With the demise, at the close of the 1983 navigation season, of the Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd., the Canadian lake shipping scene lost one of its oldest and most interesting fleets. Although, for the last decade of its existence, the company operated its vessels primarily in the grain trade, the fleet was originally formed to carry pulpwood and newsprint for the Ontario Paper Company Ltd. The two vessels which we feature in this issue were, in fact, the first ships ever built specifically for the company. They were also extremely good-looking steamers.
The Ontario Paper Company Ltd. was incorporated on February 29, 1912, to operate a newsprint mill which had been established at Thorold, Ontario, by the "Chicago Tribune". This famous newspaper, which first appeared in 1847, was long under the control of Joseph Medill, who died in 1899, and later was published by the families of his two daughters (the McCormicks and the Pattersons), and most notably by one of his grandsons, Robert R. McCormick. The "Tribune" required large amounts of newsprint to feed its presses, and this meant that huge volumes of wood pulp were needed to make the paper. Many of the large timber stands in the northern areas of the United States had been depleted, and the "Tribune" began to look to Canada for the supply of its raw materials. In particular, the company set out to develop several large timber areas on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in eastern Quebec.
The paper mill was developed at Thorold, because it was thought that it would be convenient for ships to bring the pulpwood there from Quebec, and the manufactured newsprint could then be loaded aboard ship for the remainder of the trip to Chicago. Most importantly, however, Thorold, located at the top of the Niagara Escarpment, was a town in which large quantities of water-generated electrical power could be obtained at reasonable cost.
The Ontario Paper Company at first shipped most of its newsprint out of Thorold in the steamers of the Rutland Transit Company, and in an assortment of chartered vessels, but soon found that the cost of using the ships of other fleets was prohibitive. As a result, on January 22, 1914, the Ontario Transportation and Pulp Company Ltd. was formed as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Ontario Paper Company Ltd. During the 1920s, the O.T. & P. Co. was often referred to (apparently only unofficially) as the Chicago Tribune Transportation Company.
In its early years, the O.T. & P. Co. operated a strange assortment of owned and chartered vessels, but by the beginning of the 1920s, the only ships left in the fleet were the two small wooden steamers MARY H. BOYCE and LINDEN, the former built in 1888 at Grand Haven and acquired by the O.T. & P. Co. in 1916, and the latter built at Port Huron in 1894-95, and purchased by the company in 1918. LINDEN could carry only 571 cords of pulpwood, and the BOYCE even less, with the result that the entire fleet had a trip capacity of only some 1,000 cords. Thus it was often necessary to have loads of pulp carried by other vessels, and in 1921 the company had to pay $7.50 per cord of wood that was shipped to Thorold from Franquelin, Quebec, in other steamers.
Accordingly, early in 1922, the company ordered two modern, steel-hulled, canal-sized steamers from British yards. One of these was CHICAGO TRIBUNE (I) (C. 146589), which was built in 1922 as Hull 1187 of the Wallsend-on-Tyne yard of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. The second steamer was NEW YORK NEWS (I) (C. 146581), which was built the same year at Londonderry as Hull 101 of the North of Ireland Shipbuilding Company Ltd. The vessels were named for the two major newspapers for which the Ontario Paper Company was then producing newsprint. The "New York Daily News" was started in 1919 by Robert R. McCormick and his cousin, Joseph Medill Patterson.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE was an almost exact sistership. She was 250.0 feet long, with a beam of 43.1 feet, and depth of 16.9 feet, and her tonnage, at 1689 Gross and 987 Net, was just a bit larger than that of NEW YORK NEWS. Her engine and boilers were exactly the same as those of her sister, except that the intermediate cylinder measured just 26 1/2 inches in diamater rather than 27 inches. Her machinery was built for her by the North Eastern Marine Engineering Company Ltd., of Wallsend-on-Tyne and Sunderland, England.
In describing the two new steamers, the September 1922 issue of "Canadian Railway and Marine World" stated that "they have an approximate deadweight capacity of 2,300 tons on a 14-foot mean draft. The hulls are built with straight stem and elliptical stern, of materials in accordance with the British Corporation's requirements for lake service and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Each hull is divided into two large holds by a watertight bulkhead, and each hold has three large cargo hatches. In order to have clear spaces in the holds, there are no pillars supporting the deck, but in place of them there is a heavy binding beam and web frame fitted between every hatch, and substantially fixed to the deck.
"A steel rubbing piece is fitted on each side of the ship above the loaded water line, for most of the length, and in addition there is a substantial oak fender round the stern at the upper deck level, and another on each side of the bows about 12 feet below the deck. The rudder is of the single plate balanced type, and is of large area to facilitate quick manoeuvering. There is a complete installation of electric light, including clusters of lights for the holds.
"The engineers and firemen are accommodated in a steel deck house aft on either side of the engine and boiler space, and the master's, officers' and seamen's quarters are in the fore end, and in the forward deck house there is an owner's suite. The engine and boiler space is arranged in the stern, and is separated from the after hold by a watertight bulkhead. The chart room, captain's day room, and sleeping quarters are in a steel house on the forecastle deck, and above this is another steel house, containing the wheel house, holding the steering standard, compass, telegraph to engineroom, etc. The building of all machinery and boilers was supervised by the British Corporation surveyors, and the owner was represented by Major H. Maitland Kersey, D.S.O., formerly Managing Director, Canadian Pacific Ocean Services Ltd., London, England."
CHICAGO TRIBUNE and NEW YORK NEWS were handsome steamers, with full forecastles. The texas cabin was characterized by a rounded front into which were set five portholes. The front of the pilothouse was similarly rounded, with five large windows in it. Originally, there was no sunvisor over the windows, but instead there was a wide overhang of the pilothouse roof. A framework covered most of the bridge deck so that awnings could be stretched there for protection from the heat of summer. A large canvas weathercloth was often wrapped around the monkey's island atop the pilothouse, particularly if the ship was being navigated from that position. The foremast was a heavy pole, immediately abaft the forward cabin, and it carried a large cargo boom. At the very top of the foremast was a large bucket-type crows-nest, and on the front of this was affixed a large 'C.T.' insignia, the 'T' set inside the larger 'C. The letters, signifying "Chicago Tribune", were outlined in electric light bulbs, and lit up when the ship's steam whistle was blown.
The two ships were a bit unusual, in that they did not have the "stepped" deck aft (i.e. a raised quarterdeck which extended out forward of the after cabin, and into which the last hatch or two would he set) as did so many of the canallers that were built during the 1920s at British shipyards. The large after cabin sported a wide overhang of the boat deck for shelter, and a closed rail on the spar deck ran down both sides of the after cabin and around the fantail for protection from the seas. The stack was tall and quite heavy, and was gently raked to match the masts. The mainmast was a pole, somewhat lighter than the foremast, and was set well abaft the stack.
The steamers were given a livery that was specially designed for them, considering that they were the first boats built for the line. They wore black hulls, and their cabins were white. Their stacks were painted buff, with a wide red band and a black smokeband at the top. On the red band appeared a large white letter 'C', with a smaller 'T' inside it. A very unusual feature of both ships were the advertising "billboards" that ran down the sides of their hulls. Some ships have carried their own name, or that of their owner there, but not so CHICAGO TRIBUNE or NEW YORK NEWS. Instead, painted in huge letters on their sides was the exhortation 'BUY "Liberty" A WEEKLY FOR EVERYBODY on Sale Everywhere 5 cents'! The weekly magazine "Liberty" was published by the "Chicago Tribune" group starting in 1924, and it has been suggested that the name was chosen because of the opposition of McCormick and Patterson to the Volstead Act which forced "Prohibition" on the United States. Of course, when the price of "Liberty" was raised, the '5 cents' disappeared from the side of the ships, but no other price was ever substituted. The "billboards" remained on CHICAGO TRIBUNE and NEW YORK NEWS into the 1930s, but were eventually abandoned, no doubt due not only to the additional cost of painting the ships with all that printing on their sides, but also to government disapproval of such advertising on Canadian vessels.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE and NEW YORK NEWS ran their trials in due course, and were accepted by their owners. They sailed for the Great Lakes under their own steam, and arrived safely in Canada during the late summer of 1922. They probably carried cargoes of British coal on their delivery voyages, as most British-built canallers were wont to do. They then went into the pulpwood trade from Shelter Bay and Franquelin and Baie Comeau, Quebec, to Thorold, and they proved to be very efficient in this service. Almost immediately, MARY H. BOYCE was sold, and she enjoyed a few more years of service in the Paterson family fleet. LINDEN was sold in 1923 to a Detroit operator, but she burned to a total loss later the same year.
Both CHICAGO TRIBUNE and her sister must have run into trouble in 1923, perhaps in manoeuvering into the docks at the timber lands, for both steamers were on the drydock at Canadian Vickers Ltd., Montreal, during December. On the 2nd, the TRIBUNE was docked for survey and owner's and underwriters' repairs, including bow and bottom damage, and also for the fitting of a new injection valve and connection. She was undocked on December 6, and NEW YORK NEWS immediately followed her onto the dock for underwriters' repairs, including bottom damage requiring 13 new shell plates and 30 shell plates faired and otherwise treated, and also repairs to internal framing in way of damage. There was also bow damage which required repairs to shell plating, deck stringers, port lights and cabin woodwork. The owners also made additional repair, and the NEWS remained on the drydock at Montreal for the entire winter.
The two steamers usually wintered together at Thorold, where they were under the watchful eye of their owner, and where minor repairs could be put in hand. Exceptions normally occurred only when one of the ships required drydocking. Strangely enough, however, the winter of 1926-27 saw CHICAGO TRIBUNE laid up at Pictou, Nova Scotia, while NEW YORK NEWS was at Lauzon, Quebec.
It was during the autumn of 1926 that NEW YORK NEWS was involved in an accident that could very well have proven to be her undoing. On Tuesday, October 26, 1926, she was lying at the wharf at Shelter Bay, loading pulpwood, when a severe storm struck. It was this same storm that blew the George Hall Coal
and Shipping Company Ltd. canaller A. D. MacTIER ashore on the Gaspe Coast, where she stranded to a total loss. NEW YORK NEWS parted her lines in the storm, and wandered along the shore until she grounded, her bow high on a rocky outcropping, and her stern dangerously near more rocks. The steamer was not equipped with radio, and there were but poor communications ashore and for a while the owners and authorities feared that the vessel had been sunk. However, she eventually was located and refloated, and was taken to the Davie shipyard at Lauzon for repairs. This explains her unusual lay-up location for the winter of 1926-27.
On Sunday, July 29, 1928, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, whilst upbound with a cargo of pulpwood from Shelter Bay for Thorold, was in collision with the British steamer ELFSTONE off Chateauguay Shoal in Lake St. Louis, Quebec. Much evidence was given by the officers of both ships at the subsequent enquiry into the circumstances of the accident, but these gentlemen largely contradicted each other in their description of what had happened. The Dominion Wreck Commissioner reserved his decision, and returned the certificates of both masters, and of the mate of ELFSTONE, who was in charge of that ship at the time of the collision.
Sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s, NEW YORK NEWS and CHICAGO TRIBUNE were given additional cargo-handling gear in the form of an extra mast which was stepped about half-way down the deck. On this mast were fitted two large cargo booms, which undoubtedly were used to help hoist pulpwood on board. The winches that handled the cables on these booms, as well as the boom on the foremast, were covered by large wooden slat-type shelters. Thus, when pulpwood was piled high over the spar deck, there would be openings available to the crew for the working of cargo and mooring lines.
Also, at about the same time, a change in the ownership of the two steamers occurred. At least by 1932, and perhaps as early as 1928, the Ontario Transportation and Pulp Company Ltd. was reorganized by Ontario Paper as the Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal, and it was under this name that the fleet operated for the remaining years of its existence.
In June of 1933, the Q & O purchased the steam canaller BELVOIR (I) and renamed her (b) NEW YORK NEWS (II), for it was originally intended that she carry newsprint from the St. Lawrence River to New York City. As a result, the older NEW YORK NEWS (I) was renamed (b) SHELTER BAY (I) in honour of the timber lands that had provided many of her cargoes. At the same time, it was thought that a more modern vessel should carry the name of the newspaper that had given life to the fleet, and so the 1930-built motorship THOROLD (I) was renamed (b) CHICAGO TRIBUNE (II) in 1933. This caused the CHICAGO TRIBUNE (I) to be renamed (b) THOROLD (II). This multiple exchange of names has provided much confusion for researchers over the years.
But the coming of World War Two produced major changes in the canaller fleets operated by Canadian companies. The pulpwood and newsprint services were considered to be essential, and SHELTER BAY was left to carry on as before the hostilities. THOROLD, however, was requisitioned early in 1940 by the Canadian government for service in British waters, presumably under control of the British Ministry of War Transport. In June of 1940, THOROLD sailed across the Atlantic with a British crew, and with a cargo of saw-logs in her holds. She made the crossing in safety, and then was assigned to carry Welsh coal across the English Channel to France.
On Thursday, August 22nd, 1940, whilst on her first trip with Welsh coal, THOROLD was attacked by Luftwaffe planes. Lloyd's record of the event reads as follows: "When the ship was attacked by enemy aircraft, ten of the crew were killed and three injured. The master was badly wounded, and the ship was on fire from stem to stern. Second Engineer Bell took command and broached her to, hoping to quench the fire. He zig-zagged to avoid the bombs, but the attack was too close and sustained for escape and the ship began to sink. He cut the rafts adrift, lowered the damaged but seaworthy lifeboats, and although the ship was settling fast, got the wounded master and second mate aboard. An explosion then threw everyone into the water and blew the boats to pieces. Helped by Able Seaman Kiely, the second engineer took a raft and rescued everyone whom he could see, including the master and second mate, but both these officers died of their injuries later. After two hours they were picked up."
The Q & O did not know of the loss until a clipping from the "Manchester Daily Mail", dated September 15, 1940, was received in Montreal, and it was not until months later that the Admiralty officially confirmed the sinking of the THOROLD. The "Toronto Evening Telegram" ran a quote from the "Manchester Guardian" as follows: "For six hours, the women waited on the beach. Out there, somewhere across the grey sea, their men were in the lifeboat to save the lives of a British crew whose vessel, the 1689-ton THOROLD of Montreal, had been bombed and sunk by Nazi planes. When the call for help came through, the lifeboat crew - volunteers to a man - were at work on their farms and at their jobs in the village. They knew the danger they faced; Nazi airmen have no respect or mercy even for those whose work is only to save life.
"But not one man held back. And so their women went down to the beach to wait. Six hours, and then across the sea came the returning lifeboat with 13 members of the crew of the THOROLD still alive, and two officers dead from their wounds. They died on their way to safety. The remaining nine of the THOROLD's men are missing. There was a cheer as the lifeboat grounded. Then survivors, lifeboat men, and the women who waited, knelt in prayer on the sand to thank Providence that they had brought them home. Those men of the THOROLD will not forget that prayer nor their comrades whom they saw machine-gunned as they took to their rafts."
The "Telegram" article continued: "There were no Canadians aboard THOROLD, but Capt. W. G. Redfern, of Colborne, who commanded the THOROLD for years when she traded on the Great Lakes, and the men who have worked aboard her, will know that THOROLD did her best against the overwhelming odds against her".
With THOROLD gone, SHELTER BAY carried on as the last of the original pair of pulpwood boats in Q & O service. She remained in Canadian trade throughout the war, and lived to sail into the 1950s. She was given a new pilothouse, much like the original except that it had no window on each side abaft the door, and it was fitted with a rather large sunvisor which extended over all of the five front windows. In addition, her mast arrangement was greatly altered. The foremast was removed, and in its place was fitted a light pipe mast which carried no cargo boom. The old after mast, abaft the stack, was removed completely. On her cargo deck then sprouted two new masts; the first (between hatches two and three) was nothing more than a kingpost, but the second, abaft the fourth hatch, was full height and served as the new mainmast. Each of these two new masts was equipped with two cargo booms.
As well, SHELTER BAY lost her old 'C.T.' stack marking, and on the red band of her funnel appeared the familiar 'Q & O' monogram that all of the company's ships would wear in the post-war years. SHELTER BAY was also fitted with a large doghouse, located right aft on the boat deck, which provided additional accommodation for the crew.
SHELTER BAY continued in Q & O service during the 1950s, operating in both the pulp and newsprint trades, but she soon became surplus to the company's requirements, particularly as a result of the commissioning in 1954 and 1955 of the British-built diesel canallers BAIE COMEAU (I) and MANICOUAGAN (II), which in 1955 were renamed JOSEPH MEDILL PATTERSON and COL. ROBERT R. MCCORMICK, respectively. Accordingly, during the summer of 1958, the old SHELTER BAY was sold to N. M. Paterson and Sons Ltd., Fort William, who renamed her (c) LABRADOC (I).
The Paterson fleet was one of the few Canadian operators of canallers that expanded its fleet even though the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway was imminent and canallers would soon be obsolete. The Paterson firm not only built several new canallers, but also bought several second-hand steamers, LABRADOC (I) being amongst them. Even so, she laid up at Kingston during the autumn of 1959, the year the Seaway opened, and never again turned a wheel. During August of 1961, she was towed to Port Dalhousie, and was moored along the wall above old Lock One. Sold to A. Newman and Company Ltd., St. Catharines, for scrapping, she was towed around to the Port Dalhousie drydock during November of 1961, and there she was stripped out and the hull scrapped.
But she had done her job the best she could for her entire life, and there was nothing more that her designers, her builders, her owners, or the men who operated her could have asked of her. If only THOROLD had been so lucky!
Ed. Note; For the photo of NEW YORK NEWS aground near Shelter Bay, we are indebted to member Skip Gillham, who obtained it from the photographer, Mr. James Roberts. Much information about the twin canallers comes from various issues of "Canadian Railway and Marine World", while certain additional detail is taken from Trees to News (A Chronicle of the Ontario Paper Company's Origin and Development) by Carl Wiegman, published in 1953 by McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.