Some of the early canallers were strange-looking craft indeed, the products of shipyards which were searching for methods of obtaining the maximum possible cubic capacity in a hull whose size was severely limited by the dimensions of the locks of the old Welland and St. Lawrence canals. After a few years, however, the building of canal-sized steamers became a real art and the shipyards, especially those in Great Britain, began to produce large numbers of these vessels. Most of the earlier canallers were then either rebuilt and modernized, or were taken out of service.
One major exception to this general principle was the veteran self-unloading steamer BAYANNA, which had an active career of almost seventy years. Despite the fact that she lasted well into the 1960s, her basic appearance changed very little over the long years and, by the time that she was retired, she had become a floating museum piece. In an era which produced such modern achievements as the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the antiquated BAYANNA, with her old-fashioned cabins and hull form, had become a true anachronism.
The new steamer was launched on May 23, 1896, and was soon made ready for service. Enrolled as U.S.107228 and registered at Cleveland, she was christened ARAGON, a name she was to carry for exactly half a decade. She was built to the order of C. R. Jones and Associates of Cleveland, who operated under the style of the Argo Steamship Company. She was frequently seen in the old Welland Canal and, in fact, was especially built for that service. Constructed at a cost of $125,000 (serious money for the years prior to the turn of the century), she had the largest carrying capacity of any canaller then in service, and could pack 80,000 bushels of corn into her holds.
ARAGON had a very substantial steel hull, with a stem that pulled back a bit as it rose towards the rail, and a very heavy counter stern. She had a full forecastle and the crew's quarters in it enjoyed the benefit of large windows which were cut into its after bulkhead, admitting much more light than would normally have been found in the forecastles of most period vessels. Closed bulwarks ran around the top of the forecastle and on the upper deck was located the pilothouse and, immediately abaft of it, the texas cabin. The pilothouse itself was a fairly small square structure which sported large sectioned windows and the usual open bridge on the monkey's island. Bridge wings were mounted on the roof of the texas.
ARAGON, as was the custom of the day, sported a handsome closed rail which ran all the way down the spar deck from the break of the forecastle to the forward edge of the fully-raised quarterdeck. The latter also carried a closed rail which ran right around the steel boilerhouse and the wooden after cabin. The deckhouse possessed a clerestory which ran down its midship line for the cabin's entire length, illuminating the accommodations. The short and rather thin stack rose from the boilerhouse with a marked rake that matched that of her two masts. The foremast was set in such a position that it rose right through the after section of the texas cabin, while the main sprouted from the spar deck just forward of the quarterdeck bulkhead.
Although her design was basically adapted from that used in the construction of many of the wooden-hulled lake vessels which were so common in the latter years of the nineteenth century, ARAGON was a very handsome steamer indeed and was a credit to her builders. She was smartly painted (although not particularly imaginatively) with a black hull, white cabins, and a black stack. Her boilerhouse appears to have been grey, and white piping marked the level of the upper deck on both the forecastle and the raised stern. Rather similar in appearance to ARAGON was the wooden steamer ARGO which was built for the same fleet in 1895 as Hull 120 of the Detroit Dry Dock Company.
The Argo Steamship Company was principally engaged in the lumber trade, and one of its guiding lights was Erwin L. Fisher, who also was president of the Fisher and Wilson Lumber Company of Cleveland. In addition to ARGO and ARAGON, the Argo Steamship Company operated, over the years, quite an assortment of odd vessels, such as the wooden lumber-carrying steamers SIMON LANGELL, OGEMAW and SACHEM, the wooden schooner-barges D. P. DOBBINS, CHESTER B. JONES and GEORGE B. OWEN, and two other steel-hulled canallers, both ill-fated, the BENJAMIN NOBLE of 1909, and ERWIN L. FISHER, (b) PORT DE CAEN, (c) BAYERSHER (23), (d) CLAREMONT (30), (e) ERWIN L FISHER (30), (f) GEORGE J. WHELAN, which was built in 1910.
ARAGON operated faithfully, and apparently without incident, for her original owner during 1896 and 1897. By late in the season of 1898, however, the east coast shipping trade in the United States was feeling the effects of a shortage of good vessels, this shortage having been caused by the Spanish-American War. Accordingly, late in 1898, ARAGON was chartered to the Atlantic Coast Steamship Company of New York, and she was taken down through the canals for coastal service. By 1900, the war then but a memory, she was back in the lakes, in the service once again of the Argo Steamship Company. However, C. R. Jones had passed away in 1899 and the management of the fleet had been taken over by none other than Erwin L. Fisher.
Unfortunately, ARAGON was not to remain on the lakes for long, for it was in 1903 that she was sold to the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company of New York, a firm which was, no doubt, related to the concern that had chartered her in 1898. She left the Great Lakes at that time, and her port of registry was changed from Fairport, Ohio, to New York City. She was to remain in the coastal service for the next eighteen years! While there, she was fitted with wireless and was assigned the signal letters KVRS.
In 1921, ARAGON was purchased by Prindiville and Company of Chicago, and she was brought back to the lakes for service in the bulk cargo trades. J. Prindiville and Sons were active in the lumber trade, just as Argo had been, and it is likely that lumber formed a large percentage of ARAGON's cargoes. The Prindiville fleet contained, over the years, three other steel-hulled lumber carriers, namely PARKS FOSTER, JESSE SPAULDING and WINNEBAGO, but only PARKS FOSTER was still associated with Prindiville at the time of the acquisition of ARAGON. The latter was purchased by Prindiville during the summer of 1921 but, by mid-December, she had taken her untimely departure from the fleet by way of accident.
During November, 1921, ARAGON's travels took her to Chicago, where she loaded 75,000 bushels of corn for delivery to the Edwardsburgh Starch Company at Cardinal, Ontario. All went without untoward incident until ARAGON cleared the Welland Canal at Port Dalhousie. Downbound on Lake Ontario, she was confronted with a fog which hung low over the calm lake. She strayed from her normal course and, eventually, on the evening of November 17th, she arrived in Athol Bay off Ontario's Prince Edward County, some nine miles southwest of Picton. That she found herself there was a matter of some surprise to all concerned, for it had not been supposed that she was anywhere other than out in the usual shipping channel.
As Athol Bay was nowhere near her intended destination, ARAGON continued on her way, departing from the bay via its southeastern entrance. Passing safely by the infamous Wicked Point, an area of dangerous shoals guarding the entrance, she was headed down the lake, but the course set for her held her too close in on the shore. As a result, she struck hard on Salmon Point, a hazard located some two miles to the east of Wicked Point. ARAGON summoned assistance from Kingston, and the Donnelly Wrecking Company soon responded with the sidewheel salvage steamer CORNWALL and the lighter HARRIET D.
The Salmon Point area is completely open to the lake and provides no shelter along the shore. Bad weather developed not long after ARAGON stranded and Donnelly's salvage efforts were interrupted. To keep the ship from pounding on the bottom, her hold was flooded. The work was later resumed and a small quantity of undamaged corn was removed before the Donnelly crews were chased from the exposed wreck by the inclement weather which heralded the coming of winter. Early in 1922, the salvage efforts were taken over by the famous Toronto shipping entrepreneur John E. Russell, who eventually succeeded in freeing the badly damaged ARAGON.
ARAGON was purchased in 1922 by the International Waterways Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, which was a joint venture of John E. Russell and of Robert A. Campbell of Montreal. ARAGON was repaired and, in due course of time, she returned to service, still carrying her old name but now enrolled in the Canadian register as C.150811.
By 1927, however, ARAGON had been rendered obsolete in the bulk canal trades which were then being taken over by a whole new breed of British-built canallers . That year, she was taken to the Canadian Vickers Ltd. shipyard at Montreal, and there she was converted to a self-unloading sandsucker, complete with an A-frame and an 80-foot unloading boom. Her dimensions were altered somewhat in the reconstruction and she emerged with a length of 249.3 feet, a beam of 41.9 feet, and a depth of 15.3 feet, her revised tonnage having been registered as 1643 Gross and 963 Net.
ARAGON's sandsucking equipment did not function in the same manner as did the machinery of most other similarly-employed ships. She did not pump the sand directly into the sandbox in the hold, but rather ran it up into a series of hoppers on deck, from which the sand, after the water drained off, was discharged into the hold.
In 1929, ARAGON was purchased by the Essex Transit Company Ltd. of Windsor, Louis A. Merlo, manager. Essex Transit operated her in the sand trade until the close of the 1933 season, but the effects of the Great Depression on business conditions (particularly in the building trades) caused her not to be fitted out in 1934. She was sold in 1935 to Eugene Lefebvre of Montreal and, in 1937, title to the ship passed to the Sterling Construction Company Ltd. of Windsor. Despite these sales, however, she was not reactivated and ARAGON passed her time lying in ordinary at Windsor until 1941.
On June 20, 1941, ARAGON was sold again, this time to Capt. Thomas A. Tees and the Tees Transit Company of Hamilton. The job of refitting the steamer was given to the Muir Bros. Dry Dock Company Ltd. and she spent the winter of 1941-1942 at the Muir shipyard above Lock One at Port Dalhousie. The onset of World War II had caused a mass exodus of canallers from the lakes to salt water to assist with the war effort, and Tees saw that a profit could be made with ARAGON during the absence of more modern boats. The reconstruction was intended to produce for Tees a self-unloading bulk carrier which could be operated on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River. In reality, however, Tees only had done that work which was absolutely required by the steamship inspectors in order to permit her to operate for a few years. Very little money was spent on ARAGON and the maintenance work given her was of minimal nature. Tees' lack of care for the old girl became more and more evident and, by 1945, her condition was considered to be poor. In fact, it almost proved to be her undoing.
In December of 1945, ARAGON loaded a cargo of coal at the south shore Lake Ontario port of Sodus, New York, for delivery to the Sowards coal dock at Kingston. After she left Sodus, the steamer encountered heavy weather, and her master decided to come about and run back to the anchorage at Sodus where ARAGON might safely await better weather conditions. The inclemency continued for several days, however, and ARAGON's supply of bunker coal began to run very low. She returned to the dock at Sodus for bunkers and the fuelling process was completed by evening. It was decided that ARAGON would lay over for the night at her dock at Sodus so that the run across the lake to Kingston might be made in daylight.
During the night, however, the weather turned extremely cold and, by morning, ARAGON found herself frozen fast at her pier. She succeeded in breaking her way out through the harbour ice but, after she reached the open lake, it was discovered that she was taking water forward. Investigation disclosed that the water was entering through a hole in the steel hull behind one of the vessel's timber rubbing strakes, where the plating had rusted away. The hole was plugged with a mattress and, in this manner, the water was kept down and ARAGON was enabled to reach Kingston in safety. She immediately unloaded at Sowards' dock, this process bringing the damaged plating above the water level. ARAGON was laid up there for the winter and never again operated for Tees.
It would not have been unusual or unexpected for ARAGON simply to have been cast aside and scrapped at this time. The Second War was over, and the canallers that had been sent to salt water were gradually returning. If they had all returned to their home waters, then ARAGON might really have been doomed to the scrapyard. As it was, however, many of the canallers had perished on salt water, either due to enemy action or to adverse weather conditions (which they had never been designed to withstand), and, as a result, every operable hull was in great demand. Capt. Tees could no longer operate ARAGON or his other boat, the sandsucker C. W. CADWELL, for his financial position was far too precarious, but, during the winter of 1945-1946, he sold ARAGON to George McKinnon Davidson of Brockville. (The CADWELL was sold at the same time to David G. Bawtinheimer of Niagara Falls, Ontario, who formed Cadwell Marine Ltd. to operate her.)
Despite her self-unloading equipment and the raised hatches which she had been given, BAYANNA was looking every one of her years, and probably a few more, by the time the 1950s had rolled around. Even her blue hull colour with its white trim, and her blue, white and black stack design could not do much to make her look anything but ancient. Virtually the only improvement aft had been the fitting of a new stack some years previously, but it was no more modern than the one with which she had been built. Perhaps the most interesting portion of her aged anatomy was her little wooden pilothouse which, complete with corner braces, squatted atop an equally quaint texas (which was not her original lower pilothouse). The whole structure was, however, a bit loose after all the passing years and so it was secured to the forecastle by means of a cable which passed over the pilothouse roof and was attached to the deck on either side, turnbuckles being provided to facilitate the occasional necessary tightening.
Nevertheless, BAYANNA was still of some use to Bayswater and was still in regular service. She had a bit of life left in her yet and the company saw the perfect opportunity of modernizing the boat at minimal expense by using some parts off the retired Canada Steamship Lines self-unloading canaller COLLIER which had been withdrawn from service in 1958 in anticipation of the opening of the Seaway, and which, during the spring of 1960, was lying in the elevator slip at Kingston, her original trip to a Hamilton scrapyard having been interrupted.
The entire forward cabin was lifted off COLLIER and moved over to the forecastle of BAYANNA. Bayswater, unfortunately, did not seem to appreciate the appearance of COLLIER's varnished teak pilothouse and so it was painted in white after its move to BAYANNA, where it looked rather like some splendid mansion as compared with BAYANNA's old house. With the pilothouse and texas, BAYANNA gained COLLIER's foremast, an unusual little stick which grew right out of the pilothouse roof. In addition, BAYANNA was fitted with COLLIER's stack, complete with its chimed whistles. Much larger than BAYANNA's old funnel, it was placed in the same position, atop her quaint boilerhouse. It was then painted in the usual Bayswater colours, black with a narrow white band between two blue bands.
Looking just a trifle more modern with COLLIER'S face and funnel, BAYANNA operated through the 1960, 1961 and 1962 seasons. She probably would have hung on for a few more years as well, perhaps right through until the dissolution of the company in 1967, had it not been for her stranding near Deseronto in the Bay of Quinte on December 7, 1962. The late-season accident was serious enough that it brought her career to an end and she was abandoned as a constructive total loss. The wreck was acquired by P. E. Larose of Williamsburg, Ontario, who successfully refloated BAYANNA on December 10, 1963. She was taken to Deseronto where, in May, 1964, her remains were gutted by fire. Scrapping operations were undertaken the same year and it did not take long to complete the dismantling of the old steamer.
(Ed Note: Of considerable assistance to us in the preparation of this feature were the reminiscences of Capt. John Leonard concerning ARAGON, and we extend to him our appreciation.)
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