When we prepare this feature each month, we attempt to select a vessel which will be of interest to our readers for some particular reason, whether it be the circumstances of her operation, something peculiar about her appearance or her ownership, or an unusual accident or even the loss of the ship. Too often, we tend to neglect boats which have been well known throughout their careers but which, on first glance, we cannot consider to have been particularly interesting. And yet, if we dig back through the pages of history, we frequently can come up with enough information to put together a colourful feature.
This issue's Ship of the Month is a case in point. We rather doubt that we would ever have thought of BRENTWOOD for a feature had not member Tom Wilson of Bath, Ontario, come across a newspaper clipping which mentioned her. Tom wrote seeking information about BRENTWOOD, and this feature is the result.
The St. Lawrence and Chicago Steam Navigation Company Ltd. was incorporated at Toronto in 1890, although it had actually been formed several years earlier by three prominent Torontonians, John H. G. Hagarty, Captain Samuel Crangle, and wharfinger W. A. Geddes. The company's officers at the time of incorporation were Capt. Samuel Crangle, Sir Casimir S. Gzowski, G. Hagarty, J. H. G. Hagarty, F. W. Kingston, W. D. Matthews and E. B. Osler. All of these gentlemen were well known both in lake shipping and in Toronto social circles of the period.
The company was formed for the purpose of carrying grain down the lakes, and it began operations with two steamers which had been built in 1888 in Britain for the Canadian Northwest Steamship Company Ltd. (Thomas Marks and Company) of Port Arthur, Ontario. Named ALGONQUIN and ROSEDALE, these handsome ships were sold to the St. Lawrence and Chicago Steam Navigation Company Ltd. shortly after their arrival on the lakes. They were to be the first of eight steamers that the company would own during its quarter-century of operation. It is unfortunate that the fleet seems today to be best remembered for its ill-fated steamer JAMES CARRUTHERS, which entered service on June 11, 1913, and was lost on November 9, 1913, in the Great Storm.
A report in "The Railway and Shipping World" of August, 1903, indicated that W. D. MATTHEWS was designed for a deadweight capacity of 5,500 tons on a draught of 13 feet, and 6,100 tons on 19 feet. She was originally given three pole masts, each of which carried a cargo boom. "To facilitate the handling of freight", three steam hoists were fitted, one at the foot of each mast. Of course, these fancy machines were but winches which wound up or let out the lines which ran out over the cargo booms. She was equipped with ten hatches , which were nine feet wide and laid out on deck with 24-foot centres. The cargo hold was divided into four compartments.
W. D. MATTHEWS had a typical turret pilothouse forward, and it sat right on the forecastle, with the texas cabin just behind. An open bridge, complete with awning, was fitted on the monkey's island atop the pilothouse, for it was not then considered proper for a ship to be navigated from an enclosed position offering any degree of comfort. She carried a large deckhouse aft, and from this rose her tall black stack, which carried upon it a large red diamond.
The MATTHEWS was an almost exact sistership of MIDLAND KING, built by Collingwood as its Hull 4 for the James Playfair interests of Midland. MIDLAND KING was launched on August 19, 1903, not quite two months after MATTHEWS. Neither ship was blessed with much sheer to her lines and, as a result, both looked rather stiff. Each steamer carried a doghouse on the spar deck, between hatches four and five, to provide additional crew accommodations. MIDLAND KING was to retain this cabin for her entire life, short as it was, whereas W. D. MATTHEWS would lose her doghouse after some twenty-five years of service. Although the two sisters were built for different owners, they eventually found their respective ways into the same fleet, and their final dispositions were remarkably similar and untimely.
In order to raise money for the construction of W. D. MATTHEWS, especially considering the fact that the fleet had just purchased the newly-built canaller THE IROQUOIS in 1902, St. Lawrence and Chicago proposed a special issue of stock. The company actually issued 1,500 shares of stock for this purpose, in the proportion of two shares of new stock to five of the old shares, at par to shareholders of record as at December 15, 1902.
W. D. MATTHEWS was named in honour of one of the founding directors of St. Lawrence and Chicago, a Torontonian who was very active in the grain brokerage business. Wilmot Delouir Matthews was born in 1850 at Burford, in Brant County, Ontario, and he lived in Toronto from 1856 until his death in 1919. One of the leading financiers of his time, Matthews was one of the founders of the Canada Malting Company Ltd., which was formed in 1890. He was a director of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd., Montreal; the St. Lawrence River Steamboat Company Ltd., Kingston; the Thousand Island Steamboat Company, Clayton, N.Y.; the Niagara Navigation Company Ltd., Toronto; the Northern Navigation Company Ltd., Collingwood, and the Canadian Shipbuilding Company Ltd., Toronto.
In addition, he was president of the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company; a director and vice-president of the Dominion Bank; a director and president of the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation; vice-president of the Confederation Life Association; a director and vice-president of the Toronto Electric Light Company and the Toronto Railway Company, and a director of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the Toronto General Trusts Corporation, and the Canadian General Electric Company Ltd.
Matthews was president of the Toronto Corn Exchange and, in 1888 and 1889, he was president of the Toronto Board of Trade. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, the Toronto Club, the York Club, the Toronto Golf Club and the Mount Royal and St. James Club, Montreal. His massive Toronto home, built in 1889 in the Romanesque style, still stands on the northeast corner of Hoskin Avenue and St. George Street, and today serves University of Toronto students as Newman Hall.
W. D. MATTHEWS operated from 1903 until 1916 in the service of the St. Lawrence and Chicago Steam Navigation Company Ltd. She changed very little during this period, with the exception of the fact that her three masts were soon reduced to two, with the mainmast being repositioned abaft the stack. We can find no reference to any serious accident involving her during these years, although she undoubtedly had her share of minor scrapes. She spent most of her time hauling grain from the Lakehead to the Bayports, or to Port Colborne where it was transferred to canallers for the remainder of the eastbound voyage.
On April 20, 1916, W. D. Matthews, who at the time was president of the St. Lawrence and Chicago Steam Navigation Company Ltd., announced that the company had been taken over by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, at the price of $185 per share. The total outlay by C.S.L. to the 230 shareholders of the St.L.&C.S.N.Co. was $1,787,840. In acquiring the company, C.S.L. engaged in a bidding war with James Playfair of Midland who also sought to acquire the fleet, perhaps only to keep it out of the hands of C.S.L.
The finalization of the acquisition of the company, however, was delayed, for three shares were held in Dublin, Ireland. 1916, of course, was a year of great unrest in Ireland and the disturbances, notably the holding of the Post Office by rebel forces, prevented the handing-in of the last three outstanding St. Lawrence and Chicago shares. At last, however, the transaction was properly concluded. The actual transfer of the ownership of W. D. MATTHEWS to Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. took place on July 18, 1917.
The MATTHEWS was then painted in C.S.L. livery, colours that she would wear for twenty years. She operated for her new owner on much the same trades that she had frequented in her St. Lawrence and Chicago days, still managing to retain her earlier ability to stay out of trouble. She did get herself stranded on October 7, 1922, whilst on passage from Fort William to Port McNicoll, but the damage was not serious. No other details are available.
The days of the open navigation bridge on lake vessels were at an end by the 1920s and, accordingly, C.S.L. gave W. D. MATTHEWS a new upper pilothouse about 1920. A very similar upper pilothouse was also fitted aboard her sistership, MIDLAND KING, which C.S.L. had acquired from James Playfair at the time of the formation of C.S.L. in 1913. The only other notable change to the MATTHEWS was the removal, about 1925, of her spar deck doghouse. Such cabins were all the rage in the early days of steel shipbuilding, but they later proved to be something of a nuisance, for they interfered with the operation of modern loading and unloading gear. Presumably, space for the crew members displaced from the doghouse was found by squeezing additional berths into the cabins in the forecastle and the after deckhouse.
C.S.L. had acquired many ships when it was formed in 1913 and, in the intervening years, through the absorption of the fleets of other operators. By the mid-1920s, C.S.L. had begun to sort out its boats and get rid of those hulls which were either obsolete or no longer required. Many of those ships that were retained were renamed according to certain naming schemes which the company had developed. And so, on October 1, 1926, W. D. MATTHEWS was officially renamed (b) BRENTWOOD. Her sister, MIDLAND KING, was not renamed, for her original name remained suitable for her service to the Bayports.
BRENTWOOD spent the winter of 1931-32 laid up at Hamilton and, despite the poor business conditions that were plaguing lake shipping as a result of the Great Depression, BRENTWOOD was placed back in service in 1932, still on the run to Lake Ontario. The winter of 1932-33 saw her again laid up on Lake Ontario, this time at Kingston, to which port she had undoubtedly carried a storage grain cargo. It was at Kingston that C.S.L. laid up so many canallers that had been idled by the Depression but, despite her relatively small size for an upper laker, BRENTWOOD managed to avoid joining the boneyard fleet.
BRENTWOOD fitted out again in the spring of 1933, but it was not to be a happy year for her. On June 15, 1933, she grounded in the St. Mary's River while downbound with a cargo of 187,000 bushels of grain from Fort William for Kingston. The stranding occurred at night, when BRENTWOOD's master mistook a light on a barge, owned by the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, for a navigation marker. The steamer suffered a fifteen-foot gash in her hull, with damage estimated in the $60,000 range. Temporary repairs were put in hand at the Soo after BRENTWOOD was hauled off the bar, and a news report of June 19, 1933, indicated that it was anticipated that she would be able to resume her voyage on June 20. BRENTWOOD was, in fact, able to proceed and she reached Kingston safely.
Canada Steamship Lines eventually took legal action against Great Lakes Dredge and Dock in an attempt to recover the cost of BRENTWOOD's repairs. The "Chicago Press Dispatch", April, 1934, reported that the case was tried at Chicago, March 1-10, 1934, and that "Federal Judge Woodward gave judgment against C.S.L., having held that negligence on the part of BRENTWOOD'S officers was responsible for the ship's grounding. BRENTWOOD was under the command of Capt. John Carson, who testified that he had been misled by a red light placed on a barge owned and used by the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, in dredging the channel under a contract awarded it by the United States government. In reply to argument by C.S.L. counsel that the red light had been placed wrongfully and that its presence had been responsible for the grounding, defendant's counsel argued that the red light had been placed in accordance with U.S. War Department regulations and that, if Capt. Carson had given consideration to other lights in the channel, the accident would have been avoided." Accordingly, the action failed.
The effects of the Depression, however, were deepening, and more and more lake ships were being laid up as cargoes became ever more scarce. Only the most economically-operated boats remained in service, and BRENTWOOD hardly qualified as one of those, considering that her small size did not compare favourably with larger carriers of the fleet which could be operated with the same size of crew. As a result, BRENTWOOD laid up at Midland, Ontario, by September of 1933. Never again would she turn a wheel.
In this respect, she was not alone, for it was not only canallers that C. S.L. began to send to the scrapyard in 1937 when it had become evident that, even if business conditions improved, the company would never again need such a large fleet. In all, eight small upper lakers, including BRENTWOOD, had sailed their last. The other seven were HUGUENOT, (a) MATOA, (23), (b) GLENRIG (26); MARTIAN (I), (a) MARS (I)(13); MIDLAND KING; PORTSMOUTH, (a) GEORGE E. HARTNELL (23), (b) GLENSANNOX (27); RENFREW, (a) ALVA (11), (b) MINNETONKA. (14), (c) GLENFINNAN (26); SASKATCHEWAN, (a) WAWATAM (14), (b) GLENLIVET (27) and VALCARTIER, (a) WILLIAM HENRY MACK (14). Of these steamers, BRENTWOOD, HUGUENOT, PORTSMOUTH, SASKATCHEWAN and VALCARTIER were laid up at Midland, while RENFREW was at Sarnia and MARTIAN and MIDLAND KING were at Toronto. All would soon be scrapped.
On January 15, 1937, the Midland Shipbuilding Company Ltd. and Frankel Bros. Ltd., Toronto, signed an agreement which stipulated that the shipyard would provide facilities for Frankel to dismantle four ships. The work was to provide employment for 40 men. BRENTWOOD was officially transferred to Frankel Bros. Ltd. on May 7, 1937, and, by June 18, 1937, when her registry was closed, she had been totally reduced to a pile of scrap on the shipyard wharf.
HUGUENOT, SASKATCHEWAN and VALCARTIER followed under the Midland scrappers' torches soon after the cutting-up of BRENTWOOD had been completed, and their last remains had been completely dismantled by the end of 1937. The other four old ships already mentioned were also sold for scrap in 1937, and the torches made quick work of them as well. PORTSMOUTH was towed to Sturgeon Bay for breaking up, whilst RENFREW was taken to Indiana Harbor and dismantled there. MARTIAN and MIDLAND KING were towed from Toronto to Hamilton, and there were scrapped by the Steel Company of Canada Ltd.
W. D. MATTHEWS/BRENTWOOD enjoyed but a relatively brief career, considering that she operated for only 31 seasons. Nevertheless, she was used hard and she made a valuable contribution to the earnings of each of the fleets for which she sailed. If only her original owner and builder had displayed the foresight to have her designed with just a few feet more length and beam, her carrying capacity would have been such that she would, in all likelihood, have survived the black days of the Great Depression and lasted well into the years following World War Two, when operable hulls of almost any description were so very much in demand.
(Ed. Note: We thank Jim Kidd for his research efforts on our behalf re the BRENTWOOD. Biographical notes on Wilmot Delouir Matthews based on material from several sources, including "Greater Toronto and the Men Who Made It", 1911, Inter-Provincial Publishing Company, and "Aristocratic Toronto: 19th Century Grandeur", 1980, Lucy Booth Martyn, Gage Publishing Ltd.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.