Ship of the Month No. 21 Sarnian

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Ship of the Month No. 21 Sarnian
Consortium Ile D'Orleans
Late Marine News
Table of Illustrations

by James M. Kidd

In April 1931, permission was granted by the Welland Canal authorities for the passage of ships up to 550 feet in length and this step ushered in a new era of exciting vessels for Lake Ontario. (On the 1st of December 1930, special permission had been obtained by Toronto Elevators Ltd. from the Department of Railways and Canals for the passage of JOHN ERICSSON on a 17-foot draft, and this was really the forerunner of events to come). Within two or three months of the opening of the 1931 navigation season, Toronto hosted NORONIC, TIONESTA, JAMES B. EADS, THOMAS BRITT, DOW CHEMICAL (I), and our ship of the month, SARNIAN. For the ensuing twelve years SARNIAN was a regular visitor, bringing almost weekly cargoes of grain to Toronto Elevators. SARNIAN spent the winter of 1931-32 in Toronto and was the first vessel upbound in the Welland Canal at the opening of navigation on April 15, 1932. On July 17, 1932, she established a record upbound passage time of 5 hours, 40 minutes.

SARNIAN is seen downbound at Sault Ste. Marie during her C.S.L. years in this 1923 photo by A. E. Young.
In the year 1895, the Cleveland Shipbuilding Co. built a 'tween deck package freighter for Messrs. M. M. Drake and Thomas Maytham of Buffalo. Named CHILI (U.S. 127078), she measured 320.5 feet in length, 42.0 feet in the beam, and 21.8 feet in depth. Her Gross tonnage was 2584, while Net tonnage was shown as 1845. By 1900 the registered owners of the vessel were the Republic Steamship Co., Buffalo, with Drake and Maytham as Managers, and by 1908 she had been sold to the Chicago and Duluth Transportation Co., Chicago, managed by C. W. Elphicke & Co.

CHILI was sold again in 1911, this time to Roy M. Wolvin's American Interlake Line Ltd., Toronto, operated by the Merchants Mutual Line, but registration remained American. She did not appear in the Canadian Register until October 3, 1913, when she was registered in Port Arthur (Can. 134011) for Canada Interlake Lines Ltd., Toronto. At this time her dimensions were shown as 331.8 x 41.5 x 22.0. Tonnage was 2656 Gross, 1710 Net. Her Canadian document was issued bearing her new name SARNIAN.

Canada Interlake Lines Ltd., which had been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, was taken into the parent fleet on March 26, 1917, and C.S.L. became the owner of record.

SARNIAN continued in the Canadian lake trade until August 29, 1921, when she stranded on Espanore Island, Lake Huron. This is a small island located just off the southwest shore of Drummond Island, and to the east of DeTour Passage. SARNIAN, while upbound, appears to have missed the channel, presumably due to poor visibility. The steamer was salvaged in due course and taken to Collingwood Shipyards where she was repaired. At this time, the final step in a series of renovations was completed. Spars and doghouse were removed from the deck area and two new masts stepped immediately aft of the pilothouse and aft of the stack, the texas cabin was enlarged, and a new upper pilothouse was built. She came out with a greatly improved appearance.

SARNIAN served C.S.L. for a further half decade after her grounding. Late in 1926 business conditions deteriorated and this combined with the mechanical condition of SARNIAN caused C.S.L. to decide that she was surplus to their requirements and to lay her up in Midland.

About this time, Canada Steamship Lines had ideas of promoting a fast freight service between Montreal, Trois Rivieres, and Quebec City, and their eyes fell on the burned-out hull of the passenger steamer UNITED STATES which had become the property of the Reid Towing and Wrecking Co. Ltd., Sarnia, for their salvage bill. (Readers should refer to the article on this subject by the late Capt. Frank E. Hamilton which appeared in the October 1971 issue of the "Telescope," the publication of the Great Lakes Maritime Institute). Thomas Reid, in one of his brilliant deals, exchanged the remains of UNITED STATES for SARNIAN. The speed of the former passenger vessel and yacht was just what C.S.L. wanted for their experiment, but the shortlived BATISCAN was the unfortunate result of the program of reconstruction. Tom Reid did much better with SARNIAN!

Although this swap presumably took place in 1928, registration of SARNIAN to Reid Towing was not recorded until January 24, 1930. The insurance company suit involving John H. Clark and Alfred E. Mathews of Toronto no doubt was the reason for holding registration in abeyance and further credence is evidenced by the fact that C.S.L. did not register BATISCAN until January 7, 1930. As a matter of fact, when the hull of UNITED STATES passed down the Welland Canal on September 16, 1929, bound for Lauzon and rebuild, she was not registered in either the U.S. or Canada as the American document had been surrendered on March 6, 1928!

Reid, no doubt, began scouting around for a customer who would be interested in SARNIAN, and on January 12, 1931, Mr. Gordon C. Leitch of Toronto recorded the purchase and proceeded on January 16th to incorporate the Northland Steamship Company Ltd. Other principals in Northland were Mr. F. T. Carnegie and Mr. G. R. Martin of the Mankato Brewing Co., Mankato, Minnesota.

Northland was to operate the vessel for nine seasons. Her final owners, Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Co. Ltd., Toronto, purchased SARNIAN on March 1st, 1940. This was really the result of Mr. Leitch's decision to amalgamate Northland (one ship), Blue Line Motorships (two ships) and Norris Steamship Co. Ltd. (two ships) with the 29-ship fleet of Upper Lakes,

SARNIAN's undoing came in a 50 mph northwest gale and snowstorm while she was en route from Port William to Toronto on December 9, 1943, with 164,000 bushels of barley. While seeking shelter near Bete Grise Bay on the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, she was blown onto Point Isabelle Reef. The stranding occurred at about 8:00 on the morning of the 10th. The resultant battering that she suffered led to her abandonment. Capt. J. Hanley and the crew were removed by the Eagle Harbor life saving station, transferred to the cutter PLANETREE, and taken to Sault Ste. Marie when the weather abated. Her register was closed on December 30, 1943, and she was left for the winter.

SARNIAN was released from the reef on July 24, 1944, by K. M. Strait & Co., Houghton, Michigan, who brought her into Portage Lake where she was offered for sale "as is where is" by the underwriters on August 23rd. United Towing and Salvage Co. had her towed to Port Arthur Drydock where she arrived on September 12th for survey and temporary patching. The wartime demand for ships must have influenced the underwriters and led to the decision to hold her for possible sale, but no takers appeared and so she left in tow for Indiana Harbor and the wrecker's torch on July 13, 1947.

Thus ended the life of one of Toronto waterfront's regular visitors, a reportedly cranky ship that pushed her luck once too often. Your scribe spent many hours aboard SARNIAN while she unloaded in Toronto and the crewmen were extremely friendly - men like Capt. Stan Tischart, Capt. Hicks Macbeth, and the late Capt. Bert Bazeley, who were wheelsmen, mates, etc., in the 1930's.


Previous    Next

Return to Home Port or Toronto Marine Historical Society's Scanner

Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.