Ship of the Month No. 32 Agawa (l)

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Ship of the Month No. 32 Agawa (l)
Vistafjord - A New Cruise Liner
Table of Illustrations

by James M. Kidd

One of the more sturdy Canadian-built lake vessels was Hull No. 2 of the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company Ltd., built under the direction of Mr. Hugh Calderwood, and launched on July 19, 1902, as AGAWA. Built to the account of the Algoma Central and Hudsons Bay Railway Company, she was a beautifully proportioned steel 379-foot barge equipped with three heavy masts, each fitted to carry sail as well as a jib rigged on the foremast stay. The fitting of sail was not only a precaution against emergency situations, but was designed to help lessen the drag of the barge on the towing steamer which, in the case of AGAWA, was usually the MONKSHAVEN.

For a little more than four sailing seasons, the Algoma Central found the performance of AGAWA to be quite satisfactory and, in fact, she was the largest carrier the line had. However, it wasn't long before her carrying capacity convinced her owners that the installation of engines would make her an even more productive unit and accordingly a contract was let to the Collingwood yard in 1906 to have this work carried out during the winter lay-up period. She was fitted with triple expansion engine having cylinders of 20", 33 1/2" and 55" and a stroke of 40", coal-fired Scotch boilers also being installed. At this time also, her pilothouse was relocated forward in the conventional location on the forecastle (as a barge, she had carried her bridge aft). Thus AGAWA (C. 111807) emerged in 1907 with a length of 379.0 feet, a beam of 46.0 feet, and a depth of 26.0 feet, her tonnage being shown as 3759 Gross and 2468 Net.

For two decades after her transformation to a steamer, AGAWA operated as the flagship of the Algoma fleet. This happy existence, however, came to an end as the early snows flew in the autumn of 1927. Mr. W. J. McCormack, Marine Superintendent of Algoma, was convinced that his pride and joy was always capable of one extra late season productive trip and so, at the beginning of December, he dispatched her to Fort William to load a cargo of wheat. The loading finished, she cleared for Port McNicoll on December 5, 1927, the cargo to be held as winter storage.

The voyage down to the Soo across Lake Superior was uneventful but, after passing down the St. Mary's River and entering Lake Huron at DeTour, AGAWA, under the command of Capt. W.C. "Kert" Jordan, encountered very bad weather with heavy snow flurries, a 30 m.p.h. wind out of the North East, and frost vapour. As AGAWA passed along the south shore of Manitoulin Island, Capt. Jordan was able to catch only one glimpse of land, estimated to be about five miles off, before even that was obliterated by the storm which increased to gale winds and heavy snow along with falling temperature. Waves continually swept over the vessel and finally, at 11:20 a.m. on December 7th, AGAWA struck heavily on Advance Shoal at Michael's Bay.

Efforts to back the ship off the shoal were to no avail and the crew of 20 spent the next four days and nights aboard. The wind increased to 70 m.p.h., at times veering unexpectedly to the South West with a real danger to the men aboard, but fortunately they were at last able to reach shore in the lifeboats when the wind subsided, no injuries being suffered.

The same storm which was the undoing of AGAWA also resulted in the destruction by stranding of ALTADOC (l) on the Keweenaw Peninsula, and the grounding of LAMBTON (a constructive total loss) and MARTIAN (l), yet Capt. Leandre Arthur Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, for some reason saw fit to severely reprimand Capt. Jordan of the AGAWA for "a culpable error of judgment." The accident occurred at a time when communication with other ships and the shore was impossible, when weather reports were unobtainable once the ship was on the open lake, and when navigational aids were not always at hand. To make matters worse, the vessel was travelling at the 10 knots required to make steerageway in the blinding snow and strong winds which were building up a head sea, the decks were continually awash, and the deepsea sounding machine was heavily encased in ice. Yet Capt. Jordan would have had his certificate suspended but for the fact that he promised not to sail again! Commissioner Demers was well known for his harsh judgments....

AGAWA was abandoned by her owners and the underwriters, the Union Marine Insurance Company of New York, and the Fire Association of Philadelphia, engaged the Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia to attempt salvage. In the Spring of 1928, Tom Reid sent his equipment to the scene of the stranding and found AGAWA much the worse for her winter on Advance Shoal. Nevertheless, she was refloated and on May 16th, Reid was able to release her from her rocky perch. She was towed into South Bay Mouth, Manitoulin Island, for temporary repairs and then on to Collingwood, There she settled on the harbour bottom. As AGAWA was considered a constructive total loss, the Insurers turned her over to the Reid Wrecking Company as compensation for removing the wreck from navigable waters. (Would AGAWA have grounded if the waters were navigable?) Reid pumped her out at Collingwood and had her drydocked.

ROBERT P. DURHAM, our Summer Ship of the Month, is seen at Toronto Elevators about 1936. J. H. Bascom photo.
Presumably while the vessel was in drydock, a deal was made to sell her to a syndicate of which Mr. Gordon C. Leitch, of Toronto Elevators Ltd., was a member. Arrow Steamships Ltd. of Toronto was formed by the group and, on June 10, 1929, they purchased AGAWA from Reid. Her name was changed to ROBERT P. DURHAM and registration was effected in Toronto on the same date. At this time, her measurements were shown as 377.0 x 46.1 x 22.1 and her tonnage was listed as 3525 Gross, 2508 Net. She operated under the command of Capt. Harry Finn for the majority, if not all of her years under Arrow ownership. Unfortunately, after a two or three year period of profitable operation on the grain run to the Bay Ports, the impact of the Depression was making itself felt. By 1931, following the opening of the Welland Canal to ships up to 500 feet in length, she was operating from the Lakehead to Toronto, but for the ensuing three or four years, like most vessels during the depth of the Depression, she was tied up most of the time, making only the occasional trip as required. Her usual resting place was the Toronto Elevators Ltd. slip in Toronto.

By 1939, Toronto Elevators had become so completely involved in the operation of the Northland Steamship Company, Norris Steamships Ltd., and the Upper Lakes & St. Lawrence Transportation Company Ltd., that ROBERT P. DURHAM apparently became surplus to their requirements. Accordingly, she was sold on December 2, 1939, to the Quebec and Ontario Transportation Company Ltd. (the Ontario Paper Company Ltd.) of Thorold and became this firm's first upper lake carrier.

Looking resplendent in her new Q & O colours, her name was changed to HERON BAY (l) in January 1940 in honour of a pulpwood shipping port on Lake Superior. For twenty-three years HERON BAY served Q & O hauling pulp to Thorold from the north shore of Superior and, after the opening of the Seaway in 1959, she took a few cargoes up to Thorold from the lower St. Lawrence. Her return cargoes up the lakes were usually newsprint bound for Chicago, normally loaded at Thorold.

When in 1962 the Q & O acquired from the Midland Steamship Line Inc. of Cleveland two steamers which entered the fleet as OUTARDE (II) and THOROLD (III), they arranged to sell HERON BAY to the Federal Commerce & Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, which had a contract for salt storage at Port Cartier, Quebec. The sale was closed in November 1962. On November 29th, HERON BAY passed down Lock One of the Welland Canal en route to her new owners. Strangely enough, she transitted Lock One in a tandem lockage with the veteran canaller NEW YORK NEWS (II) which was also on her last trip in Q & O colours, having been sold to Buckport Shipping Ltd., Montreal.

HERON BAY was renamed FEDERAL HUSKY after her acquisition by Federal Commerce. She was loaded with salt and towed to Port Cartier where she remained as a storage hull for three years. Either the salt contract ended at that time, or else her hull was no longer watertight, for in 1965 she was sold to Commonwealth Metals Inc. who resold her to Spanish shipbreakers. In June 1965 she was towed up the St. Lawrence to Lauzon for the work necessary to make her fit for the overseas tow. She was loaded with scrap at Quebec City and was subsequently towed across the Atlantic, arriving at Bilbao, Spain, on November 26th, 1965. Thus in foreign waters ended the career of a Canadian vessel which had served her various owners faithfully for a total of 63 years, even after having been so badly damaged that she was considered a constructive total loss in 1928!

(Ed. Notes For those who may be interested, a photo of HERON BAY appeared in the January 1971 issue along with the Q & O fleet list.)


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