Memories of a Day at the Welland Canal

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Lake Huron Lore
Memories of a Day at the Welland Canal
Ship of the Month No. 66 KINGSTON
Table of Illustrations

Primarily to have a record for later use in labelling negatives and prints, most ship photographers keep a diary of boats that they have seen and photographed. Ye Ed. has kept such a record for more than twenty years but when he started his, it was not so much to facilitate the labelling of photos as it was a manifestation of the sheer joy of seeing so many interesting steamboats. For, you see, the record dealt mainly with boats seen on Saturdays at the Welland Canal and those were the days when it was a disaster if one did not see at least forty (!) ships in the canal on any given day.

The diary provides some very warm and pleasant memories which come leaping out from the pages as we leaf through. We were going through our book a while ago and ran across just such a page which brought the memories flooding back. We mentioned it to another steamboater one day and he suggested that it might make interesting reading for our members whereas we had thought of it as a purely personal memory. We'll try it on for size and hope that we don't put you all to sleep as we look down the list of ships observed by the writer at the Welland Canal on May 30th, 1959.

That day eighteen years ago was a warm, sunny Saturday, a perfect day for a jaunt to the canal. No such trip was complete without a visit to Port Dalhousie harbour, reached by a drive along the Lakeshore Road through the fragrant orchards. At that time, the lock at Port Dalhousie was still functioning and occasionally ships would pass up into Muir's Pond to visit the shipyard or to lay up in slack periods along the pier extending from the upper end of the west side of the lock. The lock itself was, of course, originally Lock One of the third Welland Canal and accommodated only canallers. On May 30, 1959. Muir's Pond contained three ships, the Upper Lakes Shipping steamer WILLIAM H. DANIELS and the Misener canallers TRENTON and WALTER INKSTER, the latter being the last of the turret steamers to sail the lakes. DANIELS was to see further operation but TRENTON and INKSTER had sailed their last and would be broken up right there at Port Dalhousie in the drydock.

Travelling on to Port Weller, it was obvious that big things were happening that day. There was a crowd in the shipyard and the bunting was flying, for they were christening the brand new Upper Lakes Shipping bulk carrier SEAWAY QUEEN, a boat named to honour the new waterway that was opening that spring.

There were some 41 ships in the canal that day and the camera was busy. Very few of the boats were salties but the ones that were from off-lakes were such interesting specimens as RUTENFJELL and MANCHESTER PROSPECTOR, familiar names to all observers at that time. Of more interest to the lake steamboater were the many canallers locking through. The list seems endless: WILLOWDALE, CITY OF WINDSOR, ROBERT BARNES FIERTZ, JOSEPH MEDILL PATTERSON, JAMES STEWART, MICHIGAN, NORMAN B. MacPHERSON, LEECLIFFE HALL (I) (then carrying the Liquifuels stack design), TROISDOC (II), SORELDOC, GRIFFON, BELVOIR (II), NEW YORK NEWS (II), BATTLEFORD and JUDGE KENEFICK. It may be 18 years ago but in many cases we can remember exactly where we saw each ship that day.

This is J. G. IRWIN as she looked in Ramey's Bend on May 30, 1959, stripped and ready for the shipbreaker's torch. Photo by J. H. Bascom
Just as it is now, the scrapyard at Ramey's Bend was an interesting place to visit back then. 1959 was the year in which Marine Salvage started to use the old canal section for the wholesale breaking up of old steamers. The Misener canaller GEORGE M. CARL had spent the winter in the Bend and was already stripped out and ready for the fate that lay waiting for her. As the spring wore on, she was joined there by C. A. ANSELL, CLAYTON and H. L. WYATT, all of which sailed in under their own steam, and just a few days before our visit, J. G. IRWIN had arrived as well. The latter was the first to feel the cutting torches and by mid-July there was little but her keel remaining in the bottom of Magee's drydock and work had already started on GEORGE M. CARL.

The real shocker of the day was the old steamer lying on the east wall of the canal below the old bunkers dock at Humberstone. She had a black, green and silver funnel and a red hull but over the foreground it was hard to tell who she was. Odd, too, was the fact that there should have been a silver 'S' on her stack but it wasn't there. A closer look revealed that she was the Kinsman Transit steamer MacGILVRAY SHIRAS which, in tow of HELEN HINDMAN and PORT WELLER (the little steam tug from the shipyard), had stopped over en route to the Stelco plant at Hamilton where she would be scrapped. What was amazing about the SHIRAS was the huge hole in her starboard quarter; her fantail had been peeled back as if with a can opener and the cabin above was mangled at its after end. The damage had been occasioned earlier that season when a freshet on the Buffalo city ship canal had torn SHIRAS and the Midland steamer MICHAEL K. TEWKSBURY loose from their moorings and swept them down onto the Michigan Avenue bridge. TEWKSBURY lived through the accident, SHIRAS found that it was her undoing, and the bridge got the worst of the deal.

Moving on up the east side of the canal, we could see over the buildings in Port Colborne a rather scruffy-looking pilothouse looming in the upper harbour. Our inquisitive nature was whetted and we were taken by surprise when we found moored on the West Street wharf the veteran steamer CARL W. MEYERS, also bound for Hamilton for scrapping after spending four years in the Continental Grain storage fleet at Buffalo. She had been better known for many years as CRESCENT CITY and by then was looking every bit of her 62 years. The shutters were falling off the pilothouse windows and the green Browning paint was peeling in huge blisters from her stack. It was evident that she was no longer suitable even for the storage of grain, much less operation.

As interesting as the MEYERS was, however, Ye Ed.'s attention was drawn to the dense clouds of smoke coming from the outer harbour where we saw a sight that we'll remember as long as we live. For there, in all her glory, was the whaleback steamer JOHN ERICSSON and she wasn't alone, for in her care were the two whaleback barges ALEXANDER HOLLEY and 137. The ERICSSON was bustling about, shifting her charges between the Valley Camp bunkers dock and the Maple Leaf Mills elevator, and generally playing the part of the sow nudging her piglets around the barnyard. That was the only time we ever saw ERICSSON and both whaleback barges together under steam in one place. The ERICSSON was light and would return up the lakes with 137 in tow, leaving the loaded HOLLEY in Port Colborne to be unloaded and picked up later by another of the company's steamers.

There were other boats in the canal that day, but they were everyday items such as C. A. BENNETT, CRISPIN OGLEBAY (I) and STADACONA (II) and while today we would give an arm and a leg to see them again, back then they were nothing to write home about much less click a camera shutter. It's hard to believe, but of the 4l ships in the canal that day, only two are still operating in 1977 in relatively unchanged condition, these being SEAWAY QUEEN and her fleet-mate JAMES NORRIS. Eighteen years is a long time and we forget so quickly. But every so often, it's fun to sit back and remember some of those golden days when steamboating was just a little bit more interesting than it is in 1977.


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