In the last twenty years, we have seen many great changes in the vessels operating on our lakes. Gone are the large numbers of smaller and older steamers and in their place we have today a much more efficient fleet comprised of large modern ships. As if rapidly advancing marine technology had not been enough to do in the older lakers, the poor business conditions of the last several years sealed their fate. Today, only a handful of older vessels remain on the lakes, and of those only a few which have been converted for specialty trades have any substantial hope of survival.
Back in the mid-1960s, however, many of the fleets on both the Canadian and U.S. sides of the lakes were still operating what might best be described as veteran lake steamers. It was not uncommon for ships that were sixty or seventy years of age to be operating regularly, and that era proved to be a photographer's paradise. One fleet in particular, that of Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., Toronto, had a particularly large number of elderly steamers in its employ, and most of them saw regular service in the grain trade. It would not be long, however, until such vessels reached the end of their usefulness, and within a decade almost all of them were gone. Nevertheless, three of them found permanent homes at Toronto, where today they are still serving as part of a very visible breakwater. Two of those steamers have already been featured in these pages, and it seems appropriate that we now tell the story of the third.
The steamer HOWARD L. SHAW was built as a bulk carrier by the Detroit Shipbuilding Company at Wyandotte, Michigan. Constructed as that yard's Hull 136, she was launched on Saturday, September 15, 1900. The SHAW was 439.5 feet in length, 51.4 feet in the beam, and 23.9 feet in depth, and her tonnage was originally calculated as 4901 Gross and 3802 Net. She was powered by a triple expansion engine, which developed 1,150 Indicated Horsepower, and which had cylinders of 22, 35 and 58 inches, and a stroke of 42 inches. Steam was provided by two coal-fired, single-ended Scotch boilers, which measured 13 l/6 feet by 12 feet. The engine and the boilers were all built for the vessel by the shipyard.
HOWARD L. SHAW (U.S.96524) was built to the order of the Eddy-Shaw Transit Company of Bay City, Michigan. She was named in honour of Captain Howard Lanridge Shaw, who was master of a number of vessels in the Eddy-Shaw fleet and who, as mentioned in our Mid-Summer issue, was the first commander of the company's steamer PENOBSCOT when she was commissioned in 1895. Captain Shaw's father also had been a master in the fleet, and both father and son were involved in the management of the shipping line, along with the Eddy family. HOWARD L. SHAW was an almost exact sistership of SIMON J. MURPHY (II), which had been built at the same shipyard as its Hull 135, and which had been launched on June 23, 1900. The two handsome steamers were specifically designed to transport iron ore which was produced by the Eddy-owned Penobscot Mine, and which was consigned to the Union Steel Company.
The SHAW was built with a "half" forecastle, which had a closed steel rail running the full length of the forecastle head and a raised section of that rail at its forward end. On the forecastle was positioned the texas, which contained the master's quarters, and forward of this cabin was a small turret-style (rounded) pilothouse. On the monkey's island above was located an open navigation bridge which was protected by a closed rail. This area could be further sheltered from the elements by means of a canvas weathercloth, strung on the rail, and an awning which could be stretched overhead. The SHAW and the MURPHY were always readily identifiable by virtue of the seven extremely tall sectioned windows that were located in the front of their pilothouses, these windows being much larger than those carried by most other steamers built in that period.
The foremast was stepped right through the after portion of the texas, and it was very heavily raked. Down the spar deck, the SHAW carried twelve hatches, and aft of the tenth hatch was located a "doghouse" in which some of the crew members were accommodated. The mainmast rose out of the deck immediately abaft the eleventh hatch. This cluttered deck arrangement must have made the loading and unloading of the steamer a difficult job indeed, eve if ore docks of the day were not blessed with the most sophisticated machinery . Indeed, it was the development of more efficient cargo-handling rigs that led to the decline in popularity of mid-deck masts and doghouses, for these proved to be obstructive to the operation of unloading gear. It was for the same reason that heavily raked masts soon passed out of fashion.
HOWARD L. SHAW carried a large after cabin, which featured large windows, and which was surrounded by a closed taffrail and sheltered from above by a prominent overhang of the boat deck. All of these features remained with the steamer for her entire life. Bunker coal was originally loaded through a hatch in the spar deck, but increased bunker capacity was later achieved through the addition of a steel boilerhouse (attached to the forward end of the after cabin) through which the bunkers passed. Two lifeboats, one on each side, were carried far forward on the boat deck and were worked from radial davits. The boat deck also sported large clerestories which admitted light and gave ventilation to the mess areas and to the engineroom. A well-raked stack, very heavy but of only medium height, rose through the forward portion of the after cabin.
The SHAW was, we believe (for no one of whom we are aware can verify the colours of this long-gone fleet), painted black, with white forecastle and cabins, and an all-black stack. Her name was inscribed in large white letters on her bows, on the sides of the taffrail, and in a graceful curve across her handsome counter stern. It is interesting to note that the SHAW carried her stern anchor from a hawsehole centred in the fantail immediately below her name, whereas many of the steamers of her day carried the stern anchor up on deck and worked it from a heavy radial davit.
When the SHAW's operation was taken over by the Pittsburgh fleet, she was given that company's very distinctive colours. Her hull was painted a very dark green, and her cabins became a straw colour. Her stack was all silver and although it looked very smart painted that way, her crew was kept busy washing away the accumulations of soot which, as might have been expected, collected there. Commencing in 1906, the Pittsburgh boats took on new and rather more practical (although less distinctive) colours. Accordingly, the SHAW's hull became red with green trim, her cabins became white, and her silver stack was given a wide black smokeband. Not only did these changes make her funnel more easy to keep clean-looking, but they also made streaks of ore dust less visible than they had been on her previous green hull. The change in colours made little difference as far as photographers of the day were concerned, for their cameras were not able to differentiate between the colour schemes (except, of course, for the black smokeband). Nevertheless, we rather wish that the fleet had retained its original and very attractive colours so that they might have been captured on today's colour films.
Such an incident could prove embarrassing in the extreme to the vessel that inadvertently attempted to pass between a steamer and her barge, and it is fortunate that few such occurrences actually took place. (The SHAW herself often towed barges, as can be seen from the towline running out from her stern in the first picture on our photopage in this issue.) In this case, however, the steel towline between CORALIA and MAIA caught the SHAW in the bows, ripping away her starboard anchor and mangling the upper portion of her stem. It then passed up and over her bow and, as the momentum of the SHAW carried her forward, the cable stripped away her navigation bridge, levelled both masts and her stack, and cleared away all of the fittings on the after cabin roof, including the ventilators, lifeboats, davits and clerestories. The cable then passed over her stern and back into its normal position between the towing steamer and her barge.
Tugs were sent to the aid of the stripped SHAW, and she was towed to the Soo and then down the lakes to unload her cargo of iron ore. She was then repaired and soon was back in service. It would appear that it was at this time that her mainmast was relocated aft of the stack, and that she was given a new upper pilothouse. This new structure was, in the fashion of the day, a rather flimsy wooden cabin which provided only the most rudimentary shelter against the elements. It had nine wide but rather shallow windows in its rounded front, and it was only slightly larger in circumference than the old pilothouse below. The contrast between the shape of the windows in the upper and lower pilothouses again made the SHAW easily recognizable, even from a great distance.
By 1922, the SHAW, still operating for the "Steel Trust" fleet, was clearly in need of updating, and accordingly she was sent to the shipyard for an extensive refurbishing. Taken in hand by the Toledo Shipbuilding Company, she was given two new coal-fired, single-ended Scotch boilers, which measured 14 1/2 feet by 10 1/2 feet, and which greatly increased the availability of steam for her engine and her auxiliaries. Structural improvements carried out at the same time altered her tonnage to 4241 Gross and 3064 Net. It was not likely at this time, but rather a few years later (although we are not certain of the exact date) that the SHAW was given a new upper pilothouse. Still of the turret type, it was considerably larger than the old wooden structure. When this new steel pilothouse was added, the windows in the lower house were plated over and were replaced by portholes. The new upper cabin was supported by angled braces from the lower house. There were nine large windows in the front of the new house, with a door on each side (accessible from the texas roof or via steps from the forecastle) and one window on each side abaft the door. There was also a wide steel sunvisor over the pilothouse windows. The new pilothouse was to remain on the ship for the rest of her active days and it is interesting to note that it never was surrounded by a catwalk as were many of the turret pilothouses then common on the lakes .
HOWARD L. SHAW may have been updated rather considerably by these improvements, but she was hardly one of the more modern vessels of the Pittsburgh Steamship fleet. Accordingly, during the years of the Great Depression in the 1930s, HOWARD L. SHAW, along with a great many of the other "tinstackers" (including her sistership, SIMON J. MURPHY, which had received the same sort of rebuild as had the SHAW), spent much of her time in idleness. The great fleet had built a number of large new steamers, and the SHAW had become one of the smallest ships in the fleet, her usefulness as a carrier of iron ore having diminished rather remarkably. Consequently, she was considered to be expendable tonnage, and when the opportunity arose to dispose of her, the Pittsburgh Steamship Company was only too happy to oblige.
Accordingly, in 1940, the SHAW was sold to the Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Company Ltd., of Toronto, for use in the grain trade. Her registry was transferred from Duluth to Toronto and she was enrolled as C. 172356. Her new owners sent her to the shipyard at Collingwood for refurbishing, and the Canadian surveyors recalculated her tonnage as 4769 Gross and 3547 Net.
HOWARD L. SHAW was a valuable addition to the Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence fleet which, up until the early 1940s, had been composed mostly of canallers. She ran regularly in the grain trade, looking very little changed from her years in the Pittsburgh fleet. Her hull had become black, while her cabins were white with buff trim and her stack was red with a black top. The SHAW was a steady performer for her new owner, not blessed with an overabundance of power but still carrying out her duties in an efficient manner. Some of the steamers in the fleet towed barges, the company having purchased a number of barges at the same time that it acquired its various upper lake steamers, but the SHAW was not one of those that regularly pulled a barge and such duties were usually left to the more powerful steamers.
HOWARD L. SHAW made the headlines of the lakes area press on several occasions during her Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence years. One of those occurred just before the advent of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was to cause major changes in the company's fleet and would produce a modernization of the fleet that would eventually lead to the demise of the SHAW. On Saturday, December 13, 1958, the SHAW was downbound on her last trip of the season, with a cargo of grain from Fort William for Goderich. Winter weather had come early to the lakes that year, and a large amount of ice had formed in the St. Mary's River. A convoy of twelve ships, of which the SHAW was the last in line, had made it downbound as far as Lake Nicolet on Friday, December 12, and had spent the night in the lake before attempting to run an ice jam which had formed in the Neebish Rock Cut. On the morning of the 1. , the convoy started off downbound and the first eleven ships made it through the narrow channel.
HOWARD L. SHAW, however, encountered a solid mass of jammed ice, which was estimated to be at least 24 feet thick, the formation of this pack having been caused in part by the passage through the channel of the preceding vessels. The SHAW did not have enough power to push her way through the ice and she became stuck fast, angled across the cut. The steamer blocked the downbound channel completely, and another convoy of eleven downbound vessels was forced to go to anchor pending the release of the SHAW. The U.S. Coast Guard tug ARUNDEL put a line on the stern of the SHAW and attempted to pull her back upstream into a patch of open water, but her efforts were at first unsuccessful. Eventually, however, ARUNDEL, assisted by U.S.C.G. MESQUITE and the powerful tug LAURENCE C. TURNER of the Great Lakes Towing Company, managed to free the SHAW and get her moving downbound once again.
In the meantime, however, many photographs had been taken of the SHAW in her icy predicament, and some of those appeared on the front pages of the newspapers. It was occurrences such as the one that involved the SHAW that convinced the U.S. Coast Guard to close the Neebish Rock Cut when ice formed and to run two-way traffic through the Middle Neebish Channel, which normally is used only for upbound traffic but which is easier to keep open under severe ice conditions.
In 1961, the Upper Lakes and St. Lawrence Transportation Company Ltd., having shifted its operations so as to become a more complete lake shipping concern after the opening of the Seaway, reorganized as Upper Lakes Shipping Ltd., Toronto. The only major change in the existing vessels was the addition of a black diamond, outlined in white, which was positioned on the ships' stacks so that it was centred on the bottom edge of the smokeband. The company had committed itself to the construction (or conversion) of a number of modern carriers that were taking over the grain trade from the Lakehead to the St. Lawrence River ports, and so the SHAW and her other veteran fleetmates operated mainly on the shorter hauls to the Bayports, Goderich, Port Colborne and Toronto. It was on these routes, where she could operate more economically than in Seaway trade, that the SHAW was destined to finish out her operating career. Unfortunately, however, she was shortly to be involved in one of the nastiest incidents ever to occur on the lakes.
If 1962 was a bad season for Upper Lakes Shipping, 1963 proved to be even worse. On Monday, April 22, 1963, the SHAW arrived in the Calumet River at Chicago to load grain. Her trip up the river was a difficult one, as local tugs refused to assist her and bridge operators delayed in opening their spans so that the vessel could pass. HOWARD L. SHAW lay at Chicago for four and a half months waiting to load, her owner refusing to give in to the pressure being exerted by the opposing unions. During her lengthy stay at Chicago, the SHAW several times ran short of food and bunkers, her crew members were in considerable personal danger, and the vessel herself was pelted with garbage. The violence came to a head on Saturday, September 7, 1963, when a dynamite charge exploded and tore a hole in the port side of the steamer's hull. Repairs were put in hand, but Upper Lakes Shipping felt obliged to remove the SHAW from Chicago in order to ensure her safety and that of her crew. The steamer sailed without her intended grain cargo and moved to a Canadian port. Upper Lakes was not prepared to give up the struggle, however, and the company fitted out its veteran whaleback steamer JOHN ERICSSON, which had been laid up at Goderich, and sailed her to Chicago to take up the battle in place of the SHAW.
HOWARD L. SHAW continued in service for Upper Lakes Shipping through the mid-1960s but her usefulness to the fleet was drawing to a close. The company had added many larger and newer vessels to its operations and no longer required the services of the older and less economical steamers that had served the fleet for so many years. In the late autumn of 1967, the SHAW laid up at Toronto with a storage cargo of grain for Maple Leaf Mills, and she never sailed under her own power again. She remained idle through the 1968 navigation season, spending most of her time lying alongside DOUGLASS HOUGHTON in the old Spadina Avenue slip.
Another veteran Upper Lakes Shipping steamer, the "VICTORIOUS, was retired at the close of the 1968 season, and she too laid up at Toronto with a storage cargo. In the spring of 1969, neither VICTORIOUS nor the SHAW or HOUGHTON fitted out, and all three steamers were eventually sold to the Government of Ontario, the sale being negotiated through the Toronto Harbour Commission. The Ontario government was, at the time, beginning construction on its recreational showpiece, Ontario Place, located on the shore of Lake Ontario, just to the south of Exhibition Park and west of downtown Toronto.
HOWARD L. SHAW, DOUGLASS HOUGHTON and VICTORIOUS were towed across Toronto Harbour and were moored inside the inner end of the old east pier of the Eastern Gap, just north of the "Government Preserve" in which the lightkeeper's residence was located. During the months of June and July, all three vessels were stripped of their superstructure and were loaded with sand and stone. Meanwhile, a special "bed" of stone was being prepared for the ships along the outer edge of the Ontario Place development.
On Friday, July 4th, 1969, HOWARD L. SHAW was taken in tow by the Canadian Dredge and Dock tug G. W. ROGERS, and she was pulled across the harbour and out the Western Gap. She was positioned with her port quarter along the Ontario Place landfill and her bow pointing in a southeasterly direction. Additional fill was then loaded into the ship until she settled firmly on the bottom in 28 feet of water. To form a crescent-shaped breakwater, VICTORIOUS was sunk bow-to-bow with the SHAW, while the HOUGHTON was placed stern to-stern against VICTORIOUS. The decks of the three boats were then capped to form a promenade. An observation platform was built on the forecastle of the HOUGHTON, and from a distance it looks much like a pilothouse when viewed from the east, across the harbour, looking into the setting sun.
To this day, the hulls of the three famous old steamers are still highly visible on the Ontario Place waterfront, their names still proudly displayed as a tribute to their many years of service on the Great Lakes. It is to be hoped that the many visitors to the area, both those ashore and those on board the numerous pleasure craft that frequent the area, are aware of the almost two hundred years of stalwart service that these steamers together gave to their U.S. and Canadian owners during their active careers.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.