In the November issue, we featured the famous Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River sidewheel passenger steamer ALGERIAN (04), (a) KINGSTON (I) (73), (b) BAVARIAN (74), (d) CORNWALL. One of the several fires which afflicted this ship occurred on June 11, 1872, when KINGSTON caught fire and was run ashore on Grenadier Island, above Brockville. The steamer's superstructure was destroyed and two persons lost their lives. Thanks to a member's assistance, we present in this month's photopage the only known actual photograph of KINGSTON. It shows her burned-out hull very shortly after the fire, and it is all the more fascinating in that, moored alongside her port quarter is the small sidewheeler BRUCE. As this also is the only known photograph of BRUCE, we thought we might try to write a history of this elusive steamer. What follows is the result, and we would be glad of any additional detail which our readers might be able to provide.
The history of BRUCE can be traced back to 1846 when, as (a) ISLANDER, she was built at Kelleys Island (once known as Cunningham's Island), Ohio, by Daniel Dibble. She was a sidewheeler and her hull, which was built of red cedar from the island, was about 100 feet in length and 17 feet in the beam. The "Lytle-Holdcamper List" (Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States. 1807-1868) indicates that she was of 73 Gross Registered Tons. Back when she was built, of course, there was no published register of U.S. shipping, for the first "Merchant Vessels" annual did not appear until 1867-1868. Lytle prepared his listing from the records of the Bureau of Navigation, as it was then called, but the available "official" information was sketchy at best. Complete dimensions were seldom recorded, and official registry numbers simply did not exist.
The Buffalo press reported on September 5, 1846, that ISLANDER had been towed by the big steamer TROY from the island to the R. B. Higgins Wharf at Sandusky for the installation of the engine which had been built for her by A. A. Camp. Unfortunately, we have no details concerning this engine or the steamer's boiler(s). ISLANDER most probably was a single-deck boat, with a simple "birdcage" pilothouse, a tall stack, a passenger cabin aft on the main deck, a high walking-beam or "gallows-frame", and huge radial paddlewheels in simple boxes.
ISLANDER apparently was built by Dibble for Datus Kelley (of the island) and, according to member Gordon Wendt's In The Wake of The WALK-IN-THE-WATER, she provided in 1846 the first recorded service to the islands in Lake Erie from Sandusky. Sailing from Kelleys Island, she ran through to Lower Sandusky (Fremont) and to Plaster Bed.
In those days of "ad hoc" navigation, accidents were frequent and ISLANDER had her share. A March 31, 1847, report in the "Cleveland Herald" noted that, in company with the steamer CHAUTAUQUE (also spelled CHAUTAUQUA, and built 1839 at Buffalo), ISLANDER was anchored off Kelleys Island, got caught in the ice, and drifted off. The passengers walked ashore over the ice, and ISLANDER was retrieved by another ship (unintelligibly identified as "the STATES"). Another "Herald" report stated that she had been towed into port on April 5. Then, on November 30, 1848, ISLANDER was reported to be ashore on the island. She was later refloated, although with considerable damage.
Gordon Wendt indicates that ISLANDER served her usual route through 1853, but was replaced in 1854 by COMET, a smaller steamer of only 46 tons (according to Lytle) which was built in 1854 at Sandusky. COMET apparently was more powerful than ISLANDER. We are not certain what ISLANDER did immediately after this change, but in 1857 she was in service between Detroit, Michigan, and Chatham, Ontario.
In July of 1857, ISLANDER was sunk in collision with the larger steamer PEARL, 251 tons, which had been built in 1851 at Newport, Michigan. ISLANDER was salvaged and was repaired at Detroit. According to a casualty list for 1857 which was published on January 25. 1858, by the "Buffalo Commercial Advertiser", ISLANDER suffered about $1,200 damage in the collision.
Lytle-Holdcamper does not show ISLANDER dropped from U.S. registry until 1859, but it is known that in 1858 she was operating from Goderich to Penetangore (Kincardine) and Saugeen (Southampton) under the command of Captain Duncan Rowan. The first steamer service to Kincardine was in 1856, when Rowan ran PLOUGHBOY on that route, and she was still running there in 1857. Rowan commanded ISLANDER in 1858 and 1859, and appears to have purchased her sometime during those years, for it is thought that he owned her by 1860.
Although ISLANDER continued on that route, Capt. Rowan himself was on the bridge of another boat in 1860, that being the 188-foot KALOOLAH, (a) KALOOLAH (57), (b) COLLINGWOOD (58), which had been built at Buffalo in 1852 and which in 1857 had become the first Canadian-flag steamer ever to operate on Lake Superior. Rowan also ran KALOOLAH on the east side of Lake Huron and, although he moved over to command VALLEY CITY in 1861 and 1862, KALOOLAH continued to operate in the area until August 21, 1862, when she stranded to a total loss while attempting to pull the schooner SIR CHARLES NAPIER off a shoal near the mouth of the Saugeen River at Southampton.
Meanwhile, the Goderich "Huron Signal" of July 21, 1858, carried an item that gives insight into ISLANDER'S service. "Str. ISLANDER, Capt. Duncan Rowan, running in connection with the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway, will leave Van Every & Rumball's wharf every Monday and Thursday evening at 7 o'clock for Penetangore and Saugeen, calling at all intermediate ports. Will leave Saugeen for Goderich every Tuesday and Friday morning at 7 o'clock. Will leave Goderich for Sarnia and Port Huron every Tuesday and Friday evening at 7 o'clock, calling at Bayfield, arriving at Sarnia in time to connect with the river boats for Detroit, etc. Will leave Sarnia and Port Huron for Goderich, calling at Bayfield, every Wednesday and Saturday morning at 7 o'clock. For freight or passage, apply to Van Every & Rumball, Harbour Quay, Goderich." The advertisement was dated July 13, 1858, at Goderich.
On August 25, 1859, the Kincardine "Western Canadian Commonwealth" carried a similar notice, although by then the sailing times had been altered somewhat. On her northbound trip, ISLANDER was scheduled to call at "Penetangore, Port Head, Inverhuron, Malta (Baie du Dore), Port Elgin and Saugeen, calling at intermediate ports". It is hard to imagine what other intermediate ports there might have been, although the boat likely would stop wherever signalled and wherever there was sufficient water to permit a landing. Of those places, Port Head, Malta and Baie du Dore no longer exist at all*. ISLANDER was scheduled to connect at Sarnia on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. and on Saturday at 4:00 p.m., or on arrival, with RUBY (251 tons, built 1851 at Newport, Michigan) from Detroit. Once again, Van Every & Rumball were prominently mentioned, and it seems possible that they may have shared the ownership of ISLANDER with Capt. Rowan. In any event, we shall hear more of them as our story progresses.
However, ISLANDER was involved in an accident which very nearly proved to be her complete undoing. In March of 1861, ISLANDER was out on Lake St. Clair. We do not know for sure, but we might speculate that she had spent the winter at a shipyard in the Detroit area, and was returning to Goderich to take up her duties for the 1861 season. Be this as it may, ISLANDER'S cedar hull planking was cut through by the ice and she sank off what then was known as Grassy Island in the St. Clair Flats area at the lower end of the St. Clair River. The sinking was reported in the casualty list for 1861 which was published early in 1862 by the "Buffalo Commercial Advertiser". It would appear that no lives were lost in the accident.
Despite the serious damage which she had sustained, ISLANDER was salvaged and her remains were taken to Goderich, where the ship was completely reconstructed by Henry Marlton. She was renamed (b) BRUCE, in honour of the Bruce (Saugeen) Peninsula and Bruce County, whose ports she was intended to serve but, as far as we know, she was never assigned a Canadian official number. The Dominion of Canada, Department of Marine and Fisheries, List of Shipping for 1874 indicates that her length at that time was 100.0 feet, her beam 17.2 feet (hull only), her depth 7 .7 feet, and her tonnage 107 Gross and 87 Net. We have no reason to believe that there had been any major change in these measurements between 1862 and 1874.
The Goderich newspaper reported on Thursday, July 24, 1862, that BRUCE had been launched the previous Monday (July 21st). It was stated that her new engine had been fitted by Runciman of Goderich and that her boiler had been built by "Gartshore of Dundee". We would assume that the boilermaker was, in fact, the well-known John Gartshore, who operated a boiler works at Dundas, Ontario.
Over the years, there appears to have been confusion as to the origin of BRUCE. The Dominion List of Shipping never indicated that she had been anything but BRUCE, no doubt because of the great extent of the reconstruction of 1862, and many other sources failed to make the connection between ISLANDER and BRUCE. The Goderich press reports, however, serve to confirm what we know to be the case, as does the "Register of the Shipping of the Lakes and River St. Lawrence, 1864" which was compiled by Robert Thomas, General Inspector of the late Board of Lake Underwriters, and which was published at Buffalo. Thomas stated that BRUCE was registered at Montreal, and was constructed at Goderich in 1862, "built on bottom of Str. ISLANDER". Incidentally, an 1862 register also shows Montreal as BRUCE's port of registry, but the Dominion List of 1874 shows her home port as Goderich, even though she had long since departed the waters of Lake Huron by that time.
BRUCE was placed in service in 1862 by Thomas Van Every and George Rumball, of Goderich, and the completion of her rebuilding was timely indeed, for she was available to replace the lost KALOOLAH, which had passed into the ownership of the same parties in 1860. BRUCE ran up the lake from Goderich to Kincardine and Southampton, and also made regular trips down to Sarnia.
BRUCE was a pretty little steamer, designed to carry both passengers and general cargo, although her passenger accommodations obviously were less than palatial. We judge by the 1872 photo of her alongside KINGSTON, although it is possible that, by that time, BRUCE may have lost some of her cabin facilities for river service. Her main deck was closed in forward (the freight area) but it would appear that there was an open passageway around the aft part of the deckhouse behind the paddleboxes, where the main passenger cabin undoubtedly was located. The tall, octagonal pilothouse sat right on the promenade deck above, and the steamer's single tall mast rose immediately ahead of the pilothouse. The rest of the upper deck appears to have been completely open, except for a small shade deck over the aft portion of the promenade, and a small stack housing. The tall and thin stack, apparently well raked, was set not far back of the pilothouse.
On October 7, 1862, BRUCE managed to fracture one of her wheel shafts. She was taken to Kincardine for temporary repairs and then limped on up the lake to Southampton, using only one paddlewheel. Permanent repairs were then put in hand. The autumn of her first year in service was indeed eventful for the BRUCE, for the "Globe" of October 16, 1862, reported that the steamer had been caught in a major storm off Kincardine, and had been saved from going ashore through the use of a stout anchor and its heavy chain which had been salvaged from the wreck of KALOOLAH and placed aboard BRUCE. The newspaper carried a florid account of the incident.
The 1863 season was less eventful, and the only problem encountered by BRUCE (of which we are aware) was an engine breakdown on August 4th. The steamer was forced to lay up for a week at Goderich in order that the necessary repairs might be made. By this time, Capt. Duncan Rowan was once more in command of the ship, and it is possible that he may have taken over as master as soon as she was placed back in service in 1862.
The Goderich "Signal" reported on January 12, 1864, that BRUCE was being offered for sale by Van Every and Rumball, and that she was in good condition, having made 106 trips to Saugeen and 30 to Sarnia during 1863. Van Every & Rumball had begun to experience financial difficulties by this time, but it is not known whether the offering of BRUCE was a symptom of these problems or whether she was for sale in anticipation of the arrival on the scene of the 134-foot sidewheeler SILVER SPRAY which was built by Andrews in 1864 at Port Dalhousie. In fact, Capt. Rowan took command of SILVER SPRAY when she arrived on the east shore of Lake Huron, but it would seem that BRUCE operated for at least a portion of the 1864 season.
The Toronto "Globe" reported on March 14, 1865, that BRUCE was laid up at Goderich when Van Every and Rumball were unable to meet their mortgage payments, and that all of their holdings would be offered in a mortgage sale scheduled for Tuesday, April 18, 1865. In fact, BRUCE was acquired at the sale by John V. Detlov and Sons, Goderich, who apparently placed her back in service. There is a report that she later was owned by "Maby of Goderich" but we cannot comment upon the accuracy of that information. We do, however, know that BRUCE was running in 1865, for the Goderich "Signal" reported that she had sustained engine trouble on May 24th of that year.
With the advent of newer, larger and more efficient vessels, BRUCE was no longer required on the Lake Huron route, and by 1866 she was operating on Lake Ontario. There she ran a daily service between Belleville and Oswego, with calls at Kingston, Picton and Mill Point. It would appear that her running-mate on this service was the sidewheeler ROCHESTER (76), (b) HASTINGS (90), (c) EURYDICE (99), (d) DONNELLY, a 142-footer built in 1863 by Cantin at Montreal. It is known that the two boats ran together in 1867 and probably through 1868 as well. ROCHESTER was acquired by the Gildersleeve interests in 1869.
BRUCE was inspected at Kingston in 1868 and it was said that her owner at that time was D. S. Booth of Brockville. Further, it was reported that the BRUCE was used in that area as a ferry. The famous Prince Edward County marine historian Willis Metcalfe indicated that, on May 11, 1870, Calvin and Breck of Garden Island were engaged in trying to raise BRUCE, which had sunk in the river off Brockville. We know no other details of this occurrence other than the fact that the salvors were successful.
By 1873, ownership of BRUCE was passed to W. H. Comstock of Brockville and he was still shown as owner in the 1874 Dominion List. In 1873, the Eastern Ontario inspection division of the Department of Marine and Fisheries reported having inspected BRUCE for operation on the Rideau. Apparently Comstock had decided to put BRUCE into service on the Rideau River between Westport and Ottawa, and it is believed that he retained ownership of her after she entered this trade. Unfortunately, however, it did not last long, for BRUCE burned and sank in the Ottawa River at Ottawa during 1876. The 1877 Dominion List showed BRUCE registered to D. S. Booth, Brockville, but it is obvious that the government records were not current. We have no reason to believe that BRUCE did not burn in 1876 (although we do not have the actual date of the fire) or that Comstock was not her owner at the time.
There the story of ISLANDER/BRUCE would undoubtedly have ended were it not for one of those happy coincidences that develops occasionally. The hull of BRUCE did not disintegrate totally, and eventually the remains were discovered lying in the Ottawa River near the Chateau Laurier Hotel. The Santa Maria Society, formed by divers and others interested in conserving the marine environment of the area, conceived a plan to create an underwater park between the Macdonald-Cartier and Alexandra Bridges, the park to contain the wrecks of seven ships found in the locale. Over three years, the Society battled with five governments and thirty-three government agencies to secure final approval for the park plans.
The remains of BRUCE, the first ship placed in the park, were raised from their 106-year resting place in June 1982, and were moved to a nearby shallow cove. Then, on Saturday, August 7, 1982, they were taken on a short final trip to the park site. The August 9 issue of the "Ottawa Citizen" reported the final chapter of the story. "Transport Minister Jean-Luc Pepin sank a ship Sunday (the 8th) and came away laughing. 'My wife launched one yesterday and I've sunk one today', he said, safe in the knowledge that it wasn't the ship of state he had scuttled. Sheila Mary Pepin performed her duty at St. Catharines, but it was the Ottawa River that drew her husband for a resinking ceremony inaugurating the opening phase of an underwater park. By releasing hot air from some barrels, Pepin sent the hull of the 120 (sic) year-old steamship BRUCE to the bottom in front of the Ottawa Rowing Club near the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge."
We really shouldn't make light of the last moments above water of the remains of the venerable BRUCE, but this simply had to be the first time on record that the hot air of a Canadian politician (and especially a member of the particular government in power at that time) actually sank a ship! All in all, however, BRUCE would be best remembered not for this incident but rather for her many years of faithful service on Sandusky Bay and on the waters of the east shore of Lake Huron.
Ed. Note: We are particularly indebted to Ron Beaupre and Bill McNeil for their efforts in researching this unusual story, and to the T.M.H.S. Secretary for getting the project under way. We also wish to acknowledge the writings of Gordon Wendt, Patrick Folkes, and the late Willis Metcalfe and James M. Kidd.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.