Captain Nickerson

A familiar name around Georgian Bay ports over a century ago was Nickerson. Capt. Charles J. Nickerson was one of them. His story might have been typical of how a young man of that period carved out his maritime career. He was featured in The Globe newspaper of Toronto’s series “Prominent Men of the Great Lakes” on June 11, 1898.

He was born at Columbus, north of Oshawa, and educated at Uxbridge and Midland, where presumably the family had moved.

“For a time,” writes The Globe, “with his father and two brothers, he was sawmilling. The firm having bought a tug, young Nickerson was put in command, and his elder brother, who had a practical knowledge of engineering, was chief mate.

“Through several years experience in the tug Jubilee he became well versed in the navigation of the Georgian Bay, and shipped on the steamer Atlantic, sailing between Collingwood and Mackinac. Then he sailed in the steamer Baltic.”

(The Atlantic had been built on the remains of the Manitoulin which had burned in 1882 near Manitowaning killing 30. The Atlantic also burned in the main channel to Parry Sound in 1903 with no loss of life. The Baltic was formerly the popular Owen Sound steamer Frances Smith. She also burned during layup in Collingwood in 1896.)

“Wishing further knowledge of the north shore of Georgian Bay, Capt. Nickerson shipped in the steamer Northern Belle on the run between Collingwood and Killarney, touching at French River, Parry Sound and Midland. That was during the years 1893 and 1894.”

(Northern Belle also burned, in 1896 at Byng Inlet. As you will have noted, fire was a common hazard for wooden steamers. There is a photo of the historic steamer Chicora moored at Collingwood. In the foreground is a man standing under a No Smoking sign puffing on his pipe!)

“He (Nickerson) and his brother built the steam yacht Odessa, of which the captain, having secured a certificate as master, took command in 1895, with his brother as chief mate. This vessel still runs (as of 1898) between Midland and Victoria House (today’s Delawana Resort) at Honey Harbour.”

Odessa was a 32-foot vessel built at Collingwood in 1894 for one Al Nickerson (Charles’ brother?). Its registry was closed in 1910. In 1900 A. L. Nickerson and C.T.(J?) Nickerson had the 70-foot steamer City Queen built at Midland. She is shown in several photos in Honey Harbour. This steamer is listed as also having burned near Manitou Dock in 1924.

Were these brothers the founders of Nickerson’s Cottage Resort in Honey Harbour, later Emery O’Rourke’s and then Admiral’s marinas? If you know, please reply below.

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