Chapter 12
Prosperity for the Shipbuilders
Table of Contents

Title Page
1 A place called Hamilton.
2 Public Works and Private Enterprise
3 Port Hamilton
4 1837-1839
5 Ericsson Wheels
6 1844-1847
7 Good Times in Port
8 Boom Town Days
9 Depression Years
10 Better Times Ahead
11 1867-1870
12 Prosperity for the Shipbuilders
13 The Second Railway Building Era
14 1884-1888
15 The Electric Era
16 The Iron Age
Table of Illustrations


Early in April, sailing notices for the season began to appear, the first being that of the Royal Mail Line, advertising the steamers SPARTAN and CORSICAN. This was followed by the Lake & River Steamship Co. listing an extensive fleet including their steamers LAKE MICHIGAN,LAKE ONTARIO and the new LAKE ERIE, as well as the HURON,CANADA,DROMEDARY,OSPREY,CITY OF CHATHAM plus the new COLUMBIA and CALIFORNIA.

Also included was the CALABRIA, a rebuild of the old BRANTFORD. News from Portsmouth, provided by the Kingston Whig and copied by the St. Catharines Weekly News on 10 April, told that the propeller BRISTOL was undergoing a thorough refit in order that she might rank high enough for the Chicago grain trade. She was now owned by Messrs. Wylie & Young of Hamilton, the former gentleman being well-known in Kingston. The BRISTOL would be under the command of Capt. Trowell of Kingston, who sailed the CITY OF MONTREAL in 1872. The propeller BRUNO is also being repaired. She is owned by Roberts & Williams of Chatham. The Chaffey Brothers were busy fitting out four steam barges and five tow-barges in anticipation of a lively season. In addition, there were 8 schooners being readied for business and the ice was beginning to move out.

In St. Catharines, the Weekly News published a letter, written on the 27 March, describing the city and going into some detail as to shipping. At the shipyard below Lock 3, Louis Shickluna and his foreman, George Thurston, who had left the employ of Wm. Power & Co. in 1871, were busy as usual. They had a propeller ready for launching, built for Sylvester Neelon and another, about one-third finished, as well as two other vessels just about completed. Across the canal from the shipyard and a little above the Wheel Works, the schooner LINNIE POWELL and three other vessels were wintering. Past McCourt's sail loft at the swing bridgeg was the Merchants Line wharf with the propeller LINCOLN alongside. Across the canal from the stone White Mills, was Shickluna's large sawmill and dry dock. Here the schooner JANE C. WOODRUFF and the propeller DOMINION lay. The stonework forming the approaches to Lock 3 was being widened. At Hutchinson's Mill, the propellers SCOTIA and EUROPE; were in winter quarters. Farther up the canal was the Saw Works and George N. Oille's Foundry and engine works, which had turned out five low-pressure engines in the past 15 months. Beyond this were McCordick's Tannery, the City Foundry & Machine Shop and the Red Mill. Here, the steamer ST. ANDREW, probably the side wheel tug of that name, as well as the propellers AMERICA and OCEAN were berthed. Neelon's lumber yard, the Gas Works and Simpson's Shipyard where three propellers were under construction, in addition to one for the Lake & River Steamship Co. and one for McDonald & Co., completed this tour of the canal.

At this same time, in Hamilton, the sidewheeler OSPREY was ready for action as soon as the ice went out and the propellers CANADA,CITY OF MONTREAL,CITY OF CHATHAM,INDIAN and LAKE ONTARIO were being fitted. out for the season, Owing to the prevalence of westerly gales the previous autumn, many sailing craft that normally winter in Hamilton, were forced to lay up at Kingston. At Robertson's Shipyard, the propeller COLUMBIA was just about ready for launching and the CALIFORNIA was under construction.

On the 21 April the tug YOUNG LION passed through Lock 1 at Port Dalhousie with the dredge SAMPSON in tow. The dredge would remove the temporary dam at Lock 2 and then do some work at Lock 3. Port Dalhousie was coming alive and four of the Northern Transportation Co. propellers CITY OF TOLEDO,MAINE,BROOKLYN and CLEVELAND had arrived and were awaiting the opening of the canal. The same company's OSWEGATCHIE looked through at Port Colborne, bound for Ogdensburg. The schooner GARIBALDI arrived from Toronto with lumber, while the ANNIE CRAIG and PANDORA both arrived light from Port Hope. In Hamilton, the propeller LOTHAIR was loading staves at the G. W. Ry Wharf for Kingston.

This account of the launch of the propeller COLUMBIA appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on Wednesday, 23 April:

"Yesterday afternoon, one of the most successful launches ever witnessed in Hamilton took place at Robertson's Shipyard. The COLUMBIA was christened yesterday and the CALIFORNIA is expected to be in the water within a month. Shortly before 3:00 p.m., everything was ready and the order was given to out the ropes. Owner Capt. John B. Fairgrieve's daughter Ida had the honour of christening the COLUMBIA, which glided gracefully into the harbour. The CANADA was standing by ready to bring the new vessel in to the wharf. Her dimensions were 137.0 x 23.6 x 13.5, gross 476 and net 360 tons. Her engine and boiler were built by Thos. Wilson & Co. of Dundas."
Completion of the vessel was expected, in 3 or 4 weeks.

On the 22 April also, St. Catharines saw two launchings at Shickluna's yard, the propeller SOVEREIGN for Sylvester Neelon and the barkentine MAGELLAN for Capt. James Murray. The engine for the SOVEREIGN was built in St. Catharines by Geo. N. Oille and was a low-pressure non-condensing engine 36 x 34.

The first vessel of the season for Montreal was the OSPREY, which was due to leave Hamilton on 26 April, calling at Port Hope and Kingston on her way.

Calvin & Breck launched the schooner NORWAY at their yard on Garden Island on the 21 April. She was a sister of the SWEDEN and DENMARK.

In Port Dalhousie, on Saturday 26 April, S. Andrews & Son launched two vessels, the first being the schooner JESSIE H. BRECK. This vessel was originally laid down for Sylvester Neelon at a contract price of $20,000, but L. W. Breck & Co. of Garden Island were willing to pay $25,000, so Neelon took his profit. The second launching was that of the propeller ALMA MUNRO for the Elgin Transportation Co. of Port Stanley.

Going further up the Welland Canal,Abbey Brothers shipyard at Port Robinson was as busy as the rest. They had one vessel on their dry dock for repairs and one schooner under construction. On the 30 April, they laid the keel for a schooner for Thomas Myles of Hamilton and, a contract had been signed for the construction of a propeller. The schooner under construction was the GLENIFFER and she was built for James Norris of St. Catharines.

Even Muir's Shipyard at Port Dalhousie,who usually stuck to repair work, launched the schooner ANTELOPE on the 1 May, the same day that Louis Shickluna launched the barkentine MANZANILLA for Capt. James Murray.

The propeller ARMENIA, built by Simpson & Chisholm at Chatham for Capt. John Malcolmson was launched on the 7 May, but there was some delay in completing her, since her boiler was not finished. This yard had a large propeller nearing completion for the Beatty Line and had laid the keel for a second. They were building a large steam barge of 40,000 bus. grain capacity for their own account and had a contract to build a propeller for owners in Kincardine. They had recently completed the propeller R. W. STANDLY for Wylie & Young of Hamilton and she left on the 10 May on her maiden voyage. She passed down the Welland Canal on the 15th.

The launch of a small and unusual vessel took place in Hamilton on the 15 May, when Martin Stally put into the water, the hull for a river-boat, to be shipped to the Red River. The christening was performed by Miss Annie Black and the hull dimensions were 50 ft. in length by 10'6" in breadth. After the sidewheels and guards were added, it would be 16 feet. These would be removed at Duluth, as she had to travel 180 miles by rail to Moorehead, Minn., where she would be placed in the Red River. The engine and boiler for this little vessel, which had been named MAGGIE, were being built by F. G. Beckett & Co. She would draw 12 inches of water when completed.

The propeller AFRICA at Port Dalhousie during a blockade on the canal. Alongside the AFRICA are two schooners, the second of which is the JESSIE H. BRECK. At the right are the propellers MAINE and ST. ALBANS of the Northern Transportation Co. fleet Photo: Author's Collection
On the 17 May, Wm. Power & Co. launched the propeller AFRICA for John Proctor and Capt. Francis Patterson. This was the replacement for the lost CHINA. She measured 135.7 x 25.4 x 12.0 with a gross tonnage of 652, net 403.

The steamer ARGYLE, which had been a familiar sight in Hamilton Harbour since 1864, was sold to parties in the Western part of the Province and by mid-May, she had arrived at Windsor. It was reported that she was to be placed on the Bear Creek to Detroit service.

Another casualty occurred in the St. Lawrence Rapids on the 19 May, when the steamer L. RENAUD became a total loss in the Lachines. Great difficulty was experienced in removing the passengers, who totalled over 125, in canoes to Ile Heron. General opinion blamed the captain for this mess and the captain blamed the steering.

The Lake & River Steamship Company's third propeller, the LAKE ERIE was launched on the 22 May by Melancthon Simpson, at Lock 5, St. Catharines. The christening was performed by Miss Blain, daughter of Richard Blain of Galt, a major shareholder in the company. Her measurements were 136.0 x 23.4 x 7.4; Gross tonnage 427; Net 347. Her engine, low-pressure 34 x 34" was built by Thos. Wilson & Co. of Dundas. This was a very speedy affair. The party from Hamilton and points west witnessed this launching at 3:00 p.m., went aboard and downed a champagne lunch and still had time to catch the 5:00 p.m. train back to Hamilton!

About 11:00 p.m. on the 3 June, the CITY OF CHATHAM, loading at the Great Western Ry. Wharf, was discovered to be on fire. The steam gong at the Railway Shops sounded the alarm and all the locomotives under steam kept up an unearthly screeching, thoroughly alarming the whole city and bringing literally thousands to the scene. The crew escaped, but saved nothing. A number of men from another vessel close by, succeeded in towing the burning steamer away from the wharf. She drifted about for a while and was then taken in tow for the Beach and grounded. Some 1,000 bbls. of flour had been loaded and these, with the vessel, constituted a loss of $35,000.

On the 4 June, it was announced that the COLUMBIA had been chartered by the Great Western Ry. to carry cargo between Hamilton and Toronto, owing to the destruction by fire of the railway bridge over the Sixteen Mile Creek at Oakville.

Louis Shickluna launched the propeller PRUSSIA on the 7 June for a syndicate of St. Catharines business and professional men. She was christened by Miss Ethel Benson of Port Hope, a niece of Calvin Brown, one of the shareholders.

View of Zealand's Wharf, taken from the top of the high bank. At the lower left, a vessel is under construction in A. M. Robertson's Shipyard. Photo: the late Edward L. Zealand
A launching took place at Hamilton on the 11 June, when A. M. Robertson watched happily as the CALIFORNIA slid smoothly down the ways. She was christened by Miss Zealand, eldest daughter of the Late Capt. Edward Zealand and was built for D. Butters of Montreal. She was a sister-ship of the COLUMBIA and was powered by a low-pressure 34 x 34 engine built by Thos. Wilson & Co., of Dundas.Capt. James W. Leslie, late of the BRISTOL, was appointed to command the CALIFORNIA.

On the morning of 17 June, the propeller GRANITE STATE, of the Vermont Central Line rammed the lower gates of Lock 2 at St. Catharines. The lock happened to be full and the upper gates were open. The rush of escaping water caused the upper gates to slam shut with such force that they were unstepped. It was feared that repairs might take as much as one week. The new PRUSSIA's maiden voyage was delayed as a result.

The St. Catharines Weekly News of 17 July, in an article entitled

"Shipbuilding in Chatham"
gave a preview of things to come in the field of marine engines. The improvement of the marine engine wast of course, a direct result of the development of better boilers, capable of standIng higher pressures. This resulted first in the compounding of engines and at a later date, the building of triple and quadruple expansion engines. The item read as follows:
"A very fine steam barge, the largest yet built here, was successfully launched from the yard of Hyslop & Ronald on the 25 June. The contractors for the hull were Alverson & Pike and she was named TECUMSEH. Her dimensions are 200 x 34 x 14. She is built of the finest material and is strongly fastened. Her engine is on the compound principle and is of 450 HP, The bore of the high pressure cylinder is 26" while that of the low pressure cylinder is 48". The stroke is 28 inches. She is to be used as a freight vessel, there being no upper or hurricane deck and the accommodation for officers and men is on the main deck."
So here we have a laker with a profile which would be familiar for many years. The account went on to say:
"On the 28 June, a neat and strong, though much smaller propeller was launched by Simpson & Chisholm for Capt. Thompson. She was named VANDERBILT and received the machinery out of the ADELAIDE HORTON, now being rebuilt as a tow-barge."

It might be noted that the ONTARIO and the QUEBEC, under construction at Simpson & Chishom's yard, were fitted with compound engines.

A brief item headed

"Loss of the MERRITT"
appeared in the St. Catharines Weekly News on the 24 July and said,
"The Allan steamer MERRITT foundered in the Lower St. Lawrence during heavy weather. The captain and crew were picked up by a Norwegian vessel and brought to Gaspe. The MERRITT began her career on Lake Ontario. She was built by Chaffeys at Brockville, nine years ago. She was too large to be profitable in these waters and so for many years she has been employed on the ocean and the Lower St. Lawrence."

By the 24 July, the bottom of the burned CITY OF CHATHAM had been towed to Robertson's Shipyard for examination.

The propeller PERSIA,Capt. J. H. Scott, was the subject of a highly complimentary letter from the Toledo correspondent of the Kingston News in early August. He said she was

"a splendid craft, very handsome, painted white, inside and out, nice roomy cabins elegantly furnished and with comfortable staterooms. She had fine ventilation and ample accommodation for 50 or 60 passengers."
The PERSIA was just new, having been built at St. Catharines by Melancthon Simpson, for James Norris.

A minor collision occurred in the Welland Canal on the 13 August, when the schooner HENRIETTA P. MURRAY of St. Catharines ran into the propeller BRUNO, doing about $400 worth of damage to the latter's bow. The schooner's owner-captain was Alex. Reid, while the BRUNO was now owned by Hadley & Roberts of Chatham and was engaged in supplying light stations on the Lakes.

The above was quoted from the St. Catharines Weekly News of 14 August, which went on to say:

"The propeller OCEAN passed Lock 2 at 6:00 p.m. last night, after a run from Kingston to Pt. Dalhousie, about 180 miles in 15 hours. Her last round trip from Montreal to Chicago and back, was made in 15 1/4 days, exclusive of a Sunday in the canal. She was detained, but 3 1/2 hours loading at Chicago. This is quick time, but it is not to be wondered at, as she is almost new, built by Shickluna and with Geo. N. Oille's engine, She has an energetic owner, Sylvester Neelon and a thorough-going captain - Archibald McMaugh."

About this same time, the little VANDERBILT, leaving Pike Bay on the Bruce Peninsula with a cargo of lumber, struck a rock and remained fast. The salvage steamer W. S. IRELAND was sent up from Detroit to refloat her. Word from Chatham stated that the TECUMSEH,Capt. Atwood, was almost ready for her maiden voyage to Chicago.

There was rejoicing in St. Catharines when the steamer SILVER SPRAY now owned by Milloy of Toronto, began service between Pt. Dalhousie and Toronto. Prior to this, those citizens of St. Catharines, wishing to go to Toronto, had the choice of a 70 mile train ride via Hamilton, or a bumpy 12 miles by stage coach to the Niagara steamers.

A long delay to canal traffic caused by the Great Western Ry. dropping a locomotive into the canal at Merritton, was finally ended on the 27 August.

On the 30 August, Louis Shickluna launched his fifth vessel of this season, the schooner JAMES R. BENSON. She was christened by Miss Eccles, niece of Senator Benson and her master would be Capt. Neil Murray.

In reporting the launch of the schooner GRANTHAM at the yard of J. P. & Robt. Abbey, at Port Robinson on the 25 Sept., the St. Catharines News mentioned in passing, that the new propeller now under construction at that yard would have an engine by Thos. Wilson & Co. of Dundas. The vessel was the CITY OF ST. CATHARINES.

The St. Catharines Weekly News, on the 2 October, remarked:

"As there is a great deal of activity this season, in marine matters and as it is our most important interest, we have collected a few facts and figures on the subject, which we believe will be of interest. There are 32 Canadian steam vessels passing through the Welland Canal, of which no less than 11 have been built this season. These are marked thus (73) in the following list of names: ARMENIA (73), ASIA (73), AFRICA (73), ALMA MUNRO (73), AMERICA,ARGYLE,ACADIA,BRISTOL,BRUNO,CANADA,COLUMBIA (73), CALIFORNIA (73), DOMINION,DROMEDARY,EUROPE,EAST,GEORGIAN,INDIAN,LAKE ERIE (73), LAKE MICHIGAN,LAKE ONTARIO,OCEAN,PERSIA(73), SCOTIA,SOVEREIGN (73), L. SHICKLUNA,R. W. STANDLY (73) and ST. LAWRENCE.

Steam barges LINCOLN,LOTHAIR and KINCARDINE. We may mention that the propellers trade to Montreal, while the steam barges go no further than Kingston or other Lake Ontario ports. The American propellers do not compete in the Montreal trade owing to their having less carrying capacity. Assuming the average carrying capacity of each craft at 16,000 bus. of wheat, the total for the 32 is 512,000 bus. per trip or at 9 trips per year, four and a half million bushels. The experience of the present year may be assumed to show that the vast increase in Canadian steam tonnage, not to mention that of sailing vessels, which is still greater In amount.,has always found. full down-freights of Western grain to give it employment. The up-freight, comprising merchandise and iron ore have been quite inadequate to load the shipping offered.

The following is a list of the Northern Transportation Co. propellers using the Welland CanalsBUCKEYE,MAINE,CITY OF TOLEDO,CITY OF NEW YORK,CITY OF CONCORD,NASHUA,GRANITE STATE,MILWAUKEE,OSWEGATCHIE,LAWRENCE,LOWELL,CHAMPLAIN,BOSTON,BROOKLYN,ST. ALBANS,YOUNG AMERICA,CLEVELAND,MICHIGAN,BAY STATE and EMPIRE. The AKRON, which was burned a few days ago, was lately on this list. The American steam barges are about ten in number, among which are the GLASGOW,A. A. TURNER,W. COWIE,BELLE CROSS,WESTFORD,SCHOOLCRAFT,KATE HENCHMAN,EUREKA and DUBUQUE. The American propellers have not an average carrying capacity above 14,000 bushels."


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This volume is copyright The Estate of Ivan S. Brookes and is published with permission of the Estate. The originals are deposited in the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library.