Over the years, we have featured in these pages many vessels which were owned by famous Canadian lake operators and, in the course of presenting the histories of their ships, we have taken time to give short biographical sketches of many of the interesting characters that have made up the Canadian shipping fraternity. This time around, we thought that it might be appropriate to turn our attention to the Fairgrieve Brothers of Hamilton, two gentlemen whom we have mentioned previously but with little background detail.
Capt. John Balmer Fairgrieve was born in 1833 at Little Scotland, a settlement near Bradford, Upper Canada (northwest of Toronto), the son of John Fairgrieve Sr. The elder Fairgrieve was born at Galashiels, Selkirkshire, on August 5, 1811, and emigrated to Canada in 1833. In 1837, the family moved to Dundas, Ontario, (near Hamilton) where John Sr. engaged in the forwarding business, operating under the name of Knox and Fairgrieve. John Balmer Fairgrieve's brother, Hugh, was born in Dundas in 1837 and he was educated there. He apprenticed as a mechanical draftsman at the Dundas Foundry which was managed by one John Gartshore. He worked on the famous pumping engines for the Hamilton Water Works in the late 1850s and was also involved in design work for the Detroit River carferries.
John Fairgrieve Sr. moved to Hamilton with his family in 1855. Young John B. Fairgrieve was regarded as a sickly child and he was sent off to work on the vessels of the Royal Mail Line on Lake Ontario. Life afloat obviously agreed with him, for it was not long before he passed his examinations and became a master mariner. In the seasons of 1864 and 1865, Capt. Fairgrieve sailed MAGNET on the Saguenay route and in 1866 he had command of the same boat in the service between Montreal and Hamilton. In 1870, he sailed UNION on the Lower St. Lawrence and Saguenay service and, in 1871, he commanded the new iron-hulled sidewheeler CORSICAN.
Capt. J. B. Fairgrieve became a shipowner in 1872 and that year he took delivery of the wooden-hulled passenger and freight propellor CANADA (C. 100392) from the shipyard of A. M. Robertson at Hamilton. She was launched on June 5, 1872, and was christened by the captain's daughter, Ida. The principal shareholders in the boat were Capt. J. B. and Hugh Fairgrieve of Hamilton, and D. Butters and T. Howard of Montreal. This partnership operated CANADA on the route between Montreal and Chicago from 1872 until 1878.
When the captain and associates formed the New England Transportation Company in 1878, they placed CANADA on their Collingwood - Chicago service along with three other similar passenger and freight propellors, COLUMBIA, CALIFORNIA and LAKE ERIE. As far as we know, CANADA remained on this same route until 1892. She was severely damaged by fire at Port Huron on October 18, 1892, but was later rebuilt. Interestingly enough, it seems that Fairgrieve removed the engine from the hull before the fire so that it could be used in another vessel which was being built for him at the time.
The launch of ARABIAN was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 21, 1892, out the launching did not go as smoothly as a shipowner might hope for a new vessel. The ways had been well greased two days prior to the scheduled date of launch, but the weather was extremely hot that week and the grease soaked into the timbers that formed the ways. The "last rally" sounded as the shipyard workers knocked the wedges from beneath the hull, but ARABIAN stayed right where she was and showed no sign of moving toward the waters of the bay. A tug from a nearby dredging project came to the scene and put a line aboard ARABIAN, hoping that brute force might help start the new boat down the ways, but all that was achieved was the parting of the hawser.
Those assembled for the ceremonies were sent home and the shipyard set to work on putting matters right for the launch. By 11:00 a.m. the following day, June 22, a Friday (not normally considered to be an auspicious day on which to launch a new ship), ARABIAN had been jacked up and the ways greased again. The greasers might just have been a bit too enthusiastic in their work, for this time ARABIAN began to slide down the ways even as the props beneath her were being knocked out. In any event, she finally made her way into the waters of Hamilton Harbour and, as she went, the traditional christening bottle was successfully smashed across her bows by Capt. Fairgrieve's granddaughter, Rita.
ARABIAN was 178.6 feet in length, 31.0 feet in the beam and 13.6 feet in depth, and her tonnage was officially recorded as 1073 Gross and 770 Net. There is little doubt but that the Fairgrieves had her designed with appropriate dimensions so that she could take maximum advantage of the larger locks of the new Soulanges Canal, on which work was commenced in 1892. The low pressure steam engine which ARABIAN inherited from the Fairgrieve's CANADA, had been built originally for that boat in 1872 by F. G. Beckett and Company, Hamilton. After it had been removed from CANADA, it was rebuilt and compounded so that it would be more useful for ARABIAN. After this work, it had cylinders of 20 1/4 and 40 inches, and a stroke of 34 inches, and it could manage 400 horsepower. Steam was provided by one coal-fired Scotch boiler which measured 11'3" by 10'3" and which was built for the boat by the Hamilton Bridge and Tool Company.
ARABIAN was duly placed in commission by the Fairgrieve Brothers, and her first master was Capt. Oliver Patenaude, who continued to command package freighters on the Montreal to Lake Ontario route as late as the 1940s. He was extremely competitive and was one of the toughest skippers on the old canals in a day when, not infrequently, a steamer gained a preferred locking position only if her master was capable of subduing a rival captain in a free-for-all on the canal bank. Such impromptu arrangements were not uncommon in the days before central canal dispatching, when the number of locks to be transitted was such that the gaining of even a few hours or minutes was of the utmost importance if a cargo was to be secured or delivered in anything approximating scheduled time. After he left ARABIAN, Capt. Patenaude sailed CITY OF HAMILTON, the former Anchor Liner JAPAN.
The Fairgrieves continued to operate ARABIAN up until 1902, in which year Hugh Fairgrieve died. It is to be assumed that Capt. J. B. Fairgrieve took over his late brother's interest at this time. ARABIAN remained in the package freight trade, under the flag of the Merchants Line, until the Montreal and Lake Superior Line was formed in 1906 by Frank Plummer, A.B. Mackay and Capt. Fairgrieve. In addition to ARABIAN, this consortium then operated A. E. AMES, H. M. PELLATT and J. H. PLUMMER of the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd., as well as Mackay's WAHCONDAH and NEEPAWAH.
The Montreal and Lake Superior Line was dissolved at the close of the 1906 season and was superceded in 1907 by the Canadian Lake Line, which was under the management of Frank Plummer. The vessels on the route that year were the AMES, PELLATT, PLUMMER and ARABIAN, all under the same ownership as in 1906, as well as the salt water steamers NEVADA (1890) and CORUNNA (1891) which had been purchased by Plummer in Great Britain early in 1907. In 1908, the line became incorporated as the Canadian Lake Transportation Company Ltd., with its head office located at 18 Wellington Street East, Toronto. ARABIAN's running mates during 1909 were CORUNNA and NEVADA, the Parry Sound Transportation Company's SEGUIN, and the sistership canallers REGINA, KENORA and TAGONA which were built for the line in 1907 and 1908.
The actual ownership of ARABIAN was retained by Capt. Fairgrieve until he retired from the shipping business in 1911 at the age of 78. The good captain lived only two years after his retirement and passed away in 1913. ARABIAN was sold in 1911 to Lake Commerce Ltd. of Toronto, a new company which was incorporated on November 7, 1911. by J.F.M. Stewart, A.M. Harnwell and W.L. Reid, all of Toronto. Stewart also had very close financial ties with M.J. Haney, Toronto, and these two gentlemen were both involved in the formation of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. in 1913.
It appears that Lake Commerce Ltd. chartered ARABIAN to the Canadian Interlake Line Ltd. in 1912 and 1913. ARABIAN was not involved in the mergers which resulted in the creation of C.S.L., despite the fact that Canadian Interlake was brought in as part of the merger in 1913 and had been formed back in 1907 by Roy M. Wolvin and Capt. J. W. Norcross, two of the parties who were instrumental in creating C.S.L.
Frank Plummer reappeared in the life of ARABIAN in 1914. and seems to have acquired an interest in the steamer. In fact, the 1914 Dominion List of Shipping indicates that he was her owner, although this may not actually have been the whole truth. ARABIAN was managed for the 1915 and 1916 seasons by the Canadian Northwest Steamship Company Ltd., Toronto, and she was sold in 1917 to the Montreal Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal.
In 1921, M.T.Co. was finally taken over by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. and, at long last, the corporate giant assumed full ownership of ARABIAN. But the years were taking their toll on her composite hull and, of course, ARABIAN was quite small when compared with the 250-foot canallers which were beginning to appear on the lakes in ever-increasing numbers. She was kept in service, however, because most of the aging C.S.L. package freighters were in no better shape than was she. By 1925, however, the company was looking forward, with many new package freighters of canal size either on order or already delivered to the fleet. As a result, ARABIAN was withdrawn from service and, in 1925, she was sold to the Gulf Iron and Wrecking Company of Quebec City. This new owner cut her down for use as a barge, but we have no knowledge of her service from this date onwards.
In 1935, the remains of ARABIAN were sold to the St. Lawrence Stevedoring Company Ltd. of Quebec. It is rather doubtful that she operated much if at all for this owner, considering the business conditions at that time. In any case, ARABIAN lasted only until about 1939, at which time she seems to have been dismantled. It is indeed unfortunate that we do not know as much about the old vessel's latter years as we do about the early part of her career.
Throughout her life, ARABIAN was a somewhat unusual vessel as far as her appearance was concerned. She was wooden from the 'tween deck up and carried large cargo ports in her sides. A flush-decker, she had heavily barred wooden rails all the way around her spar deck, with only a closed bulwark forward. Her anchors were carried on deck, with a lifting davit mounted at the stempost. Her bridge structure was also rather unusual. The pilothouse was a small, square cabin with four windows, their tops slightly rounded, across its front and an open bridge on the monkey's island. Small wings grew on each side at the point where the ladders rose from the bridge deck. The texas cabin was large and appeared to be square, but it actually was U-shaped, with the two arms of the "U" pointing aft. Between those two arms rose the foremast, its winch mounted on deck within this sheltered space. Offhand, we cannot think of any other laker that has possessed such an unusual cabin arrangement.
The after cabin was unusually large, but never had a separate boilerhouse as did many of the ships of the 1890s. Her well-proportioned stack, nicely raked, rose out of this cabin, about half-way back its length. ARABIAN'S original fore and mainmast were both as well raked as was her funnel, the masts being gaff-rigged and carrying three stays on each side. As the years passed, the foremast was cut down and then replaced by a short and very heavy mast, on which was slung an aft-pointing cargo boom. The main, which was set just a little abaft midships, disappeared completely and was replaced by a spindly little pole which rose, almost without rake, just behind the engineroom skylight. Apart from these rigging changes, ARABIAN changed very little from the time of her building until she was cut down to a barge.
ARABIAN's career was largely without incident, just as any owner would wish. On November 10, 1900, she was driven ashore in heavy weather some eight miles west of Whitefish Point on Lake Superior, but she was soon salvaged and suffered only minor damage. The Dominion wreck commissioner's reports indicate that she stranded in the Williamsburg Canal on July 4, 19-18, whilst bound from Hamilton to Montreal. Damage again was not severe, and the loss was described only as "partial".
There is extant a photograph, dated July 7, 1920, which shows ARABIAN on the Buffalo Dry Dock Company's dock, with fairly extensive plate repairs being made on the port side forward. It is evident that a number of her frames are missing, and a logical guess is that she might have had a collision with a lock wall or breakwater. There seems to be no damage to the wooden superstructure above the rubbing strake.
ARABIAN had an interesting career, but one that was almost guaranteed to be fairly short, as a result of her method of construction and size. She did, however, serve her owners well, and was a credit to Capt. Fairgrieve, whose pride and joy she was for many years.
(Ed Note: We extend our sincere appreciation to Jim Kidd, and especially to Ivan Brookes, for their assistance in developing much of the information contained in this article, and without whose help it could not have been written.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.