Over the years, the Great Lakes have witnessed the advent of all sorts of peculiar designs of vessels, some of which have proven to be successful, others less so, and still others were complete failures. Not all of those designs originated on the lakes, some of them having been developed by shipbuilders in other parts of the world. The lakes, however, with their peculiar and distinct requirements for size, shape and cargo capacity of vessels, have proven to be a great testing area for new designs. This was particularly true during the years of the old Welland and St. Lawrence canals, when ships had to be built to very restrictive dimensions and yet had to carry as much cargo as possible in order to turn a profit for their owners.
The lakes saw such unusual designs as the whaleback, the straightback, the turret, the semi-turret, and others just as peculiar, and even a number of modern vessels are complete hybrids that would cause observers in other parts of the world to break into laughter at the sight of them. But all of these assorted strange ships have proven to be interesting in their own way, and today they afford us many areas of fascinating research. They also provide us with unusual subjects for features in these pages.
Today, when we think of a vessel that might be described as a "semi-turret", we generally think of such ships as the famous "Red Barges", which had relatively narrow spar decks and sloping (angled) sides. They were not true turrets, in that they did not have the extremely narrow decks, nor the lower "harbour decks" on each side, that were the trademarks of the famous Doxford turrets. Unquestionably, however, they were influenced in their design by the turret steamers of the turn-of the-century era.
In this feature, however, we turn our attention to two very unusual vessels that, although differing rather significantly from any of the previously mentioned classes of ships, were undoubtedly related to them. These two almost exact sisterships probably came the closest of any lakers to being "semi-turrets" and, although they incorporated many innovative ideas in their design, they were the only two of their type ever built for lake service. From this fact, we may assume that other methods were found to produce a more economically-operated bulk canaller. Be this as it may, one of the pair of sisterships survived right up until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and from that we might consider her to have been at least relatively successful in relation to what her builders had planned for her.
It was early in 1913 that James Richardson and Company, Kingston, decided to order two new canallers for the grain trade. Richardson did not itself operate ships, so it had been arranged that the two new steamers would be managed by James Playfair, the famous entrepreneur of Midland, Ontario, who was to run them as part of his Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd. The contract for the construction of the vessels was let to the North of Ireland Shipbuilding Company Ltd., Londonderry, which built them as its Hulls 55 and 56. It was not unusual for the contracts to go to non-Canadian shipyards, for the vast majority of the Canadian canallers were built at English, Scottish and Irish yards.
Hull 55 was completed as GLENMAVIS (C.133533), while Hull 56 was named GLENFOYLE (C.135641), both being registered at Midland. The ships were named in accordance with Playfair's usual naming scheme despite the fact that he did not actually own them. GLENFOYLE was named for Lough Foyle, the long body of water on which Londonderry is situate. The River Mourne empties into the lough, which eventually opens onto the North Channel at Greencastle, County Inishowen. The North Channel connects the Irish Sea with the North Atlantic at the northerly tip of Ireland. We have absolutely no idea of the derivation of GLENMAVIS' name, as we have been unable to locate an area with a similar name anywhere in the British Isles. It is possible that Playfair may have invented the name especially for the ship, and that the origin of the name may not have been of the usual geographical nature.
Readers may well have wondered what we meant when, in the paragraph above, we referred to a "knuckle" and an "arch". The simple explanation lies in the fact that GLENMAVIS and GLENFOYLE were built on the "arch principle", which was devised by one Maxwell Ballard, and in this they differed greatly from other canallers built by British yards. The Ballard method of construction was designed to achieve a considerable saving in the weight of structural material as compared with normal systems of construction, and to permit increased cargo capacity.
In effect, the spar deck ended several feet short of the sides of the ship, with a prominent lip evident at deck edge. There was then a short perpendicular drop in the side plating, to the beginning of a convex arch which joined the normal side plating some four feet below the deck level. This curve to the vessels' sides gave them very much the appearance of the "semi-turret", particularly when they were loaded, for then the lower edge of the curve rode only about two feet above the waterline. The very high forecastle of the vessels flattened out part way around the curve of the bow so that it ran flush with the sides of the narrow spar deck, and the same flattening of the hull curve was seen in the closed rail around the after cabin.
In describing GLENMAVIS during the course of her construction, the September 1913 issue of "Canadian Railway and Marine World" stated that she was intended to operate in the grain trade between Port Colborne and Montreal. "The vessel has been classed with the British Corporation for service on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. The vessel has no sheer, the necessary height forward being secured by the adoption of a forecastle, while a bulwark is fitted around the stern aft. Following lake practice, the vessel has no 'tween decks, compensating strength being secured on the girder system, leaving the cargo hold free of all obstructions. A cellular double bottom for water ballast, with floors on alternate frames, extends all fore and aft, and there is also a large peak ballast tank forward. The frames are of bulb angle section spaced 24 inches apart, except right forward, where the spacing is reduced to 21 inches and 18 inches. The tank top is flush plated, in order not to interfere with the working of grabs (clamshells), and has no ceiling. Fenders are fitted on each side for protection when passing through the locks.
"There are five cargo hatchways, 12 by 28.5 feet, with shallow bulb angle coamings, and one large (raised) hatchway aft, 26 by 28.5 feet by about 4.5 feet high. The latter provides extra capacity, and at the same time assists the trim of the vessel. The hatchways are spaced 24-foot centres. Canadian canal steamers, as a rule, have no cargo gear on board, and none is provided for in the vessel's drawings, but it is understood that the owners contemplate adding four winches with the corresponding cargo gear, masts, and derricks when the vessel reaches the lakes.
"On account of the confined waters which the vessel will navigate, a balanced rudder of large area is provided. The rudder is worked by a steam steering gear of special design, situated beneath the arch deck aft and controlled either from the navigation bridge forward or from an (emergency) steering station on top of the after deckhouse. A reserve tiller is also provided on top of the arch deck, the rudder head being carried up through the deck for this purpose. To facilitate steering from the forward bridge, a steering pole is fitted at the stem to give the steersman a point to steer by. A powerful steam windlass is fitted under the forecastle deck, while for warping purposes a steam winch is provided amidships and a steam capstan aft. The anchors are housed in pockets to avoid fouling the lock gates.
"The accommodation follows the arrangement usually adopted in lake vessels. The officers and seamen are berthed in the forecastle, above which is a steel house (texas) containing the chartroom and the captain's office and bedroom. Above the captain's house is the flying bridge, upon which is placed the wheelhouse. The engineers and firemen are accommodated in steel houses at the sides of the engine and boiler casing on the arch deck aft. In the after house are also arranged the galley and pantry, the officers' mess room, an ice house, and the mess room for the crew."
Each ship was given a rather small rounded pilothouse, with no actual sunvisor but a considerable overhang of the pilothouse roof. An awning could be stretched out around the pilothouse over the bridge deck to provide shade in the hot weather of summer. As was usual with canallers of that period, an open navigation bridge was provided on the monkey's island atop the pilothouse, in case it should be desired to navigate the vessel from there; it also could be covered by an awning for protection should conditions warrant, and a canvas dodger could be hung on its open rail.
GLENMAVIS was duly completed and sailed under her own power for Canada, possibly with a cargo of coal in her holds for delivery either to Montreal or to Toronto, as was the custom on the delivery voyage of canallers built in Britain. It is supposed that she arrived in Canada during the autumn of 1913, and that GLENFOYLE arrived shortly thereafter.
Upon their arrival, the two steamers were fitted out with the additional cargo handling gear that was mentioned in the account of their building. Two tall and heavy masts were stepped on the spar deck, one between hatches two and three, and the other between hatches five and six (the latter being the large raised hatch immediately forward of the boilerhouse). On each of these masts were mounted two cargo booms, one slung forward and one aft.
It is interesting to note that GLENMAVIS and GLENFOYLE were not originally painted up in the colourful livery that James Playfair used for his vessels. Possibly because of their Richardson ownership, each ship carried a black hull, white cabins, and what appears to have been an all-black stack. It is supposed, however, that each eventually was given normal Playfair colours, namely a grey hull, white forecastle rail and cabins, and a crimson stack with a wide black smokeband.
The two sistership canallers operated together in the grain trade for the navigation seasons of 1914 and 1915, but by then the fortunes of Great Britain in World War One were such that additional vessel tonnage was required to keep the supply of war goods flowing. Accordingly, in 1916, both GLENMA VIS and GLENFOYLE were requisitioned for salt water service, and it was on the deep seas that the two sisters parted company forever.
GLENFOYLE was renamed (b) DONLEVON and was converted for use as a Q-ship, in other words, a small merchant vessel used by the Royal Navy as a lure for German U-boats. The Q-ships carried concealed armament, and it was hoped that any U-boat sighting one of these vessels would surface before attempting to attack it, at which time the Q-ship would have an opportunity to try to sink the submarine with gunfire. As might be supposed, however, the Q-ship program was something less than a resounding success, and by 1917 the various vessels so employed were withdrawn from the service.
GLENFOYLE had managed to survive her spell of duty as a Q-ship, and she then appears to have gone back into regular service as a cargo transport, carrying the name (c) STONECROP. On Tuesday, September 18, 1917, fate caught up with her in the form of U-43, which attacked her in the Atlantic off the southwest coast of Ireland. STONECROP was torpedoed and sunk; we have no information as to whether any of the crew managed to survive.
GLENMAVIS was more fortunate than her sistership, and managed to survive the war without either damage or rename. In 1921, she was purchased by the Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd., her former operator, and she was returned to the lakes to resume the service for which she had been intended. At that stage, she was painted up in the usual Playfair livery, and went back into the grain trade, also carrying other cargoes, such as coal, when they were available.
When GLENMAVIS went back into lake service after the Great War, her profile looked a bit different than it had in her earlier years. She carried the same foremast, although it appeared to have been reduced a bit in height, and it now carried a framework on which canvas could be stretched to form a crude sort of crow's nest. This feature, which lasted for the rest of her life, had undoubtedly been added during the war, when it was necessary to maintain an extraordinarily sharp lookout for enemy vessels. As well, her old mainmast, aft of the stack, was removed, at least by 1923 if not immediately upon her return to fresh water. During the late 1920s, she was given a new and rather thicker stack of approximately the same height as the original. In fact, the new funnel may have been nothing more than just a sleeve fitted around the original stack.
In March of 1925, GLENMAVIS, along with the other Great Lakes Transportation Company Ltd. canallers, was transferred to the ownership of the George Hall Coal and Shipping Company Ltd., Montreal, this change occurring at the instigation of the Valley Camp Coal Company, which was the principal backer of the Playfair fleet at that time. GLENMAVIS retained her grey hull and white forecastle rail and cabins, but she was given the usual Hall stack colours, black with a white "wishbone" and letter 'H'. It is doubtful that any significant change in the trades operated by GLENMAVIS resulted from her transfer to Hall ownership.
Then, in April of 1926, the George Hall Coal and Shipping Company fleet, as it was then constituted, was absorbed into Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. It was thus that the large fleet of Playfair canallers came to wear C.S.L. colours. GLENMAVIS operated under her old name in C.S.L. livery during the 1926 navigation season, but in 1927 she was renamed (b) ACADIAN. At the time, C.S.L. was in the habit of giving all of its vessels names with strong Canadian significance, and ACADIAN was no exception. Her new name honoured the early French-speaking settlers of the Nova Scotia area, many of whom were forced to leave the region for new homes in Louisiana after Nova Scotia came under British rule in 1763.
ACADIAN served for more than three decades in C.S.L. colours, operating mainly in the grain trade. She underwent very little change during this period except that her forward cargo mast was eventually removed, and the second lost its forward cargo boom. ACADIAN did not go to salt water during World War Two, and remained safe and sound in lake trade, where she belonged. She thus managed to avoid the violent loss that lay in wait for so many of the company's canallers that were sent off to deep-sea service to assist in the war effort, a trade for which they were eminently unsuitable.
Following the war, ACADIAN's services were even more in demand than before, as C.S.L. found itself in difficult straits as a result of its war losses. Bulk canallers were desperately needed for the grain trade and ACADIAN ran right through until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. In fact, she was only laid up temporarily on those few occasions when business conditions warranted, and she seemed to keep running on a more steady basis than did many of her fleetmates.
The 1958 navigation season was a slow period in respect of the movement of grain, and those canallers that were running in the grain trade usually faced long line-ups to unload at the St. Lawrence River elevators. Many of the fleets took the opportunity to weed out some of their less economical canallers and send them to the scrapyard, knowing full well that their careers would be at an end the next year anyway, with the Seaway opening. One might have thought that ACADIAN, being one of C.S.L.'s oldest canallers, would have been cast aside at that time. Nevertheless, she did operate in 1958, her only major period of inactivity that year being a spell during the summer, when she lay idle alongside the old C.S.L. passenger terminal at the foot of Yonge Street in Toronto Harbour.
By the Labour Day weekend of 1958, however, she was back in service, and she ran right through until the close of navigation, at which time she was laid up at Kingston. A great many of the company's canallers did not fit out in the spring of 1959 and, as far as we know, ACADIAN did not turn her wheel that year. By the late summer, it was evident that she would never run again, and by October of 1959 she was being broken up in the drydock at the old Kingston shipyard. The days of her usefulness were at an end, but this peculiar yet strangely handsome little steamer had put in many good years of service, probably more than most latter-day observers would ever have expected of her. It was unfortunate that the Great War had deprived her sister, GLENFOYLE, of the same long life.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.