent the full force of the river's current from striking TRANSLAKE's starboard bow. The strength of the current prevented TRANSLAKE from responding to starboard wheel, and she veered to port across the channel.
Unfortunately, it was at that moment that TRANSLAKE was preparing to pass the downbound and coal-laden canaller MILVERTON which was owned by Colonial Steamships Ltd. of Port Colborne. MILVERTON had been built in 1929 at Glasgow by Barclay Curie and Company Ltd. and had originally sailed for Paterson Steamships Ltd. as (a) COTEAUDOC (I)(47). She had done wartime service in the bauxite trade and had only been purchased by Capt. R. Scott Misener and returned to the Great Lakes earlier in the 1947 season. She was to operate under the name MILVERTON for but a brief time indeed.
In any event, on that September day in 1947, TRANSLAKE suddenly took her shear to port in the current, a deviation that took her directly across the bows of the downbound MILVERTON, whose crew could do nothing to avoid a collision. Both ships were severely damaged and the bows of MILVERTON were stove in to the point where she was making considerable water. TRANSLAKE, also badly wounded, drifted downstream and grounded, releasing some 2,000 gallons of crude into the St. Lawrence River in the process. The unlucky MILVERTON also drifted downstream and finally grounded heavily in midstream, where she settled on the bottom. Unfortunately, MILVERTON's bunker tanks ruptured in the stranding (she was one of only a few bulk canallers at that time to be fuelled with oil instead of coal) and the entire steamer was soon completely engulfed in flames. MILVERTON was gutted from stem to stern and then broke in two sections abaft the second hatch. The stern portion sank at an angle such that the entire after cabin was submerged.
Had it not been for the extreme demand for canal-sized tonnage after the Second World War, many of the canallers which had been sent to salt water having been lost there, it is likely that neither TRANSLAKE nor MILVERTON would have been salvaged for further service. As it was, however, TRANSLAKE was refloated and was taken to Montreal, where she was repaired during 1948. MILVERTON presented something more of a problem. Her stern was cofferdammed in 1948 after she had spent the winter, a sorry sight indeed, in midstream with the current swirling around her. With great difficulty, she was eventually refloated and was moored along the shore of the rapids. Her hull was temporarily strapped together and she was towed off to Port Weller Dry Docks Ltd., where she was completely rebuilt during 1949. Misener returned her to service as (c) CLARY FORAN and she served his fleet until 1959, at which time she was sold to Reoch Transports Ltd. and renamed (d) FERNDALE (I). She was finally scrapped at Hamilton by the Steel Company of Canada Ltd. in 1963.
TRANSLAKE enjoyed an uneventful few years of operation after her return to service. She and her two sisters, together with the rest of the Transit Tankers rather odd fleet, plodded back and forth through the old canals and up onto Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, although their forays above the Welland Canal became more rare as time passed. All three of the former Tree Line boats had the fronts of their lower pilothouses plated in, and the four large windows were replaced by four portholes. There was no other change for TRANSLAKE or COASTAL CASCADES, but TRANSRIVER had the forward bulkhead of the lower cabin moved forward, so that it was flush with the front of the pilothouse above. In that she lacked an open walkway around the front of her boat deck cabin, she was thereafter distinguishable from her sisterships. The entire Transit Tankers fleet having been operated in a somewhat "impromptu" manner, there were minor changes in colours, etc., over the years, but no other structural changes to any of the three stemwinders.
During the late 1950s, though, as the construction of the new St. Lawrence canals was nearing completion, TRANSLAKE, TRANSRIVER and COASTAL CASCADES were all relegated to standby status in the fleet. From mid-1958 onwards, they were moored at Cascades, at the lower entrance to the Soulanges Canal, TRANSLAKE and TRANSRIVER moored side-by-side with COASTAL CASCADES secured astern. The latter did emerge to run briefly during 1959, and was used for a short period thereafter as a storage barge at Montreal, at least until she sank at her dock, but neither TRANSLAKE nor TRANSRIVER saw any active service after they had been laid to rest at Cascades.
The three steamers were not, as yet, even forty years of age, but their unusual and seemingly antiquated design made them look much the part of relics from the past. Of course, they also did not carry as much cargo as did other vessels of the Transit Tankers fleet and yet they cost as much if not more to operate, for all of the other boats owned by Gaston Elie were diesel-powered. They might have lasted longer had they been lengthened to full canal size (approximately 252 feet) at the time that they were converted to tankers, but such expensive reconstruction was never deemed necessary.
TRANSRIVER and COASTAL CASCADES were both broken up in the early 1960s, but TRANSLAKE was, instead, sold in 1962 to Foundation Maritime Ltd. She was towed to Halifax where she was stripped to the deck and converted to a bunkering barge, renamed (e) HALFUELER. Her tonnage after this change was reported as 1266 Gross, 1191 Net. (It is, perhaps, interesting to note that the Canadian register never indicated a change of tonnage for TRANSLAKE at the time that she was originally converted to a tanker back in 1937.)
In 1973, Marine Industries Ltd., Sorel, Quebec, took over the remains of the fleet of the Foundation Company of Canada Ltd. Her new owner gave HALFUELER the name (f) M.I.L. FUELER, and put her to work bunkering the various dredges and other assorted boats being used in the North Traverse dredging project just downstream from Quebec City. This was an especially ambitious dredging program and a large fleet had to be assembled in order to carry it off successfully. It provided an opportunity for the reactivation of several lakers that otherwise would have been at the end of their respective careers. M.I.L. FUELER was one of these, and North Traverse was her last gasp.
After the completion of the channel dredging, M.I.L. FUELER was without work and Marine Industries had no need for her. Accordingly, she was sold to one Paul E. Caron of Louiseville, Quebec, a gentleman who, for several years, has been assembling a fleet of assorted junk at Louiseville, a town located on the north shore of Lake St. Peter. One of the other interesting denizens of this unusual collection is GOLDEN SABLE, the former tanker IMPERIAL CORNWALL. M.I.L. FUELER seems to be in good company, but the chances of her ever seeing further service of any kind are extremely remote, and it is highly likely that she will shortly find her way to the breaker's yard.
And so, as the former POPLARBAY/TRANSLAKE nears her sixtieth birthday, she is the last of the ten famous Tree Line stemwinders to remain afloat. She has survived almost two decades longer than either of her Transit Tankers sisters, and much longer than any of the six vessels of the group that returned to salt water either during or just before the Second World War. The last vestige of the Tree Line within the C.S.L. fleet, the conventional canaller TEAKBAY, was scrapped in 1964, and the Transit Tankers and Terminals fleet went out of business with the sale of its last ships in 1969.
So what, one might ask, happened to the tenth Tree Line stemwinder? Well, she was the OAKBAY, (a) MARINIER (23), one of the first of the group to be sold. She was purchased in 1935 by Capt. Henry C. Daryaw of Kingston who renamed her (c) HENRY C. DARYAW. She was equipped with a travelling A-frame and a clamshell on a long boom, and she ran in the coal trade on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Late in 1941, she was requisitioned for wartime service on the east coast. With Henry C. Daryaw aboard as second mate, she was downbound on her delivery voyage to salt water when, on November 21, 1941, she stranded near the Brockville Narrows. The steamer rolled over on her port side so that only the tip of her starboard bridgewing and part of her stern remained above water, but the wreck soon slipped off the shoal and foundered in deep water. All salvage efforts have been unsuccessful and the wreck remains in the same spot where it sank almost forty years ago. There is no doubt that HENRY C. DARYAW will still be lying on the bottom of the St. Lawrence River long after the last remains of POPLARBAY/TRANSLAKE have vanished under the breakers' torches.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.