Last month, we presented in these pages an account of the lives of three early canallers and this month we again go back to the old canals for yet another steamer, one just a bit earlier than last month's trio. The ship we nave chosen was unusual not only in that she had a particularly inauspicious start to her career on the lakes and that she finished out her life in a rather strange manner for a canaller, but also in her most distinctive and unusual appearance. After only a bit over three decades on the lakes, she looked so old-fashioned as to be an anachronism even then.
The history of shipping on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes in the early years of this century is a fascinating study in that it is really the story of a small number of extremely active, determined and powerful men who built up their own fleets, often in a most ruthless manner, and who alternately fought amongst each other or joined forces with one another in the furtherance of their own interests. Two of the more prominent of these shipping entrepreneurs were R. O. and A. B. MacKay of Hamilton, the sons of Aeneas D. MacKay who had been active in lake shipping in the 1870's.
Brothers R. O. and Adam B. MacKay got far more involved in shipping than had their father and when the steel canallers began to come into favour shortly after the turn of the century, replacing their earlier wooden counterparts, the MacKays saw no reason why they should not jump on the bandwagon and add some of the new carriers to their fleet. They eventually bought a number of steel canallers and, as was the fashion of the day, they were registered to different companies. One of their firms was the Winona Steamship Company Ltd. of Hamilton, a concern which was incorporated in 1905 with a capital of $100,000. R. O. and A. B. MacKay were directors of the company as were also J. A. Milne, D. Brown, and E. J. Jordan. The Winona Steamship Company Ltd. soon let a contract to the famous shipbuilding yard of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd. for the construction of a canal steamer.
Built as the yard's Hull 771, she was given official number 122851. It is believed that she was originally registered at Newcastle, England, although she was not long on the lakes before she was showing Hamilton, Ontario, as her home port. The boat was launched during the summer of 1906 and she was christened WINONA. The name not only reflected the owning company's name but also honoured the town of Winona, a small community located in the rich agricultural area on the southwest shore of Lake Ontario between Hamilton on the west and Grimsby and the St. Catharines area on the east. Winona was linked to the city of Hamilton by the tracks of the Hamilton, Grimsby and Beamsville Electric Railway Company.
WINONA was completed during August 1906 and arrived on the lakes during September after crossing the Atlantic under her own power. When WINONA got to the lakes, it was evident to observers that she was just a bit different from all the other canallers which had been built in English and Scottish shipyards in the first few years of the century. Although it could not really be said that she had a flared bow, she was not quite as bluff in the bows as was the normal canaller. She carried a full forecastle with a closed rail for about half of its length and the curved bulwark from the forecastle deck to the shelter deck carried down into a closed rail extending back along the shelter deck to a point just aft of the forward deck winch fairleads.
The texas cabin on the forecastle was not unusual in any respect but ahead of the texas was a small pilothouse whose front was divided into five sections of which the forward three each contained one small porthole. On top of the pilothouse was an open bridge which was surrounded by a wooden dodger and surmounted by a rather heavy and noticeable awning-stretcher. The stern cabin was also something out of the ordinary in that the after half of it was extended out to the ship's side and the shell plating continued right up to the level of the boat deck, this expanse of steel being broken every so often by a porthole. The forward end of the after cabin featured a recessed boilerhouse on which was mounted the extremely tall and rather slender but well-raked stack. WINONA carried two masts, the fore being fitted well aft of the forecastle break and the main about two-thirds of the way down the deck, each mast carrying cargo booms. Even though WINONA was a combination bulk carrier and package freighter, she was not fitted with 'tween decks and thus was not built with sideports.
On her arrival in the lakes, WINONA was dispatched to Fort William where she was to load grain for delivery to Midland. It was then that her stretch of bad luck began, for on October 4th, 1906, while en route to Midland, she managed to run aground in Georgian Bay near the Giant's Tomb, doing considerable damage to her bottom in the process. WINONA was released from her spot on the rocks on October 5th by the tugs TRAVELLER and MAGNOLIA of the Midland Towing and Wrecking Company and was hauled around to Owen Sound for repairs.
The necessary repair work having been completed, WINONA sailed from Owen Sound on November 16, 1906 bound for the Lakehead where she was again scheduled to load grain. But mid-November is known on the lakes for its typically dirty weather and on the following day, in a blinding snowstorm, she ran hard aground on one of the Duck Islands (probably Outer Duck Island), a group of low-lying islands which stretch out in a southerly direction from a point to the east of the western tip of Manitoulin Island. The Ducks lie just to the north of the course which WINONA would have followed from Cove Island (at the mouth of Georgian Bay) to DeTour Passage (the entrance to the St. Mary's River) and just off the Ducks the ship would have been required to bring her helm a bit to starboard so that she could make a straight run of about 53 miles to her next change of course off the DeTour Reef Light. In the poor visibility, it would appear that the unlucky WINONA strayed too far to starboard and found herself in the shoal water of the Ducks.
WINONA was pulled from her perch in Lake Huron prior to the close of navigation for the 1906 season and she was taken to the shipyard at Collingwood where the extensive damage to the ship was surveyed. As a result of this detailed inspection, WINONA was abandoned to the underwriters as a constructive total loss. She lay in Collingwood throughout the 1906-07 winter during which time the insurers attempted to sell her. It was rumoured that her builders, Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, put in a bid for her, which is not surprising as they probably held a mortgage on the steamer. In any event, she was eventually repurchased by the Winona Steamship Company Ltd. and she was towed to Detroit where repairs were effected at the opening of the 1907 navigation season. She then returned to her intended service.
In 1908, the MacKay brothers consolidated their various ship-owning companies (including the Winona Steamship Company Ltd.) into the Inland Navigation Company Ltd., Hamilton. This new concern was incorporated under Dominion charter with a capital of $2,000,000 and the management was constituted as follows: President, W. Southam; vice-president, R. O. MacKay; general manager, Adam B. MacKay, and secretary, F. A. Magee. Other directors were G. L. Staunton, W. G. Walton, J. P. Steadman, F. H. Whitton, J. A. Milne, J. W. Nesbitt, G. Hope and C. W. Band.
A further change came in February 1910 when control of the Inland Navigation Company Ltd. passed to James Playfair of Midland, Ontario, at which time the name of the firm was changed to Inland Lines Ltd., the original Inland having been merged with Playfair's own Midland Navigation Company. WINONA, of course, was included in the fleet that was now under Playfair management. It was about this period in time that WINONA was chartered to the Canada Atlantic Transit Company, the lake package freight subsidiary of J. R. Boothe's Canada Atlantic Railway (which about 1920 was absorbed into the C.N.R.). Canada Atlantic Transit provided service between the railway's terminal at Depot Harbour on Georgian Bay and Milwaukee, Chicago and the Lakehead.
WINONA stayed under Playfair control for several seasons but major ownership changes were in the offing. During 1912, the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. was greatly expanding its operations by absorbing a number of well-known Canadian lake shipping concerns. During the summer months, Inland Lines Ltd. was brought into the fold and Playfair became one of the major interests in R & O as well as in the moves that were to follow to produce an even larger company. In June of 1913, there took place a further consolidation wherein the enlarged R & O was merged with a number of other Canadian lake shipping concerns, the result being known briefly as the Canada Transportation Company Ltd. and then as Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal. In this manner WINONA came to be a part of the largest company ever to operate vessels on the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and in due course she was given the colours which have come to be associated with C. S. L.
The year 1915 was an important one for WINONA. On April 24th, while under the command of Capt. H. W. LaRush and bound from Port Arthur to Montreal with a cargo of grain, WINONA stranded on Lone Brothers Island in the St. Lawrence River. Damage was not particularly severe and WINONA carried on in her regular service. But the effects of World War I were making themselves felt and by the early summer WINONA had been requisitioned by the Canadian government and taken to the Atlantic for service on salt water. She is known to have been operating for the British government by August 4. She got into trouble again, however, on December 28 when, while under the command of Capt. Charles O. Allen and on a voyage from Montreal to Sunderland, she was in collision with the salt water steamer TONSBERG. Damage to the canaller was minor.
While many of the requisitioned canallers returned to the lakes late in 1915 to help move downbound grain cargoes and spend the winter on the lakes, WINONA did not do so, nor was she to show herself in freshwater for more than five years. She operated both in deep-sea and coasting trades and from 1918 to 1920 ran in the coal trade between Great Britain and Sweden, the boat having come through the hostilities without damage from enemy action. It was not until 1921 that Canada Steamship Lines brought WINONA back to her old home waters of the lakes.
It was probably about the time that she returned from salt water that WINONA was given an enclosed upper pilothouse, a rather peculiar structure that was roughly the same shape as the old lower house, with five sides to its front, but which protruded out over the sides of the cabin beneath. Instead of portholes, it had windows, one each in the front three sides and two in each of the others, the windows each being divided into two sections by a vertical bar. The new pilothouse was topped by a rather prominent sunvisor and the entire structure looked anything but modern even for those times. As well, additional space was added to the texas, this being a square section built onto the starboard side of the cabin and covering most of the starboard side of the lower pilothouse. It presumably housed additional accommodation for the officers but it was not a permanent addition to the ship and disappeared again prior to the boat's departure from the lakes during the Second War.
WINONA stayed on the lakes during the 1920's and operated regularly. In the 1930's, she saw considerable service on the east coast, operating from Montreal and the Maritime ports to Newfoundland. The desperate conditions of the Great Depression, however, conspired to keep WINONA inactive from time to time, but unlike a good many vessels, she did not spend all her time during this period in lay-up. Many of her periods of idleness were spent at Toronto but by 1939 she was permanently reactivated.
At the end of the 1939 season, WINONA came to Toronto and laid up in the ship channel with a winter storage cargo of coal. Before the St. Lawrence canals had closed for the winter, however, it was decided to shift WINONA to the east coast so that she would be available if required for wartime service, hostilities having broken out during the autumn. WINONA was hurriedly fitted out again and was shifted to a berth near the mouth of the channel where her coal cargo was unloaded. Under her own steam, she cleared Toronto and the lakes late in November for what was to prove the last time.
WINONA went into service on salt water and in 1940 she was turned over to the British government. During that year, the British sank a number of ships in the entrances to continental ports along the English Channel in order to prevent the use of those ports by German surface vessels and submarines. It is said that WINONA was filled with cement and sunk in the harbour entrance at Zeebrugge, Belgium, for this purpose, but if she actually was used in such a capacity, she was subsequently refloated and refitted.
WINONA was withdrawn from class in November 1946 and it appears that it was at that time that she was sold to the Lien Yih Steamship Company Ltd. of Shanghai, China. She was placed in Chinese registry and apparently was sailed out to the Far East, presumably for coastal service in Chinese waters. Her tonnage at this time was shown as 2059 Gross, 1318 Net. In 1947, WINONA underwent the only name change of her career as her new owners renamed her (b) EDDIE. The former laker served her Chinese operators for ten years and finally met her end on September 7th, 1956 when, at the age of fifty years, she stranded and broke in two at Aparii, Luzon, in the Philippine Islands.
Thus far from her home waters ended the career of a little steamer which was truly and oddity among canallers, a single and most distinctive boat which stood out amongst her mass-produced running-mates, and a vessel whose life history is not well known to many modern-day lake historians.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.