It has now been twenty-five years since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the event that led to the demise of the many canal-sized lakers that had, for decades, been the lifeline of trade through the old canals that once made up the Welland and St. Lawrence River navigation systems. Over the years that have passed since those canallers ceased to operate, they have become the object of much interest to shipping enthusiasts. Those who never knew them have come to look on them with amazement because of the "ad hoc" method of operation in which they served, and those who vividly remember their comings and goings have developed an increasing admiration for the role that they played for so long in the chain of lake transportation.
The best known of all the many canallers were those that ran right up until the opening of the Seaway or shortly thereafter, for it was those that were most frequently photographed and about which the most was written. The next best known were those canallers that fell victim to serious accident, some of those being lost in the process. But there were a number of canallers that served well for many years and passed out of existence long before the Seaway was anything more than a dream in the minds of shipping men, and the stories of those particular vessels have long since faded into the dimness of the past. They are only recalled when mention of them is seen in old vessel passages or lay-up lists, or in other old press reports. It is for this reason that they deserve mention in features such as this.
One of the early Canadian-built steel-hulled canallers was the steamer HADDINGTON, which was built in 1904 at Toronto as Hull 43 of the Bertram Engine Works Company. She was of typical canal dimensions, 250.2 feet in length, 43.2 feet in the beam, and 15.5 feet in depth, with her tonnage recorded as 1603 Gross and 1010 Net. She was designed to carry some 80,000 bushels of grain. She was powered by a triple expansion engine, with cylinders of 15, 25 and 42 inches, and a stroke of 30 inches, that was built for her by the shipyard. Steam at 180 p.s.i. was provided by two coal-fired Scotch boilers that measured ten feet in diameter and eleven feet in length.
Contemporary accounts of the construction of HADDINGTON indicate that she was built to carry six three-ton deck cranes for the handling of cargo. It is evident, however, that these cranes were not placed aboard her at the time of her construction. In fact, it was not until some six years later that she was given deck cranes, and they were probably somewhat different from the cranes that were originally planned for her.
HADDINGTON was a handsome steamer, although a bit unusual. Her hull was given a bit of sheer, although not much. She had a bow that was noteworthy in its substantially curved forefoot (noticeable only when she was light, of course), and she had a graceful counter stern with a closed steel taffrail. Her hull carried several heavy wooden fender strakes to protect her from damage whilst transitting the small locks of the old canals, and the uppermost of these strakes ran all around the hull, with only a small break just athwart the stack. It was very unusual for a vessel's rub rail to run around the stem of the ship, but HADDINGTON'S did so. This rail or fender was all the more noticeable in that the steamer had very little freeboard when she was loaded, and her waterline under those conditions ran just below the wooden strake.
HADDINGTON had a full forecastle, which was partially surrounded by a closed steel rail. Her small, rounded pilothouse sat directly atop the forecastle head and just forward of a small texas house that contained the master's office and cabin. The pilothouse was particularly notable because of its very large sectioned windows. On the monkey's island atop the pilothouse was an open navigation bridge, with protection for the officers on watch there being provided by a canvas dodger and by an awning which could be stretched overhead on a wooden framework. Her tall and heavily raked foremast rose out of the texas.
The steamer's after cabin was large and squarish, with an indented boilerhouse (i.e. not as wide as the rest of the cabin) at its forward end. Shelter for the walkway that ran around the after house was provided by a substantial overhang of the boat deck above. A rather thin but nicely raked stack rose out of the boilerhouse, and the mainmast was stepped abaft the funnel. A wooden doghouse, providing additional accommodation for the crew, was located between the stack and the mainmast. It is not known exactly when this structure was placed there (vessels were seldom built with such cabins), although a very early sketch of HADDINGTON, which was done by the famous marine artist Rowley Murphy, would indicate that it was, if not original, at least added during the first few years of her life.
HADDINGTON was painted in typical Mathews colours of the day. She was given a black hull, and her forecastle and cabins were white. Her stack was black with two silver bands. Of course, these colours were to become very well known over the years, as the Mathews Steamship Company expanded its fleet. (In later years, the Mathews steamers generally carried black forecastles, although some of them sported white rails on the forecastle head.) In fact, these were such famous colours that they were also adopted by the Misener interests when they purchased the remains of the bankrupt Mathews fleet during the Great Depression.
The Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. operated HADDINGTON until about 1909, at which time she was transferred to "S.S. Haddington", a company which was an affiliate of the Merchants Mutual Line Ltd., Toronto. Merchants Mutual was merged with the Canadian Lake Transportation Company Ltd., Toronto, in 1911 to form the Canadian Interlake Line Ltd., Toronto, which itself was reorganized in 1912 as the Canada Interlake Line Ltd., Toronto, an enterprise of such eminent Canadian shipping men as M. J. Haney, Roy M. Wolvin, Capt. J.W. Norcross, J.F.M. Stewart, et al. HADDINGTON became part of the fleet of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, when that large corporation was formed in 1913.
By about 1910, HADDINGTON's appearance had been rather significantly altered. Hatch number six was raised to the height of the boilerhouse to provide additional cargo capacity, and the extra section of hatch looked just like a forward extension of the cabin itself. More remarkably, however, she was fitted with four small whirly cranes for cargo handling. Two of these were located between hatches one and two, with the remaining pair mounted between hatches three and four. These cranes sported short latticework booms, and when the ship was moving, the booms of the two cranes in each set were turned inboard and lashed together.
HADDINGTON'S upperworks had once again been altered by about 1920. Her two original masts were removed, the foremast being replaced by a short stub of a pole which carried no rake but was fitted with a cargo boom. The whirly cranes were removed and a new mainmast was fitted between hatches four and five. It carried two cargo booms, one slung forward and one aft. As well, her original stack was removed and replaced by a much heavier funnel of approximately the same height. Like the two new masts, it sported very little rake if any at all. In addition, a small wooden upper pilothouse was placed on the monkey's island to replace the open bridge and provide reasonable shelter for the officers on watch. Like the old lower pilothouse, this cabin was of the "turret" (or rounded) type.
It was in 1920 that HADDINGTON was renamed (b) MAPLEHILL (II) by Canada Steamship Lines. The company had decided to rename many of its canallers, which hitherto had carried names given to them by their various earlier owners. The prefix "Maple" was chosen in view of the significance of the native maple tree as a symbol of Canada, while the suffix "Hill" was randomly selected. The suffix did, however, begin with the letter 'H' which, to the company, designated a steel-hulled bulk canaller. It should be noted that, in most cases of C.S.L. canallers that carried "Maple" names (there were very few exceptions), the first letter of the suffix was part of a code which identified the type of vessel involved. This system produced an interesting series of names, and we rather wish that C.S.L. had carried on with the use of such names for a longer period of time.
The steamer had a fairly uneventful career under C.S.L. ownership, carrying whatever types of cargoes the company could find for her. We know of only one major accident in which she was involved. On Thursday, June 3rd, 1915. she struck the rock bottom north of Red Cloud. Extensive repairs were required, and it is believed that these were put in hand at the Kingston shipyard. The perplexing part of this whole affair, however, is that we have absolutely no idea where Red Cloud was located. We have been unable to find any other reference to this place in any of the normal sources of such information, and we would be grateful for the assistance of any reader who might have heard of Red Cloud.
MAPLEHILL operated regularly for C.S.L. until 1930, when the onset of the Great Depression forced her into lay-up at Kingston. There she was joined by many other C.S.L. canallers, all idled by the poor business conditions. Some of the great Kingston lay-up fleet's vessels would survive to operate again for the company, but many others would not. Canada Steamship Lines had expanded its fleet to the point where it contained many canallers that were much more modern and efficient than MAPLEHILL, and accordingly she never again operated in the company's colours.
MAPLEHILL lay at Kingston, with her condition gradually deteriorating, until 1937, at which time she and numerous other idle C.S.L. canallers were sold to Les Chantiers Manseau Ltee., Montreal, a firm that later was to become known as Marine Industries Ltd., Sorel. When C.S.L. sold these vessels, it was announced that all of them, being obsolete tonnage, would be scrapped. Many of them were dismantled, but a few, including MAPLEHILL, managed to escape this fate and lived to sail again.
In 1938, MAPLEHILL was rebuilt as a tanker at the Marine Industries Ltd. shipyard at Sorel, Quebec. At this time, a new steel texas and pilothouse were fitted and a trunk, which was almost the height of the after cabin, was built along the spar deck. During the rebuild, the steamer's two old Scotch boilers were taken out, and in their place were fitted two U. S. Shipping Board Scotch boilers that had been built in 1918 by the Allis Chalmers Company. (They had been built for World War One tonnage but were excess to requirements and had never been used.) A new and much taller stack also made its appearance during the refit, as did two new steel pipe masts. MAPLEHILL' original single steam whistle was removed during the reconstruction, and she was given instead a melodious triple-chime whistle. We are not certain of its origin, but it may well have come from another of the C.S.L. canallers that was broken up by Marine Industries at that time.
At the close of the 1942 navigation season, OAKBRANCH, along with PINEBRANCH, CEDARBRANCH (I) and WILLOWBRANCH (I), all of which were tankers rebuilt from C.S.L. bulk canallers, was requisitioned for wartime service in British coastal waters. The tankers were all taken to the east coast of Canada but, due to claims by their crews that they were unfit for ocean service, they lay for an extended period of time at Halifax, and PINEBRANCH never did go across the Atlantic.
OAKBRANCH finally did set out across the North Atlantic, and she arrived safely in British waters. She was then operated under the ownership of the British Ministry of War Transport, and was chartered to the Bulk Oil Steamship Company Ltd., London. In 1945, she was renamed (d) EMPIRE LIZARD. Then, with the war ended, she was sold in 1947 to the Basinghall Shipping Company Ltd., London, which renamed her (e) BASINGBROOK. She continued to operate in British waters for a short period of time, but she was getting old for a tanker and was nearing the end of her usefulness. Unlike other canallers that served overseas during the war, her former Canadian owners did not seek her out to bring her back to the lakes after the cessation of hostilities. The Basinghall Shipping Company Ltd. sold her for scrapping in 1949, and she was dismantled at Sunderland, England.
OAKBRANCH had been a fine-looking tanker and it was unfortunate that she did not return to the lakes after the war. Her career as a tanker on fresh water was brief, but that was perhaps not unexpected considering her age at the time of her conversion. Be that as it may, she would probably have enjoyed many more years of lake service had not the war intervened.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.