The Smith's Dock Canallers Revisited

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Our Goof...
Ship of the Month No. 165 Caribou
The Smith's Dock Canallers Revisited
Table of Illustrations

It will be recalled that we featured the canallers GREY BEAVER and BROWN BEAVER in the March issue, and that earlier we featured AYCLIFFE HALL. They were but three of a group of eleven steam canallers built by Smith's Dock in 1928 and 1929. It seems that, around the end of the Second War, one of the eleven "dishpans" was on the Kingston drydock and was visited by a Mr. Reed, naval architect of the Smith's Dock Company, who also was the designer of the famous wartime Corvettes. Reed reminisced to Donald Page of Kingston about the building of the sistership canallers.

When Smith's Dock contracted to build the first of the class for the Hall Corporation, it was called upon to design the largest ship that could use the old St. Lawrence canals. Nobody could state for sure the exact dimensions of the locks; the government gave the company a drawing of one of the locks to study, but advised that the sizes of the locks varied considerably, the smallest of them all being Lock 17 of the Cornwall Canal. The stonework of one of that lock's walls had bulged inward over the years (just like the wall of the Canadian Soo lock last year), and it had never been repaired.

Smith's Dock had Bassett-Lowke, the well-known London ship modellers, come to Canada to build a scale model of Lock 17, with the assistance of which the shipyard designed the largest boat that could fit the chamber. The beam of 44.1 feet, noted in the register, was the beam at deck level only, for the ship's sides down to the upper turn of the bilge actually had a reverse tumblehome to the true beam at that point (43.8'). Thus maximum advantage was taken of the sloping lock walls for the greatest cubic capacity. At a draft of 14'2", this class of canaller carried about 92,000 bushels of grain, not quite the 100,000 bushels for which the designers had aimed, but still a considerable improvement over other canallers. (They were, however, surpassed in capacity by the 110,000 bushels achieved by the famous "Red Barges".)

In length, the eleven sisters could not be exceeded. If one of them was locking downbound, and if another ship entered the lock above, the displaced water flowing over the upper gate fell on the steamer's stern because she filled the lock so completely. If the boat was loaded to the ruling canal draft of l4'0" to 14'2" and was at the lower level of any lock, the only way to get her moving out of the chamber was to winch her out gently using the mooring cables. If the engine was started to get the ship moving, only a few revolutions of the screw would flush the small amount of water out from beneath the ship and leave her sitting on the lock bottom. In fact, when the lock was dumped level with the lower pool, only one or two inches of water would be under her bottom, and no more than six inches along one side.

Donald Page comments that the Hall canallers of the class were delivered at Montreal, with their first cargo of British coal, for under $100,000 each. They were excellent ships (and the price was exceptional by today's standards) but their engines and boilers were very plainly finished and barely were adequate for the job required. Any headwind or sea soon had the ship's speed down to about six knots! It is interesting to note that the famous Smith's Dock Company, a first-rate shipyard, remained in business for many years and only closed down its operations in February of 1987. As far as the model of Lock 17 is concerned, Donald Page remembers that for many years it was in the canal office at Cornwall. He wonders if anyone knows where the model might be today, if it still exists.



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