Few and far between are the marine historians of the Great Lakes who have not, at some time, turned their attention to the Montreal Transportation Company. Regular readers of this journal will be quite familiar with the firm as a result of its frequent mention in these pages. In fact, the M.T. Co. was, at the height of its operations, one of Canada's oldest and largest lake and river transportation corporations.
The Montreal Transportation Company Ltd. was formed in 1867, the year of Canadian Confederation, by Hugh McLennan of Montreal, a gentleman who had been active in shipping and forwarding at Kingston and Chicago from 1850 onwards. In its early years, M.T.Co. was involved mainly in the forwarding of cargo by river barge between Kingston and Montreal, but it was not long before the company was operating its own steamboats. By the time improvements to the St. Lawrence canals were completed in 1900, the company had grown to become the largest in its field and had committed itself to the grain trade out of Fort William and Port Arthur to the river ports. Another highly lucrative M.T.Co. enterprise was its 800,000-bushel Kingston elevator which was frequented by vessels whose passage down the St. Lawrence was prevented by the small locks of the old canals. The cargoes they unloaded were, of course, carried downriver by M.T.Co. hulls, mainly wooden barges.
By the beginning of the last decade of the nineteenth century, however, the days of the wooden steamers and barges were waning, the spotlight shifting to the more modern iron and steel-hulled steamers which were then appearing. Montreal Transportation was eager to maintain its position of dominance on the shipping scene and wasted no time in adding a number of new steel canallers to its fleet. One of the first of these was the handsome steamer BANNOCKBURN, an 1893 product of the shipyard of the Sir R. Dixon Company at Middlesbrough, England, on the River Tees. Unfortunately, BANNOCKBURN was to serve the M.T.Co. for less than a decade, for she disappeared without a trace on Lake Superior on the night of November 21, 1902.
Almost an exact sistership of BANNOCKBURN was the steel-hulled canaller ROSEMOUNT (I)(C.103565) which was built in 1896 by the firm of Wood, Skinner and Company at Bill Quay, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, the yard's Hull 63. Of full canal dimensions for the day, ROSEMOUNT measured 245.0 feet in length, 41.0 feet in the beam, and 18.4 feet in depth. Her tonnage was registered as 1589 Gross and 989 Net. Her single screw was driven by a triple expansion engine with cylinders of 20 1/2, 34 and 57 inches and a stroke of 39 inches, steam being provided by two coal-fired Scotch marine boilers measuring 13'6" by 9'6". The machinery was new when installed in ROSEMOUNT, built for her by The North Eastern Marine Engineering Company Ltd. of Wallsend-on-Tyne.
Registered at Montreal, ROSEMOUNT was the first of many M.T.Co. ships to carry a name ending with the "mount" suffix; a great number of the company's latter-day steamers were given such names. ROSEMOUNT, herself, was named for a community which has since been swallowed up by the Montreal urban area.
ROSEMOUNT was a truly beautiful vessel, built, as was the style of the day, to a design rather similar to that of many small salt-water steamers. She was the proud possessor of magnificent lines, with a graceful, sweeping sheer and a stem that pulled back as it neared deck level so that, when riding light, she appeared to sit back on her stern and raise her bow even higher above the water. She had a full forecastle, the break of which curved gently down to the closed rail which completely surrounded the shelter deck. The hull and forecastle were painted black, the name emblazoned in large white letters on the bows at deck level. Steel fender strakes ran along her sides to protect her plating but, in the early years, she frequently carried hanging wooden fenders on her sides to provide extra protection whilst canalling. Two navy-type anchors hung from hawsepipes, no anchor pockets having been provided.
While most of ROSEMOUNT's accommodations were located below decks, the deck officers were housed in a round-fronted texas cabin located one hatch off the forecastle. This house was painted white and contemporary photos show the sun gleaming on its polished brass portholes. Atop the steel texas was the beautiful wooden pilothouse and, just behind it, the master's cabin, both of these structures being finished in varnished teak. Distinctive bridgewings soared out from the roof of the captain's cabin and the pilothouse itself was surmounted by an open bridge, complete with canvas weathercloth and stretchers for a protective awning.
The after cabin, located about two-thirds of the way aft, was a rather spartan structure, featuring an enclosed coal bunker at its forward end and sporting outsized davits and a lifeboat on each side, perched atop outward extensions of the "boat deck". ROSEMOUNT's tall, heavy stack, painted black with the letters 'M.T.Co.' in white, rose immediately abaft the bunker and was gracefully raked. Matching the stack in rake were three heavy masts, the foremast set at the break of the forecastle, the main just abaft the texas, and the mizzen behind the after house. All three masts were fitted with cargo booms for the working of cargo through the hatches.
It was not readily noticeable because of the closed shelter deck rail, but ROSEMOUNT did boast a slightly-raised quarterdeck complete with a heavy but open wood-topped rail around it. At one time, there was also an awning over the emergency steering position atop the fantail. The steamer, of course, was given a beautifully curved counter stern.
In most details, ROSEMOUNT and BANNOCKBURN were virtually identical, although the latter boasted rather larger Gross and Net tonnages. ROSEMOUNT was, however, readily distinguishable from her earlier sister in that her pilothouse had four large, undivided windows across its front, while BANNOCKBURN's wheelhouse had three sectioned windows.
ROSEMOUNT was duly commissioned by M.T.Co. and, along with BANNOCKBURN, was used primarily in the grain trade out of the Canadian Lakehead. She could usually be seen towing one or two of the company schooner-barges. BANNOCKBURN is known to have had three barges in tow on at least one occasion, and ROSEMOUNT may have done the same, although such occurrences would have been rare indeed, as the benefits of the increased trip cargo capacity would have been more than offset by the reduction in the steamer's speed with the added burden and the lack of manoeuvrability which would be the inevitable result of having so many barges "on the string".
ROSEMOUNT's early career appears to have been generally free from untoward incidents. One notable exception, however, occurred on September 12, 1906, when she stranded some twelve miles below DeTour Light in Lake Huron while upbound with coal for Fort William. The accident was caused by poor visibility resulting from nearby forest fires which cast a thick pall of smoke over the lake.
Returned to service after her grounding, ROSEMOUNT plied the lake and river runs with regularity until 1915. In that year, with the hostilities of the Great War raging in Europe, the steamer was chartered for a time to the Nova Scotia Steel and Coal Company Ltd. of Sydney, Nova Scotia. She was taken to the east coast to help alleviate the wartime demand for additional bottoms in coastal service.
The year 1915 did, however, produce a fair amount of grief for ROSEMOUNT and her owner. On May 3, 1915, she collided with the gates of a lock on the Lachine Canal but sustained only minimal damage. At the time, she had been upbound light from Montreal to Port Colborne for grain, Capt. R. Graham in command. On July 9, bound from Montreal to Sydney under the command of Capt. A. B. Langlois, she grounded in the St. Lawrence River opposite Lotbiniere, Quebec. She was released, but did suffer about $2,000 damage in the incident. Another minor stranding occurred on October 7 when, with Capt. Graham back on the bridge, she grounded off Knapp's Point whilst bound from Port William to Montreal with grain.
By this time, however, things were not going at all well in Europe and all available tonnage was required on the other side of the Atlantic. Being blessed with lines that would make it easier for her to cross the ocean than for a canaller of more modern design, ROSEMOUNT was purchased from Montreal Transportation in 1916 by the French Government Marine. Her Canadian registry closed, she was renamed (b) AUBE by her new owner and was sailed to French coastal waters where she was operated for the duration of the war by the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, Le Havre, France. After the war was over, she was laid up at St. Nazaire, France, her services no longer required.
While lying at St. Nazaire, AUBE was observed by Capt. J. W. Norcross who soon purchased her. If this name should happen to sound familiar, it is because Norcross was the general manager of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. and was involved in most of the "deals" which led to the emergence of C.S.L. as the most important Canadian lake fleet of all time. Through intermediaries, namely Anderson and Company of Canada, Norcross obtained AUBE in 1922 and brought her back across the Atlantic for further lake service. In order to facilitate her re-entry into Canadian registry, C.S.L. gave her back her old name, (c) ROSEMOUNT. This state of affairs was not to last for long, however, for it was later in 1922 that she was transferred to the ownership of the Aube Steamship Company Ltd., Montreal, which promptly renamed her (d) AUBE. The managers of the Aube Steamship Company were Mapes and Ferdon Ltd. of Montreal.
The confusion caused by all of these transfers and renamings and the frequently inaccurate reporting of them in publications of the period has provided something of a dog's breakfast for the marine historian. The whole situation, however, becomes somewhat more clear when the personalities involved are properly identified. Early in 1916, the year that ROSEMOUNT was sold to the French Government, financial control of the Montreal Transportation Company had been acquired by Roy M. Wolvin, himself an executive of Canada Steamship Lines and a close associate of Capt. Norcross. It was Norcross who brought the ship back to Canadian waters after the war, but C.S. L. itself was only briefly involved. Even more interesting yet is the fact that, in January of 1920, D.H. Mapes, Jr., the principal shareholder of Mapes and Ferdon Ltd., had married one Jessie Eileen, the daughter of none other than Capt. J. W. Norcross!
In any event, AUBE was placed back in lake service by Mapes and Ferdon and was given extensive repairs in the Kingston drydock over the winter of 1923-24. She was painted in the usual M & F colours with a black hull and forecastle, white cabins, and black stack with three broad gold bands. Her tall stack and good lines remained, but she was no longer the handsome ship that she had been before her overseas excursion. Her pilothouse, with its beautiful teak planking, had been painted white; it also had been lowered so that it was no longer necessary to climb four steps to the door. Sometime after 1926, a rather flimsy wooden upper pilothouse was added where the open bridge had previously been.
Worst of all, however, her once tall and stately masts had been cut down to stubs. For a short time, all had pointed tops but, sometime after 1926, the foremast was cut square across, just as if someone had taken a saw to it. Even more shocking to the eye was what was done to the mizzen at about the same time; about fifteen feet down from the top, it took a distinct and alarming bend forward. This bending of the mast was undoubtedly done to facilitate the entry of elevator unloading legs into the after hatch but, from an aesthetic point of view, the purpose could just as well have been served by removing the mast altogether and, if necessary to carry the cargo boom, replacing it with a short kingpost.
AUBE spent the winter of 1925-26 laid up at Sydney, Nova Scotia. She fitted out there in the spring and, on May 1st, cleared for Fort William with a cargo of steel rails. Her master was Capt. Horace H. Thorn and this was his first command. (Capt. Thorn now resides in Point Edward and is a member of T.M.H.S.) He recalls that AUBE was in company on this trip with the canaller DONALD STEWART and three vessels belonging to the Dominion Steel and Coal Company Ltd. They encountered heavy ice some five miles above North Point and were forced to lie in the ice through the night. By 3 p.m. the following day, the Canadian government icebreaker MIKULA had released AUBE, which then proceeded to Montreal and unloaded a portion of her cargo of rails to bring her up to canal draft of fourteen feet.
AUBE made two trips from Sydney to Fort William during 1926, but she kept busy for much of the year trading in grain from Port Colborne to Montreal. It was in 1926, while Capt. Thorn was master of AUBE, that she came across the Mathews Steamship Company's composite freighter MALTON lying disabled in Lake Ontario with engine troubles. AUBE took MALTON in tow and managed to get her safely docked at Kingston, Mapes and Ferdon being the proud recipients of salvage monies from the underwriters as a result of the rescue. Later in the season, when AUBE's stack happened to catch fire, Capt. Thorn suggested to D. H. Mapes, Jr. that the MALTON salvage money should be used to replace the stack.
In late November of 1926, AUBE loaded a cargo of grain at Fort William fer delivery at Quebec City. Capt. Thorn was relieved by Capt. J. Hurley, who took the ship from Quebec to Sydney for another load of rails for the Lakehead. On the return trip up the lakes, AUBE grounded on Chateque Shoal above the Brockville Narrows section of the St. Lawrence River. The season was growing late and, by the time she was refloated, the canals were closed for the winter. AUBE was then taken to Kingston and her rails were transferred to a C.S.L. boat; AUBE herself was drydocked during the winter for repairs which included the replacement of eleven plates in the forepeak. She re-entered service in the spring of 1927.
The year 1926 had, however, seen the disposal of most of Mapes and Ferdon's fleet. The company had always had close connections with the management of Canada Steamship Lines and all of the M & F steel canallers, with the exception of AUBE, were transferred to the ownership of C.S.L. in 1926. One wooden vessel, JOYLAND, was sold to other operators, for C. S.L. had already managed to rid itself of her back in 1922. Mapes and Ferdon carried on with AUBE, still under the ownership of the Aube Steamship Company Ltd., and she was to be the last vessel to serve the fleet. Nevertheless, M & F did contract in 1927 for the construction of the sandsucker SAND MERCHANT, and this steamer was operated by another affiliated company until she was seized for debt in 1931.
A news item published in March of 1929 by "Canadian Railway and Marine World" indicated that, on February 1st, sitting at the Toronto Admiralty Division of the Exchequer Court of Canada, Mr. Justice Hodgins rendered judgment in an action brought by J. P. Porter and Sons, Port Dalhousie, against the Aube Steamship Company Ltd., Montreal, to recover damages for the loss of a scow while in tow of a tug on the Welland Canal. It seems that, sometime in 1928, AUBE had rammed the scow and, presumably, had sunk it. Mr. Justice Hodgins ruled that the tow had disregarded rules 17, 26 and 68 governing navigation in the canal and that due caution was not exercised in the navigation of tug and barge. The action by Porter was dismissed, with costs to the defendant, and a counterclaim for damage to AUBE was allowed with costs, the damages to be assessed in the usual manner by the registrar. In December of 1928, AUBE had gone into winter quarters at Kingston and she had immediately been placed on drydock for the repair of damage caused in the incident out of which the litigation had arisen. She spent the better part of a month in the drydock while repairs were carried out to her starboard bow and a number of loose rivets replaced.
AUBE continued to operate steadily, even after economic conditions began to deteriorate in 1929. During June, 1930, while downbound with grain from the Lakehead to Montreal, AUBE received a severe pounding in a nasty storm on Lake Superior. Some contemporary reports have indicated that she grounded as a result of the storm, but this has been denied by a person who was on board at the time and, in fact, no casualty report was ever filed to confirm that a grounding had ever taken place. Be all this as it may, AUBE proceeded once again to Kingston where her cargo was unloaded and the boat placed on drydock for repairs. Once the storm damage had been put right, AUBE cleared Kingston without cargo and made her way down the St. Lawrence. She passed through Dickinson's Landing Lock on July 14 and, in due course, arrived at Lachine, where she was placed in temporary lay-up on July 18, 1930. With business conditions being what they were at that time, it was not unusual for grain carriers to lay up for the summer months. It is not known exactly how long AUBE remained at the wall at Lachine, but it is to be assumed that she was out and running again in the fall of the year.
It was in 1931, however, that AUBE made her last trip as a self-propelled freighter. Late in autumn, she cleared the Lakehead with grain for Montreal. Whilst downbound in the St. Clair River, her rudder jammed and AUBE went around in a circle and then slid up on a mudbank. The crew managed to perform the necessary repairs on the rudder and then worked AUBE off the bank without assistance from other vessels. She continued on down the lakes and soon began her transit of the St. Lawrence Canals. It is interesting to note that on this, her last trip, she was the last downbound vessel of the year to pass through the canals. The passage was not, however, without incident for, when she was about three miles downstream from the Morrisburg Canal, she struck bottom "hard enough to clear off the supper table for the cook". She was, however, able to continue on her way and, in due course of time, arrived at Montreal and began to unload her cargo.
After the unloading was finished, AUBE cast off her lines and got under way once again but for what was to prove the last time. She steamed back up the Lachine Canal, fighting ice as she went, for it was by then deep in December. Her crew laid AUBE up at Lachine and she never again turned a wheel. In the spring of 1932, the Aube Steamship Company Ltd. was libelled by Sin-Mac Lines Ltd., the famous Montreal towing and salvage company, which was itself under the trusteeship of the Montreal Trust Company at the time. It was apparently the unpaid account concerning the repair of the 1930 storm damage that led Sin-Mac to take legal action for collection. The net result was that, on June 6, 1932, AUBE was sold to Sin-Mac Lines Ltd. by the Exchequer Court for the princely sum of $2,800. It was on August 6, 1932 that AUBE was towed from her lay-up berth at Lachine to Sorel by the Sin-Mac tugs LUCIA and MATHILDA.
In 1934 Sincennes-McNaughton Tugs Ltd., Montreal, was incorporated to take over from the Montreal Trust Company the assets of the bankrupt Sin-Mac Lines Ltd. AUBE was included in the transfer and was officially reregistered to the new company on October 23, 1934. She had not, however, operated since 1932 and the sale did not alter her status.
It was reported that, after her arrival at Sorel, AUBE was stripped down for use as a salvage barge. She may have been used for storage purposes for a short time, but there is no record of her having operated. We do know, however, that by 1937 she had been laid away in the Richelieu River boneyard, tucked in amongst an assortment of worn-out hulls awaiting scrapping. Her time duly came and, late in 1937, AUBE was cut up for scrap. It seems likely that she was dismantled by Les Chantiers Manseau Ltee. but the possibility exists that Sincennes-McNaughton may have done the job itself, as the company did maintain premises at Sorel. In any event, her Canadian registry was closed on August 15, 1938.
As it developed, ROSEMOUNT /AUBE had a total career of only 42 years, not an overly long period of time for a laker. She was, however, a victim not only of the horrors of the Great Depression, but also of the advancements in technology that permitted the construction of vessels which could be operated more economically than could an old canaller built back in 1896 and which had never been substantially modernized. But despite the development of marine architecture over the years, no one would ever again build a canaller (or any other lake freighter, for that matter) as beautiful in all respects as was ROSEMOUNT (I).
(Ed. Note: For their help with the preparation of this feature, we are greatly indebted to Capt. Horace H. Thorn, to Robert L. Campbell and to James M. Kidd. A very special word of thanks is due to members George Ayoub and Ron Beaupre, both of whom did exhaustive research on our behalf to develop the information necessary to present a history of ROSEMOUNT / AUBE that would be as complete and definitive as possible. It is also through the courtesy of George Ayoub that this history is accompanied by a rare photo, from the Simzer Collection, showing AUBE as she appeared in her last days.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.