Several issues back, we asked for suggestions regarding ships whose stories we might feature in these pages. Amongst the many suggestions that we have received have been several for the old Canadian steamer GEORGE A. GRAHAM. Many of our younger members will find that this name means nothing at all to them, and it is to be hoped that this feature will remedy that situation. To some of our older members, the name will certainly be significant, and they will recall that this name was borne by a rather handsome steamer which enjoyed all too few years of service under the Canadian flag, and which came to grief in yet another of the autumn storms that have played so much havoc with shipping on Lake Huron over the passing years.
The story of the GEORGE A. GRAHAM actually goes back to the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century. On September 3rd, 1889, there had been formed a U.S. lake shipping concern which called itself the Minnesota Steamship Company. It was to be the transportation arm of the Minnesota Iron Mining Company, which had been founded earlier in the 1880s by Charlemagne Tower, Jr., with the assistance of Colonel James Pickands, Samuel Mather, and Jay C. Morse, all of the Cleveland firm of Pickands Mather and Company. When the Minnesota Steamship Company came into existence to ship the mining company's iron ore down the lakes to the mills, it was placed under the management of Pickands Mather and Company, which already had been involved in the operation of four earlier wooden steamers.
The incorporators of the Minnesota Steamship Company were J. H. Hoyt, C. A. Neff, H. S. Sherman, A. C. Dustin and J. M. Shallenberger. The first officers of the company were Jay C. Morse, president; Colonel James Pickands, vice-president; C. P. Coffin, secretary and treasurer; Jay C. Morse, H. H. Porter and William R. Stirling, executive committee. These gentlemen were all members of the board of directors, as also were C. W. Hillard and J. H. Chandler. Samuel Mather later succeeded Morse as president, and Chandler became vice-president.
The Minnesota Steamship Company was determined to have the best vessels on the lakes to carry its iron ore, and it set out on a course of having a large number of new ships built to its order. It is a credit to the enthusiasm and resourcefulness of that organization that, at no time during its relatively short history, did it ever purchase a used vessel. (Two steamers, TEXAS and PENNSYLVANIA, that had been built on speculation by the Cleveland Shipbuilding Company, were purchased in 1899, but they were acquired new by Minnesota, without ever having operated for any other fleet.) This is all the more impressive in that the Minnesota fleet would eventually number twenty-two large steel-hulled steamers and barges on its roster.
The Minnesota ships were striking in their appearance. All very rakish in design, they wore black hulls with white cabins. Some of the earliest ships were originally painted with a white forecastle and a narrow white stripe around the hull at the level of the spar deck. The company vessels all carried black stacks, each emblazoned with a white triangle on which appeared the letter 'M' in red. Right from the beginning of the company's operations, it became the practice to give all of its ships names beginning with the letters 'MA' and ending with the letter 'A', and accordingly some very interesting names were developed, particularly as time passed and more and more vessels were added to the fleet.
Almost as soon as it was formed, the Minnesota Steamship Company awarded to the Globe Iron Works of Cleveland a contract for the construction of four steel-hulled bulk carriers. These were completed in 1890 as Hulls 31 through 34, and they were named, respectively, MARISKA, MANOLA, MARUBA and MATOA. Even before they were all completed, however, another order was placed for the construction of two additional steamers; this second contract was awarded to the Chicago Shipbuilding Company, a new shipyard which was founded in 1890 as an affiliate of the Globe Iron Works. This new yard's Hulls 1 and 2 were named, respectively, MARINA and MASABA, and they were completed during 1891. They were generally similar to the earlier four steamers (although a few minor differences in appearance were evident), but the Chicago boats were built some ten feet longer and thus boasted a rather larger cargo capacity .
In due course of time, MARINA was enrolled at Cleveland, Ohio, and was given official number U.S.92282. She was measured as being 292.0 feet in length, 40.2 feet in the beam, and 20.8 feet in depth, with a tonnage of 2431.71 Gross and 1992.03 Net. We are unable to locate details of her machinery and would appreciate hearing from any member who might have such information.
MARINA was typical of many of the steel-hulled bulk carriers that were built for the iron ore trade on the lakes during the early 1890s. She carried a fully raised forecastle but her bridge structure was set back down the deck between hatches one and two. The forecastle sported only an open handrail to protect any crew members working there, but the spar deck below was fully enclosed by a waist-high bulwark. This closed rail, which gave such early steamers a most distinctive appearance, was later cut back on the sides and an open rail was substituted along the deck between the bridge and the boilerhouse .
The large texas cabin sat right on the spar deck aft of the first hatch and its roof, the bridge deck, extended outward to the sides of the ship. For ease of movement between the forecastle and the bridge, moveable catwalks were provided on each side; often carried atop the forecastle, they could be shifted aft to span the gap over the first hatch. The pilothouse sat on the bridge deck and entrance to it was gained by a climb of three steps up to a small platform. On the monkey's island atop the pilothouse was located an open navigation bridge, from which the vessel was usually navigated. Helm orders were passed down from the officers on watch on the bridge to the wheelsman, who would stand his watch inside the pilothouse. The open bridge was provided with wings from which the ship could be navigated in close quarters, such as when canalling or docking.
Aft, MARINA also was typical of vessels of her day, in that her boilerhouse and after accommodations cabin were separate structures. The boilerhouse did not have any windows in it, but did have two openings in the forward bulkhead that were covered by heavy shutters; they could be opened, when necessary, to provide ventilation. The separation of the boilerhouse from the accommodations undoubtedly helped to keep the crew quarters somewhat cooler than they would have been if the deckhouses had been joined.
MARINA was fitted with two masts, both tall and well-raked. The foremast rose out of the texas, immediately abaft the pilothouse, and the main was stepped just in front of the boilerhouse. All four of the Cleveland-built sisterships, and even MARINA'S Chicago-built sister MASABA, originally were given short, thick stacks, with their tops cut off parallel to the water rather than perpendicular to the rake. Not so MARINA, however. She was fitted with a fairly heavy but extremely tall stack, whose rake exactly matched that of the two masts, and with a normally sloping top. She would carry the same stack right through to the end of her days, apparently without alteration of any sort.
MARINA entered service during the early part of the 1891 season, and her first master was the well-known Capt. Frank D. Root, who brought out a number of the Minnesota steamers when they were first placed in commission. MARINA appears to have operated successfully, and we have no knowledge of any major accidents interrupting her decade of service for the fleet. The only change affecting her during this period was the loss of her white forecastle and hull stripe, her entire hull being painted black in later years. MARINA collected most of her cargoes at Two Harbors, Minnesota, to which the iron ore had been hauled by rail from the mines of the Vermilion Range.
The steamer operated for Minnesota until 1900. In that year, J. Pierpont Morgan's Federal Steel Company absorbed the Minnesota Iron Company, and with it the Steamship Company. Then, in 1901, Federal Steel itself was swallowed up by the United States Steel Corporation, which was put together by Morgan and Elbert H. Gary. Shortly after its formation, the new corporation formed the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, which thereafter operated all of the ships that U.S. Steel had accumulated from the fleets of the various companies involved in the formation of the conglomerate. The Pittsburgh Steamship Company was to become the largest fleet of ships ever to operate on the lakes.
MARINA served in the ore trade for the Pittsburgh Steamship Company until August 10, 1910, when she was sold to the Lakewood Steamship Company of Cleveland, which was managed by Capt. Charles L. Hutchinson. This firm acquired several more of the smaller Pittsburgh vessels at about the same time; it purchased MARUBA and MASABA in 1909, the barge MALTA in 1912, and the steamer W. H. GILBERT in 1913. As well, the steamer CORSICA was acquired in 1912 by the Corsica Transit Company, another of the small firms managed by Capt. Hutchinson,
On May 13, 1912, another Hutchinson-managed company was incorporated; this was the Masaba Steamship Company, whose home office was located in Charleston, West Virginia. The directors of this new concern were Capt. Charles L. Hutchinson, W. H. McGean, F. G. Masters and F. J. Leckie, all of Cleveland, and A. E. Mathews of Toronto. The ownership of both MARINA and MASABA was transferred over to this new company.
But MARINA's service in the ownership of the Masaba Steamship Company was indeed short, for she was sold on June 12, 1912, to Messrs O'Brien and O'Gorman of Toronto. They transferred MARINA to the Canadian Northwest Steamship Company Ltd., Port Arthur. She was then re-registered at Port Arthur and was assigned official number C.131051. Her new owner renamed her (b) GEORGE A. GRAHAM.
The Canadian Northwest Steamship Company Ltd. was a firm which dated back to the 1880s, and which was originally affiliated with Thomas Marks and Company Ltd., Port Arthur, managers. Very little is known about the corporate history of the company. Suffice it to say that, in addition to the GRAHAM, the firm also operated the canallers ALGONQUIN and NEEBING (I), the whaleback ATIKOKAN, the steamer PAIPOONGE, and the barge THUNDER BAY (I). Its vessels were painted black, with white cabins. The stacks of the ships appear to have been particularly colourful, but we do not know for sure what all the colours were. The stacks were certainly buff with a black top, and photographs show that there was another band below the smokeband, and on which was carried a white star. It is thought that the middle band was red.
In any event, Canadian Northwest made good use of GEORGE A. GRAHAM, operating her mainly in the grain trade from the Canadian Lakehead to the ports of Georgian Bay and to Port Colborne. Of course, she was forced to remain on the upper lakes, as she was far too big to pass down through the small locks of the old Welland and St. Lawrence River canals. Any of her cargoes that were destined for river ports would have to be unloaded at Port Colborne and trans-shipped in canallers.
During the 1917 navigation season, the Canadian Northwest Steamship Company Ltd. was taken over by the Montreal Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal. The M.T.Co. was a very old company which, by that time, was controlled by Roy M. Wolvin, who had extremely close ties with Canada Steamship Lines, and who had been heavily involved in the formation of that large fleet in 1913. Wolvin, a native of Duluth, personally acquired financial control of M.T.Co. in 1916, and from that time until 1920, when C.S.L. actually absorbed the company and what was left of its vessels (Wolvin having sold off many of the good steel canallers at inflated prices during the war), the M.T.Co. was operated in close conjunction with C.S.L.
It is not known how quickly M.T.Co. painted up the old Canadian Northwest boats in its own colours. Eventually, they were given the new owner's black hull, white cabins, and black stack with the letters 'M.T.Co.' in white. It seems entirely possible that the GRAHAM may never actually have been painted in these colours, for fate overtook her and brought her career to an untimely end before the close of the 1917 shipping season.
During early October, 1917, GEORGE A. GRAHAM loaded a cargo of wheat at the Canadian Lakehead, and set out to deliver this cargo to the port of Midland on Georgian Bay. She encountered no difficulties in her crossing of Lake Superior, and she locked down at Sault Ste. Marie during the early afternoon of Saturday, October 6, 1917. She enjoyed a smooth run down the lower St. Mary's River, but on making her way through DeTour Passage and out onto Lake Huron, she found herself heading straight into the teeth of a gale that was blowing up from the southwest. The wind being from that direction, and having lots of room to whip up large waves which could roll all the way up the lake, the northern end of Lake Huron was extremely rough.
With considerable difficulty, the GRAHAM managed to make her turn eastward and she struggled across the north end of the lake. She took a terrible beating from the seas, with large waves overtaking her from the stern, sweeping up over her cabins and rolling along the deck towards the bow. When the ship reached the entrance to Georgian Bay off Cove Island, about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, October 7th, it was necessary for her to alter course to port so that she might traverse the Cove Island Passage. In the course of this manoeuvre, her cargo shifted and she took on a severe list to port. The list made the steamer almost unmanageable in the heavy seas, and soon she fell off into the trough. She did not have sufficient power to extricate herself from this dreaded predicament, and from that point onward her fate was sealed.
Blown before the storm, the ship gradually made her way northeastward across the top corner of the lake. Her master tried to get her into the shelter of South Bay, on the southeastern tip of Manitoulin Island, but he could not manage to do so, and the GRAHAM finally struck the shore of Fitzwilliam Island. This island is located to the north of the entrance to Georgian Bay, and to the southeast of South Baymouth; it is 8 1/2 miles long, northeast and southwest, and is some four miles wide at its widest point.
GEORGE A. GRAHAM struck hard on the rocky shore of the island and soon she broke in two, for she was exposed there to the full fury of the storm. The vessel's deck was soon stripped by the waves of any exposed equipment, and the crew found themselves in a most undesirable predicament. Fortunately, however, the residents of the village of South Baymouth (now the northern terminus of the Manitoulin Island ferry route) and local fisherman were aware of the plight of GEORGE A. GRAHAM, and they set out in small boats to the assistance of her crew, who were taken off two at a time. The rescue efforts lasted throughout the daylight hours of Sunday, October 7th, but they successfully removed every single member of the crew.
The crew of the GRAHAM were then faced with the problem of their inaccessibility on Manitoulin Island. Fortunately, the residents of the island took them in and gave them shelter for almost a full week. They were then taken off by the small wooden passenger and freight steamer HENRY PEDWELL (92.0 x 17.6 x 9.1, 101 Gross, 69 Net), which had been built in 1909 at Lion's Head, Ontario, and which was owned by Charles Pedwell of Wiarton. The PEDWELL, operating the local "milk run", picked up all of the survivors and took them safely to Owen Sound.
But the GEORGE A. GRAHAM was not as lucky as was her crew. The steamer was so battered by the storm that she was soon abandoned as a total loss. Her situation was so hopeless that salvage was not attempted, and the vessel lay for many years exposed to the fury of Lake Huron's many storms. The wreck lay where it was for twenty years, and it was not until 1937 that salvagers came to the scene and cut up for scrap the last remains of GEORGE A. GRAHAM. The action of the waves and local scavengers had made certain that little remained of the steamer except her hull and machinery.
Yes, the old MARINA had served her various owners well, but in many respects she was a victim of the very technology that created her. During the 1890s, the development of the steel-hulled bulk carrier progressed so rapidly that ships built one year were far surpassed in size, cargo capacity and general efficiency, by others built only a year or two later. Thus those steamers that were built in the early 1890s, when such vessels were just coming into vogue, were very quickly renedered [sic] almost obsolete, and it was only a matter of time until their owners built other ships to replace them. MARINA was destined, therefore, to have a short career in the colours of her first owners. It was her bad luck that she also encountered that storm in the autumn of 1917, else she might have lasted at least a few more years before the scrappers took her.
(Ed. Note: For part of the story of the loss of GEORGE A. GRAHAM and the rescue of her crew, we are indebted to member Skip Gillham of Vineland. His story of the accident, which was featured in the "St. Catharines Standard" on December 3, 1983. contained details of the wreck as recounted by Mark Russell, of St. Catharines, who was a watchman aboard the GRAHAM at the time of her stranding.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.