In the December issue each year, we take a few moments to pass along Holiday Greetings to our members and to reflect upon the current navigation season. It seems even more appropriate that we should do so in this, our twentieth year of bringing "Scanner" to the members. Back when the founders brought together the nucleus of what would eventually become the Toronto Marine Historical Society, little did they realize how strong and vibrant the group would still be more than two decades down the road.
In recent years, we seldom have had good news to pass along when reviewing developments on the shipping scene. Not only have economic conditions been abysmal, but an incredible string of accidents and Seaway blockades stifled shipping when cargoes were there to be moved. Things began to improve, at least in the grain trade, during 1986, and the strike of grain handlers in late summer guaranteed a busy autumn for almost every available ship.
The grain rush continued in the spring of 1987, with most vessels again running as hard as they could. There was the threat of an S.I.U. strike in late spring, but a last-minute settlement avoided a stoppage of marine traffic. The summer was quiet, with grain movements to the U.S.S.R. halted during July, August and September, but the grain began to move in early October and almost all of the Canadian vessels fitted out again. A strike by engineering officers had little effect on any of the fleets, and a potentially serious threat to shipping was eliminated when settlement was reached in a labour dispute involving Seaway workers who had threatened to strike. The only difficulty this autumn has been the shortage of loaded railway grain cars at Thunder Bay, and we will hear more about this problem in the months ahead.
On the U.S. side of the lakes, things have remained sluggish, with the steel industry still in the doldrums and with most of the U.S. export grain going to salt water via barges on the Mississippi River system rather than in lake freighters. One surprisingly bright note was the unexpected reactivation by the USS Great Lakes Fleet Inc. of its 15-year-old, 833-foot, self-unloader ROGER BLOUGH, which had been laid up at Sturgeon Bay since the autumn of 1981. Most observers had expected that this ship would shortly be sold for scrap, and it has been heartening indeed to see her back in service.
Happily, bridges along the Seaway have continued to operate properly as have the system's locks. The only exception has been the Canadian Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, operated by Parks Canada, and which was closed in late July as a result of a structural failure. This lock, however, carries little commercial tonnage and its closure has had little effect except to force the Corps of Engineers to open the third U.S. lock in order to handle the hordes of pleasure craft and "ice-cream boats" which had no alternative but to use the American canal.
However, the legacy of the poor economic years still hangs like a black shadow over the lakes in the form of blank orderbooks at those lake shipyards which still function. Not one new lake freighter was ordered from a Canadian or U.S. lake shipyard during 1987, and in early November the Bay Shipbuilding Corporation delivered SEA-LAND KODIAK, the last large commercial vessel under construction at ANY shipyard in the United States. How times have changed'. And even those few shipyards that remain are facing a gloomy future, with no prospect of anything but repair work in the foreseeable offing.
On the other hand, the parade of old and not-so-old lakers to the breakers' yards in North America and overseas has continued unabated. Some very familiar vessels passed from the scene during 1987 as both the U.S. and Canadian fleets continued their purge of idle tonnage. The trend has been particularly strong on the U.S. side of the lakes, where there has been little upturn in cargo availability (in contrast to the Canadian grain rush). This has led to the scrapping of many vessels that we once had considered to be "untouchable", such as the wartime-built "Maritimers" and "Supers". They seemed so new just a very few years ago, when time did not seem to pass by quite as quickly...
We lost several prominent T.M.H.S. members during 1987, namely Frank Crevier, Harry Wolf and Milton Brown. All of these gentlemen were well known in the marine fraternity and all had made considerable contributions to the field of marine history. We shall miss them.
The summer of 1987 was a beautiful one for shipwatching, with warm weather and lots of sunshine. The sun also shone on the ships, for apart from a few strandings, there were very few marine accidents of any note, and for this we may all be extremely grateful. It is our fervent hope that all of our many members and friends in the shipping industry had as pleasant and safe a navigation season as possible. We wish them all the best for 1988, with good weather and plentiful cargoes. Indeed, we hope that the coming year will be a superb one for all of our members and, of course, for the Toronto Marine Historical Society itself.
But now, as the skies and waters of the Great Lakes take on the familiar grey of winter, as the snows obscure the horizons, and as the haze rises from the cold waters, the lake ships are scurrying to collect and deliver their last cargoes of the year before heading for the calm and safety of winter quarters. We wish them all safe passage.
And to all of the many members of our steadily growing family, the Toronto Marine Historical Society, we extend our very best wishes for a Merry Christmas and for all possible Happiness in the New Year. Take care, friends, and may 1988 bring to you all a full measure of love, health and success.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.