For some time now, we have been hoping to be able to feature in these pages another of the tugs which plied the waters of the lakes in years gone by. One tug which seemed to be a promising subject for a feature was FLORENCE, whose remains rest in Lake Ontario to this day, but we were stymied in our efforts to come up with a reproduceable [sic] photograph of the tug. The only decent view of FLORENCE was a newspaper picture which appeared at the time of her loss, and which was in the collections of several marine historians, but was not suitable in that form for our photopage. Finally, however, we were able to obtain a copy that is satisfactory for reproduction, and so we are pleased to present herewith the history of FLORENCE.
FLORENCE (C.88309) was a wooden-hulled tug which was built in 1885 at Levis, Quebec, by Maritime et Industrielle Cie. for Jewell and Company (Henry Jewell), of Quebec City. She was 91.0 feet in length, 19.8 feet in the beam, and 9.0 feet in depth, with tonnage of 113 Gross and 30 Net. She was powered by a fore-and-aft compound steam engine which was built for her by the shipyard. It had cylinders of 18 and 36 inches diameter, and a stroke of 24 inches. We have no details concerning FLORENCE'S original boiler, but we know that it was replaced in 1912 by a boiler which measured 11'3" "by 16'5".
During the winter of 1905-1906, the Quebec Transportation and Forwarding Company Ltd. was incorporated, with its offices located at Quebec City. Captain W. J. Hackett was appointed manager of the new firm, and it is alleged that he was not connected with the Hackett Towing firm of Amherstburg. We have no way of knowing whether this was, in fact, the case or not. In any event, as soon as he had assumed his duties with the new company, Captain Hackett purchased for the firm the tug FLORENCE, and thus she returned to the waters of the St. Lawrence which had been her home for the early years of her lengthy career.
Early in 1906, Captain Hackett acquired in his own name three U.S.-flag upper lake schooner-barges, which he intended to use in the pulpwood and coal trades on the river and the lower lakes. One of them was ABERDEEN (U.S.106-975 & C.126469), (b) GLADYS, 212.0 x 35.0 x 16.6, 1045 Gross and 993 Net, which had been James Davidson's Hull 52 out of West Bay City in 1892. The second was FRANK D. EWEN (U.S.120710 & C.130321), 202.0 x 37.0 x 15.4, 882 Gross and 838 Net, which was Hull 42 in 1888 from the F. W. Wheeler Company at Bay City. The third schooner-barge was ZAPOTEC (U.S.28116 & C.126470), 204.7 x 34.7 x 14.6, 811 Gross and 796 Net, which was built by Martin P. Lester in 1893 at Marine City, Michigan.
The EWEN immediately was transferred to Canadian registry, under the ownership of F. Hackett and Sons, Quebec City. The other two barges, however, remained under the U.S. flag, although they were registered in Capt. Hackett's name. ABERDEEN, FRANK D. EWEN and ZAPOTEC were all brought under the ownership of the Quebec Transportation and Forwarding Company Ltd. in 1910, and by that time all three of them were under Canadian registry.
When the three U.S. schooner-barges were purchased by Hackett in April of 1906, all of them were loaded with coal for their delivery trip to Quebec. FLORENCE, under the command of the well-known Captain W. J. Stitt, took all three in tow, and this proved to be the largest tow to pass down Lake Ontario up to that time. The tow was three-quarters of a mile long, with 1,200 feet of hawser between the tug and the leading barge, ABERDEEN. In spite of the size of the tow, and the foggy weather that was encountered en route, the ships made a quick passage down Lake Ontario, taking only 33 1/2 hours to cover the 221 miles from Port Dalhousie to Prescott. On arrival at the latter port, the barges were breasted together for the passage down through the St. Lawrence River rapids, and all arrived safely at Quebec City on May 6th, 1906. They appear to have operated successfully together for a number of years.
During the years of World War One, FLORENCE and her three barges were taken over by the Canada Shipping Company, Montreal, which became the George Hall Coal Company of Canada in 1918. In a corporate reorganization which occurred in 1922, the ownership of all of these vessels passed to the George Hall Coal and Shipping Company, Montreal.
In 1927, FLORENCE was sold to the Essex Transit Company Ltd., of Ford City (Windsor), Ontario. She did not see a great deal of service under this new ownership, and eventually she settled to the bottom at her Windsor dock during the season of 1932, her hull having fallen victim to the ravages of her 47 years. She had reached an age which few wooden-hulled ships ever managed to attain.
In 1933, FLORENCE was acquired by the Florence Transportation Company Ltd., Toronto, which was a subsidiary of Diminion [sic] Tankers Ltd., Toronto. A. R. Roberts was president of the company, and Captain J. H. Solery acted as its manager. Dominion Tankers had close connections with the Shell Oil group, for which it carried cargoes. The new owners had FLORENCE refitted for active service, as it was their intention to use her for towing their new tanker barge PETER G. CAMPBELL, which had been built for lake and river service in 1933 at Wallsend-on-Tyne as Hull 1485 of Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd. This barge, which was 178.9 x 34.2 x 14.9, 884 Gross Tons, had a capacity of 11,000 barrels and was the first all-welded hull ever built in a British shipyard. She arrived at Montreal on May 26, 1933.
When fitted out for her new owners, FLORENCE was a very handsome tug. Her hull was black, while her deckhouse was painted dark red. Her big pilothouse on the upper deck was buff. The stack also was a buff shade, with a very broad black smokeband, on which was a white circle which contained a red letter 'R'. It should be noted that it appears from an early photograph, which is alleged to show FLORENCE but has not been positively identified as doing so, that the tug originally carried her pilothouse down on the main deck, as did many early tugboats. Sometime before she entered service for the Quebec Transportation and Forwarding Company Ltd., however, a brand new pilothouse was fitted on the upper deck, thus making the tug much more useful for lake and river towing.
FLORENCE did well towing PETER G. CAMPBELL, but unfortunately she did not remain long in her new duties, for she fell victim to heavy weather and to her advanced age. On what already had been scheduled as her last trip of the 1933 season, FLORENCE was upbound, towing the CAMPBELL, which was loaded with molasses. Captain Charles Willard, of Kingston, was in command of FLORENCE, and Floyd Eves, also of Kingston, was the mate. The two engineers, William Welch as first and Davidson as second, were both from Toronto. David Willard, of Kingston, served as fireman, while William Shacklen, also of Kingston, was the cook.
Upon entering Lake Ontario from the St. Lawrence River, the FLORENCE and her barge encountered heavy weather, accompanied by snow. The tow took shelter for a time off Cressy Point, but on the morning of November 14, 1933, "the voyage to Toronto was resumed. FLORENCE took a severe buffeting when she found herself in a heavy swell off "The Ducks", and this proved to be just too much for the venerable wooden tug, as her seams began to open up. The crew managed to keep FLORENCE'S pumps going until the rising waters put out the fires and there was no more steam.
Captain Willard and his crew took to the lifeboat and managed to get clear of the tug about five minutes before FLORENCE went down in eighty feet of water between the False Duck Islands and Timber Island, off Point Traverse, Prince Edward County. Fortunately, the survivors managed to reach Timber Island in safety. Press reports concerning the sinking placed the value of the lost tug at approximately $30,000.
Over the ensuing years, various attempts were made to salvage the engine, boiler, and other equipment from the sunken FLORENCE. Finally, the fore-and-aft compound engine was lifted from the lake floor by the Sin-Mac Lines salvage barge COBOURG, assisted by the tug CAPT. M. B. DONNELLY. The large wooden rudder from FLORENCE also was raised and, in the 1970's, it was placed on display in the grounds of the Mariners Memorial Park at the South Marysburgh Marine Museum in Prince Edward County. Meanwhile, the remains of FLORENCE have continued to lie on the floor of Lake Ontario, where today they are disturbed only by divers seeking to explore the wreck.
After the loss of FLORENCE, Dominion Tankers Ltd. continued to operate its barge, PETER G. CAMPBELL, using Sin-Mac tugs (usually the JOHN PRATT) to tow her. At the close of the 1934 season, however, it was decided that the CAMPBELL would be of more use as a self-propelled tanker. Consequently, she was converted to a twin-screw diesel at the Vickers shipyard at Montreal. She became RIVERSHELL (I) in 1950, (c) GOOD HOPE in 1960, (d) B. A. SENTINEL in 1962, (e) GULF SENTINEL in 1969, and in 1974 she was given back her (b) name, RIVERSHELL. She was scrapped in 1976, having served latterly as a bunkering tanker at various Canadian lake and river ports. When she went to the scrapyard, there were few who remembered her early association with the handsome steam tug FLORENCE.
Ed. Note: Our sincere thanks to the T.M.H.S. secretary who did most of the work in putting together this feature on FLORENCE. We are also grateful to T.M.H.S. board members Roger Chapman and Dyke Cobb, who struggled in the darkroom to produce the copy and print used for our photopage. Our thanks also to Lorne Joyce for his assistance with the story of the loss of FLORENCE.
Although FLORENCE enjoyed a long and generally successful career, we really know very little about her comings and goings in the early years of her life. Should any of our readers be able to add further information, we would be pleased to hear from them. Also of interest would be details concerning the tug's first boiler.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.