It seems that, at the close of each of the last few navigation seasons, we have found ourselves making the comment that each of them, in succession, appeared to be more unusual than the preceding year as respects shipping on the Great Lakes. As such, we are sounding much like a broken record each time we voice such sentiments, but we have no alternative but to make the same comment in regard to the 1984 navigation season. Our political leaders continue to tell us that economic recovery is just around the corner, and there have been signs that certain aspects of the economy have recovered some of their vitality, but there has not been much of that recovery reflected in the lake shipping industry.
Conditions have remained uncertain, to say the least, and it has been virtually impossible to keep track, on a day-to-day basis, of which vessels were running and which were laid up. The active roster of both the Canadian and U.S. fleets has been changing constantly but, no matter how one looks at the situation, the view has not been particularly encouraging. Despite an atmosphere of relative optimism at the beginning of the season, many ships have remained idle at the various lake ports, and toward the end of the year a definite softening of business conditions became apparent, causing many companies to put those ships that were operating into an early winter lay-up.
Two new Canadian vessels (PRAIRIE HARVEST and CANADIAN RANGER) appeared from lake shipyards during 1984, but the shipbuilding industry is in anything but a healthy state, and most shipyards are having to content themselves with repair work rather than new construction. This situation will not improve until there has been a considerable improvement in the economy, for many of our fleets now have a plethora of modern vessels available, and far from the number of cargoes necessary to keep them busy. Most of the new vessels that have been under construction were actually ordered long before shipowners realized how bad things would get. Two bright spots for lake shipbuilders have been the recent ordering of a bulk carrier from Collingwood Shipyards for the Paterson fleet, and the contract for Bay Shipbuilding to construct three container ships for the Alaska service.
The market for scrap metal appears to have improved recently, and the parade of old and not-so-old lakers to local and overseas scrapyards has once again resumed. A number of familiar vessels were sold for dismantling during 1984 and it would appear likely that more such sales can be expected in the months to come.
One happy feature of the 1984 season is that it has been relatively free of major marine accidents, although it has had its share of close calls, groundings, etc. On the negative side of the record, the Valleyfield bridge blockade has caused the season to end on a particularly sour and expensive note for many shippers whose vessels have been caught in the Seaway. The blockade could not have occurred at a worse time in the navigation season.
Nevertheless, we sincerely hope that all of our members and friends who are involved in lake shipping achieved as pleasant and safe a navigation season as was possible under the circumstances, and we wish them the same (as well as better financial results) for 1985. Indeed, we extend the very same wish to all of our members, and to the Toronto Marine Historical Society itself.
But now, as the skies and waters of the Great Lakes take on the familiar grey hue of winter, as the snows obscure the horizons, and as the haze rises from the cold waters, the lake ships scurry about for their last cargoes of the year before heading for the calm and safety of winter quarters. We wish them all safe passage.
And to all the many members of our growing family, the Toronto Marine Historical Society, we extend our very best wishes for a Merry Christmas, as well as for all possible Happiness in the New Year. Take care, friends, and may 1985 bring to you all a full measure of love, health and success.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.