In the November issue, we featured as our Ship of the Month the sailing vessel STUART H. DUNN, a timber drogher. We mentioned that she spent considerable time lying in idleness on the Toronto waterfront during the 1920s, after her days of usefulness were over. She was accompanied in the boneyard, near the foot of Jarvis Street, by a number of other superannuated vessels, all of which were rotting away there.
We often have to search to find a vessel to feature each month in these pages, but our selection for this issue was quite easy. Mention of the boneyard on the old Toronto waterfront led us to think of another of the boats that mouldered away there for years, the steamer JOHN ROLPH. She was a familiar sight at Toronto for a considerable period of time, not only when she lay there rotting away but also when, in happier days, she had traded in and out of the port on a frequent basis. As well, she was once involved in a rather serious accident, one that led to the construction of a new western entrance to Toronto Harbour, the Western Gap that we now know so well.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Rathbun Brothers of Deseronto, Ontario, were a major force in industry and transportation in the Lake Ontario area. From their base near the eastern end of the lake, the Rathbuns ran a thriving shipyard, a fleet of vessels, a railroad and a major lumber company. In 1883, William Evans, the master shipbuilder of the Rathbun Bros. shipyard, built for them a wooden freight steamer that was to be operated by the Deseronto Navigation Company Ltd., their shipping affiliate. Christened RESOLUTE and enrolled as C.88241, she was a near-sister of RELIANCE, which was also built in the same yard for the Rathbuns.
RESOLUTE was 126.0 feet in length, with a beam of 27.8 feet and a depth of 10.3 feet. Her Gross Tonnage was 336. Her twin screws were driven by a compound engine with cylinders of 14 and 24 inches and a stroke of 24 inches. Steam was provided for the machinery by one Fitzgibbon boiler, of the upright firebox type. It was probably fired with wood in the early years of the steamer's life, although she latterly burned coal.
When she was launched, RESOLUTE was advertised by the Rathbun Bros. as being "a large and commodious twin screw steamer", which would operate along with RELIANCE on a tri-weekly service between Deseronto and Oswego. They hauled lumber out of Deseronto on the southward leg of the journey, and returned with their holds filled with coal. Although this was their main service, RESOLUTE and RELIANCE did find their way to the upper lakes on occasion, mainly in the lumber trade. In fact, a photograph of RESOLUTE which appears in this issue shows her docked at Midland, Ontario.
Although RESOLUTE and RELIANCE were near-sisters, they were not always exactly similar in appearance. RESOLUTE was built with a raised forecastle, whereas RELIANCE was not so equipped in her early years. They were very similar aft, however, each having all her cabins there and a small "birdcage" pilothouse mounted atop the after deckhouse on the boat deck. Both steamers were originally painted all white and their stacks were black.
RESOLUTE was fitted with a full foremast, complete with topmast, and she carried sail as auxiliary power. Her mainsail was "brailed", that is it was fixed to the mast rather than the boom. It was spread on a standing gaff but the bottom edge of the sail was not laced to the boom. Instead, the leech of the sail was made fast to the deck. She did carry a long boom on the mast, but it did not hold the sail at all and was used only for handling cargo. About two-thirds of the way down the deck, RESOLUTE carried what would now be called a kingpost, or short mast. It does not appear to have been equipped with cargo booms, but it did sport block and tackle to help facilitate cargo movements. One of her two lifeboats was often carried suspended above the deck from this kingpost. We suspect that it rested atop her deck cargo of lumber when the steamer was loaded. RESOLUTE carried her other lifeboat atop the after cabin on the starboard side.
In 1887, RESOLUTE was rebuilt. Although her beam and depth remained the same, her length was increased to 136.6 feet. Her Gross Tonnage was revised to 372 and her Net Tonnage was calculated as 262. We believe that it was somewhat later that her octagonal pilothouse was moved from the boat deck to a position atop the forecastle, where it sat without even a texas cabin to accompany it. RESOLUTE had previously carried a few cabins for passengers, but it is thought that these facilities were removed when the aft cabin was shortened and the pilothouse moved. The after deckhouse was again altered a few years later, and eventually both lifeboats were carried on its roof, one on either side.
RESOLUTE continued in her usual trades until the early 1900s, at which time she was acquired by Haney and Miller, Toronto, (Michael J. Haney and Roger Miller, proprietors), for use in the coal and construction material trades into Toronto. Michael Haney had been interested in a number of other similar ventures, including a brick works at Port Credit and general marine contracting. Miller was also involved in the marine contracting business. In the first decade of the new century, Haney and Miller formed a company called Point Anne Quarries Ltd. for the purpose of digging and distributing stone obtained from the quarries located at Point Anne on the Bay of Quinte. The new firm, of which Toronto financier J. F. M. Stewart was a prominent officer, maintained a distributing dock at the foot of West Market Street (just to the west of the foot of Jarvis Street) on the old Toronto waterfront.
RESOLUTE traded regularly into Toronto from the time of her acquisition by Haney and Miller, and she frequently towed one of the company's barges. She was a familiar sight around the harbour, and it was on one of her regular trips into this port that she suffered the one major accident of her career, an occurrence that was to have great import not only for the steamer but also for the port itself. The substance of the narrative concerning this accident, and in particular any quotes that follow in relation to it, come from the late C. H. J. Snider, who wrote about the event, which he called "Sullivan's Ride", in his 'Schooner Days - CCCCXCVIII', which appeared in "The Evening Telegram", Toronto, on Saturday, May 31, 1941. Why he called the event "Sullivan's Ride" will be quite evident.
On Wednesday, November 21, 1906, RESOLUTE and her barge, P. B. LOCKE, a wooden schooner-barge which had been built in 1872 at Toledo, 135.9 x 26.0 x 11.4, 285 Gross and 270 Net, and subsequently acquired by Haney and Miller, arrived off the Toronto Eastern Gap, inbound with coal from Erie, Pennsylvania, after battling the waves of a strong southeasterly gale on the open lake. RESOLUTE was leaking after the pounding that she had taken, and she did not have sufficient power to manoeuvre herself and her barge through the narrow harbour entrance. Accordingly, she proceeded around Toronto Island and took her barge to the anchorage off the Western Gap where, in the lee of the sandbar off Hanlan's Point, she dropped her hook. One might wonder why RESOLUTE and the barge did not simply proceed into the harbour via the western entrance, and the answer is quite simple. RESOLUTE was drawing eleven feet, six inches of water, while P. B. LOCKE was drawing eleven feet even, and the Western Gap, which was dredged down to bedrock, offered but eleven feet of navigable water.
The wind calmed shortly after RESOLUTE and P. B. LOCKE were anchored, and the steamer's master, Capt. Fahey, decided to make another try for the Eastern Gap. Rounding the Island once again, the steamer and her consort then again found themselves in a nasty sea and, despite getting well up to windward before turning in toward the gap, they rolled so heavily that they were unable to negotiate the passage, with RESOLUTE almost rolling her funnel clear out of the cabin in the attempt. With the pair being swept off toward the lee shore, the Ward's Island beach, the decision was made once again to head around for the anchorage off Queen's Wharf and the Western Gap. When they made the anchorage, opposite the "New Fort", or "The Garrison" (today known as Stanley Barracks, the site of the present Marine Museum of Upper Canada), RESOLUTE was leaking worse than ever.
During the evening of November 21, while RESOLUTE and P. B. LOCKE lay in the anchorage along with the schooner ST. LOUIS, the wind again picked up, this time coming in from the southwest. With the wind gusting up to sixty miles per hour, and an extremely nasty sea building up on Humber Bay, the three vessels suddenly found themselves off a lee shore and in dire danger. Perhaps the most conscious of their predicament was Capt. John Sullivan, who was aboard RESOLUTE in his capacity as manager of the Haney and Miller fleet. He had been master of RESOLUTE himself prior to the appointment of Capt. Fahey to the steamer.
It was decided that RESOLUTE and P. B. LOCKE would remain at anchor in the hope that the wind would shift to the northwest, thus putting them in the lee of the mainland shore, for they could not pass through the shallow Western Gap and could not risk another trip around the Island to the Eastern Gap. But the wind did not change, and the pumps were having difficulty controlling the water which was leaking ever faster into RESOLUTE's hold.
"'We can't keep her clear with the pumps!' yelled Capt. Fahey, bursting into the wheelhouse like a midnight gust. 'She's settled by the stern and the coal's shifting aft on top of the water. In five minutes, the fire's going to be out.'
"'Well', said Capt. Sullivan, 'you had better slip your cables and run her into the Gap as far as she'll go.'" But the steamer was settling fast and, with her head up into the wind, the forecastle was flooded up over the capstan and the anchor chains, so that the crew could not cut her loose. The order was given to abandon the steamer, and the crew rallied to the boats, Mrs. Lizzie Callaghan of St. Catharines, the cook, having been roused from her slumbers in her cabin.
"The port boat was got down, and John Harrison, chief engineer, David White, deckhand, Harry Gregory and John Barnes, firemen, and Nels Nelson, wheelsman, got into it. Mike Haney of Buffalo, first mate of RESOLUTE, was paying out the painter from on board, easing this boat astern, when the iron davit above him was carried away and struck him in the head, knocking him overboard. He came up beside the second boat, the starboard one, which had already been dropped, and was dragged into it. The first boat, swept shoreward before the men in her could get their oars working, capsized. All five in it were swept away, their cries coming fainter and fainter against the gale. All drowned. Some, floated by their lifebelts, washed up on the Island beach some days afterwards.
"The starboard boat had an easier time, for the RESOLUTE's stern was now level with the water, and she was listing to starboard as she sank. Into the boat were tumbled the cook, Andy Hicks, wheelsman, Ernest McBeth, deckhand, Capt. Fahey, and the half-stunned mate."
Not aboard the starboard boat was Capt. Sullivan, who was clearing the boat's davit tackle as RESOLUTE sank. Her stern dipped and she went down until all that was left of her above water was her gaff, her topmast, "and her loosening foresail, thundering in the moonlight like a gigantic bat". As a result of the heroic efforts of Capt. Sullivan in remaining aboard RESOLUTE to clear the falls of the starboard boat, that lifeboat managed to clear the wreck safely. It was swept toward shore and landed near the old National Yacht and Skiff Club's premises, which were located outside the Gap and to the north of Queen's Wharf which formed the north wall of the harbour entrance. The boat's occupants made shore safely and found their way to the home of the deputy harbourmaster. The cook was taken inside but the men were simply handed drinks and were directed to the Mayflower Hotel on Bathurst Street, an establishment which was able to attend to their needs.
Capt. John Sullivan was still standing atop the after cabin of RESOLUTE as the steamer sank, and he soon found himself riding the cabin roof, which broke away as RESOLUTE foundered. Joining him there was the second engineer, Thomas Topping of Deseronto, who had been in the water. Despite his age (he was then 57), Sullivan managed to comfort his companion as their makeshift raft was tossed toward the shore, breaking up into little pieces as it went. Soon the two were left aboard nothing more than a small chunk of the cabin roof and, as that neared the south pierhead of the Gap, it broke in two, with one man aboard each half.
Topping then lost his grip and perished in the heavy seas, while the piece of cabin aboard which he had been riding went ashore on the Island beach. The piece on which Sullivan found himself struck the end of the pier and careened off into the Gap, passing right through the channel without again touching either side. The Captain yelled mightily for assistance, but it was by then after midnight and nobody heard his cries. His impromptu raft finally came ashore at the Northern Elevator pier near the foot of Portland Street, and Sullivan was taken ashore and given aid by a watchman from one of the cross-lake passenger steamers which was moored nearby.
Sullivan then returned to Queen's Wharf and telephoned to the offices of Haney and Miller to summon assistance in the form of tugs. But the seas were still running high and it was mid-morning before the tug MAGGIE MITCHELL, with Capt. William Ward and the government lifeboat in tow, could make its way to the wreck. When it could be seen that there were no survivors on what remained of RESOLUTE, the tug made its way to the still-anchored P. B. LOCKE. With some eleven inches of water in the barge, her crew readily agreed to go ashore in the tug, and they were transferred mid-way to the tug ROY MAC, the MAGGIE MITCHELL returning to take off the crew of the ST. LOUIS.
Shortly thereafter, the wind finally backed around into the northwest, and the crews of both surviving vessels were able to return to their boats. With Humber Bay in the lee of the new wind, both P. B. LOCKE and ST. LOUIS were soon towed into the safety of Toronto Harbour.
Not long after the demise of RESOLUTE, an enquiry was convened by Commander Spain, the Dominion Wreck Commissioner. Capt. Sullivan was summoned to give evidence at the enquiry, and the authorities were convinced, by his testimony, that something had to be done to improve the western entrance to the harbour. Previous such demands had fallen on deaf ears but now it was evident to all that immediate action was required.
"Eighteen months later, the steamshovels were biting their way through the western sandbar, a thousand feet south of the old Western Gap, where borings showed you could deepen to forty feet before hitting the hardpan. In 1911, the present entrance was completed and open to navigation. In 1912, the Toronto Harbour Commission was formed and the present modern harbour initiated, though it took years to complete. In 1917, the old entrance was filled in, to become part of Toronto's great waterfront highway. John Sullivan had not ridden through (the Western Gap) on a raft in vain."
JOHN ROLPH usually could be seen towing one of the Point Anne Quarries barges. In addition to an assortment of old steamers, the company owned the schooner barges P. B. LOCKE (lost in 1912 off Port Hope), SOPHIA MINCH and D. P. DOBBINS, the cut-down barque SLIGO (sunk in 1918 in Humber Bay), and the scow-type deck barge DAVID MORAN. Despite her lack of power, JOHN ROLPH occasionally took two barges in tow. On one occasion, during 1921 or 1922, she was seen out on Lake Ontario, bound for Port Credit with both D. P. DOBBINS and SOPHIA MINCH on her towline. Needless to say, she could manage very little speed with such a heavy tow, and it took her the better part of a whole day just to pass by the Toronto Islands.
On one Sunday morning in early September, 1922, JOHN ROLPH arrived off the Toronto Eastern Gap with DAVID MORAN in tow. A strong southeasterly gale was kicking up the lake and the steamer found herself in much the same predicament as she had back in 1906 when, as RESOLUTE, she had tried to enter the channel with P. B. LOCKE in tow. The ROLPH and MORAN wallowed in the heavy seas, unable to hold a fair course for the pierheads and drifting off to the lee shore of the Ward's Island beach. With many Island residents watching, JOHN ROLPH, which probably scraped bottom during her efforts, finally succeeded in pulling herself and her barge away from the beach, but it was obvious that the pair could never negotiate the Gap. Accordingly, they put back out into the lake and proceeded around the Island, eventually entering the harbour safely via the Western Gap.
JOHN ROLPH remained in service until 1923, when it was finally decided that she was no longer in fit condition for operation. She was laid up at the company's dock in the West Market Street slip at Toronto where she was allowed to settle into the mud. She lay there, rotting away, along with SOPHIA MINCH, D. P. DOBBINS, the company's steam tug GILBERT, and the steel-hulled passenger boat RITA B., the latter stripped down to nothing much but the hull. The Point Anne Quarries steamer LAKE MICHIGAN was also mouldering away but she lay in the boneyard just east of Jarvis Street.
Point Anne Quarries Ltd. ceased doing business in the Toronto area about 1925. The driving force behind the firm had been J. F. M. Stewart, but his financial fortunes suffered reverses during the mid-1920s and he was one of the principal figures involved in the infamous collapse of the Home Bank.
None of the idle Point Anne Quarries Ltd. vessels were ever resurrected for further use and they remained where they lay, gradually disintegrating. The reconstruction of the Toronto waterfront reached the West Market and Jarvis Street area by about 1926, and the outward extension of the shoreline and construction of new wharves and buildings required the removal of the old hulls that had been allowed to accumulate in the area. JOHN ROLPH was then pumped out and, along with RITA B. and SOPHIA MINCH, she was towed across the Bay to Hanlan's Point, the site of the once-famous amusement park. The three vessels were taken into the mouth of the lagoon which then existed behind the West Island Drive area of Hanlan's Point, and their bows were pushed up into the mud. There they lay for several years, not far from the south pier of the Western Gap and about where the runways of the Island Airport are now located.
Eventually, JOHN ROLPH and SOPHIA MINCH were again pumped out and taken out into deep water on Lake Ontario, where they were scuttled. Their exact location is not known, but it seems fitting that their bones still lie close to the port with which they had such a close association for so many years.
There remains to this day in Toronto a landmark which might be said to have a certain association with the old RESOLUTE. Along the old Queen's Wharf, the crib wall which formed the north pier of the old Western Gap as it existed back in 1906, was an interesting old octagonal wooden lighthouse, whose red beacon served as a back-light for ships entering the harbour via that channel. After the old Gap was filled in, the lighthouse stood surrounded by solid land for many years and was finally moved several hundred yards westward. There it stands today, in the point where Fleet Street and Lakeshore Boulevard diverge (and in the middle of the "Fleet" streetcar loop), a preserved monument to the early days of Toronto Harbour and the only surviving structure in that immediate area that was there the night that Capt. John Sullivan took his famous ride through the old channel, clinging to his tiny section of RESOLUTE's cabin roof.
(Ed. Note; The writings of the late C. H. J. Snider have been most helpful in the preparation of this feature, as also have been the reminiscences of the T.M.H.S. secretary, who remembers well the comings and goings of JOHN ROLPH in her final years. A brief history of Point Anne Quarries Ltd., together with a fleet list, appeared in Vol. V, No. 7, back in April 1973.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.