One of the great entrepreneurs of Great Lakes shipping was the famous James Playfair of Midland. Born in Scotland in 1861, he came to Canada at an early age and went on to become one of the most colourful and versatile figures ever seen around the lakes. In fact, as students of lake history will know, there were very few Canadian shipping companies which did not at some time come under the influence of James Playfair.
In any event, the Glen Transportation Company Ltd. was owned half by Mathews and half by Playfair. In 1921 the firm ordered from the Port Arthur Shipbuilding Company Ltd. a steam-powered bulk canaller. As built she measured 252.0 feet in length, 42.6 feet in the beam and 21.0 feet in depth, while her Gross Tonnage was 1910. Given official number C. 150234, she was christened GLENAFTON. The name is curious in that it contains the "Glen" prefix normally used by Playfair on his vessels and also the "ton" suffix common to the ships of the Mathews fleet.
GLENAFTON was a typical canal-sized bulk carrier, although she looked rather more substantial than the mass-produced canallers turned out over the next few years by British shipyards. She very much resembled GLENCLOVA which was built at Midland, also in 1921, for the same owners. GLENAFTON had the usual step in her deck one hatch forward of the boilerhouse and on her foremast and main she carried cargo booms.
GLENAFTON operated mainly in the grain trade down the lakes and St. Lawrence canals to Montreal. Her joint ownership, however, did not last long as there occurred a falling-out between Mathews and Playfair. In 1925 she was officially transferred to the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd., Toronto, and although she continued in basically the same trade as before, Mathews immediately renamed her (b) LAMBTON.
LAMBTON was not destined to linger long in the Mathews fleet for on December 8, 1927, while downbound with her last cargo of grain for the season, she encountered very heavy weather out on Lake Superior. This was the same storm that saw ALTADOC wrecked on the Keweenaw Peninsula, KAMLOOPS on Isle Royale, and AGAWA on Manitoulin Island, an early winter disturbance of unusual intensity. LAMBTON managed to run foul of Ile Parisienne in Whitefish Bay, only a few miles from the safety and shelter of the St. Mary's River, She took a tremendous beating from the heavy seas once she stranded and soon was enveloped in a virtual mountain of ice. Before her crew could be rescued some days later, two men had died.
An investigation of the accident was conducted by the much-feared Capt. L. A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner. The LAMBTON's skipper, Capt. Livingstone, and the other officers were exonerated from blame in the deaths of the two crewmen but, as might be expected, the Commissioner found fault with someone for the stranding and this time it fell to the mate, C. E. Poster, to receive a reprimand from Demers.
Meanwhile, the wreck had been declared a constructive total loss and was abandoned to the underwriters. The steamer was refloated in 1928 by the Reid Wrecking Company and was subsequently sold to Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. Her new owners removed her engines and boilers and fitted them in the new canal-sized package freighter FERNIE which was built at Midland in 1929. The hull of LAMBTON was purchased by the Burke Towing & Salvage Company Ltd., Midland. She was stripped to the deck forward and her pilothouse placed atop the after cabin. A locomotive crane was installed on deck and so equipped, under the name (c) SALVUS, she was used as a lightering barge and pulpwood carrier. Her tonnage as a barge was shown as 1749 Net.
SALVUS, operated for a little over a decade for Burke Towing, coming out whenever pulpwood was to be moved or a wreck required her services. She was usually towed by either the tug STRATHBOGIE or the canal-sized bulk carrier ARLINGTON, the latter being another cast-off from the Mathews fleet. ARLINGTON was not purchased by Burke until 1936 and she foundered on Lake Superior in 1940, so her service in the fleet was short. STRATHBOGIE was really the main source of motive power for SALVUS and, in fact, both were sold out of the company the same year.
In 1941, SALVUS was purchased by the Dominion Coal Company Ltd., Sydney, Nova Scotia, and she was taken to the east coast for use as a coaling barge. She proved her value during the war years and even stayed on the job for several years after its conclusion. But eventually her usefulness came to an end and, being an unpowered hull, there would not have been much of a demand for her services. In 1952 she was sold for scrapping and was dismantled at St. John's, Newfoundland.
Had it not been for LAMBTON's tragic encounter with the rocks of Parisienne in 1927, her life might well have been much longer and she might easily have survived as a steamer until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway which rendered ships of her size uneconomical to operate.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.