There have been many commercial and government ships on Georgian Bay over the years. Here we look at just a few that might be of interest.
By far the oldest steamer was the Midland City. Her original name was Maud when she slid down the ways at Kingston Marine Railway on Aug. 16, 1871. She was a composite of iron hull components made in Glasgow, Scotland, and machinery and wooden superstructure built at Kingston. She cost about $28,000.
A rebuild in 1895 also at Kingston lengthened her to 153 feet and saw her name changed to America. Her owner was an American company operating out of Cape St. Vincent, NY, and Kingston. She served various routes on eastern Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Somewhere on the internet is a photo of her with a huge carbon-arc searchlight on her wheelhouse, running the rapids on the St. Lawrence. At this stage of her life her iron hull was sheathed in wood for protection against rocks in the rapids. Her appearance became very similar to how she looked later on Georgian Bay.
Various ownership changes over the next two decades saw America eventually owned by the newly formed Canada Steamship Lines of Montreal, parent of Northern Navigation Co. Ltd. which had built and operated the steamer Waubic (see below) between Penetanguishene and Parry Sound from 1909 up to the end of the 1920 season when they discontinued that service.
This left a vacuum on the eastern shore of the Bay, so Midland shipping magnate James Playfair led a group of local business people to form the Georgian Bay Tourist Company of Midland Ltd. They bought the America late in 1920, brought her to Playfair’s Midland Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. and worked on her over the winter.
She would operate from Midland, not Penetanguishesn as preceding vessels serving the Inside Passage had. She would be renamed, but the first choice “City of Midland” was vetoed because a ship of that name had burned at Collingwood a few years earlier. Instead she became the Midland City with a new identity that would last another 35 years.
She was already a half-century old when she came to Midland. One of the group forming Georgian Bay Tourist Co. was Newton Wagg, owner of Wagg’s Laundry in Midland. He used boats to pick up and deliver linens from area hotels for laundering and knew something of the tourism side of the marine business.
(I remember, as a boat-crazy boy in the 1940s, often seeing a couple of “Wagg’s boats” prowling the channels around Honey Harbour and Cognashene with, I thought…didn’t know about the laundry service then…, passengers and freight for cottagers. One was a long-decked launch with a tiny lifeboat on top of the cabin. I can still hear in my mind the sound of her engine as she passed by. Another, perhaps newer, didn’t have the long deck or a lifeboat.)
The Midland City sank at the town dock in 1923 when her guard rail caught on the wharf as the lake level dropped during a storm. Water poured in through a porthole left open accidentally by a crew servicing machinery in the engine room.
In 1926 Wagg became president of the company and its subsidiary Honey Harbour Navigation Co. Ltd. The fleet grew to include five vessels — Midland City, City of Dover, West Wind, Waterbus, and the barge Imperial.
By 1933 the steamer was ready for a major refit at Midland Shipyard. Her steam propulsion gear and paddlewheels were removed and replaced with a pair of Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines each with its own propeller. Her steam whistle was replaced with an air horn. The editor of the Toronto Marine Historical Society, no doubt reflecting the opinion of residents along the shore, lamented:
“In the process of rebuilding she lost her melodious steam whistle that had become so well known as it echoed amongst the islands of the Bay. In its place an air horn was mounted on the new smoke stack.”
She also lost the trail of black coal smoke that cottagers watched for to determine how much time they had to get to the dock to meet her.
As the years went by, townsfolk and cottagers alike became very fond of the inter-island steamer. Over the final two decades of her life she had only one serious mishap.
In August 1934 while returning from an island cruise she struck a shallow spot near Present Island, poking a hole in her bottom. As she started going down by the stern the captain decided to beach her near the mouth of Sucker Creek on the mainland. She came to a halt on a sandbar with her bow up in the air.
She ran for nearly another 20 years before her inevitable retirement. In 1955 she was dismantled, and her weary 84-year-old hull was set afire at the mouth of the Wye River where the big marina is now located. Divers say her iron hull is still visible on the bottom.
Footnote – Credit and thanks must go to the Toronto Marine Historical Society and its newsletter The Scanner for much of the foregoing information, and details about some other vessels mentioned here. Shipping buffs could not do better than belonging to this group which strives for accuracy and completeness in its research.
City of Dover
In 1916 a man named W.F. Kolbe was having John Paasch build a small wooden steamer in Port Dover on Lake Erie’s north shore. She was the City of Dover. She was 75 feet long with beam of just over 20 feet.
One source suggests that originally she might have run from that port across the lake to Erie, Pennsylvania, carrying fish and passengers. When she was built her wheelhouse was at the forward end of the cabin on the main deck but well back from the bow, which must have given restricted visibility to the helmsman. After a new wheelhouse was built on top of the old, with an adjoining skipper’s cabin aft of it, the ship looked a little top-heavy but better visibility among the Bay’s intricate channels would have been worth it.
She came to Georgian Bay in 1921, joining the Georgian Bay Tourist Company fleet along with the Midland City (ex-America). The Dover ran a similar route among the islands as her bigger sister, sometimes going as far north as Point au Baril. The company also chartered her out for excursions and special trips carrying children and youths to summer camps.
Although some thought the Dover was a poorer sister to the Midland City, I always liked her tug boat style hull and quaint character. Her crew often were characters too, as recalled here:https://www.midlandtoday.ca/local-news/captain-mac-was-like-a-character-straight-out-of-central-casting-2314416
She spent a winter in the early 1960s dry-docked in the Port Severn lock, I believe so her bottom could be inspected. They must have found serious damage because from there she was moved up the Severn River to Lone Pine Lodge in Gloucester Pool where the owners hoped to moor her permanently as a recreation centre. Regrettably, that didn’t happen. I took a photo of her there, sadly listing to one side, her paint peeling — a dead ship.
The City of Dover‘s registry closed in 1960, stating that her keel was broken and she was dismantled, probably where I last saw her.
Preceding the Midland City and City of Dover was a vessel designed specifically for the daily Georgian Bay run, and built at Collingwood for the Northern Navigation Company. The SS Waubic was launched in 1909.
With various mergers of shipping companies in that period, Northern Navigation became a significant player on Georgian Bay. To invest in a new steel ship for the inter-island run shows they considered the service important.
The Waubic measured 134′ long, 25′ wide and 9.5′ deep. Apparently she had twin propellors. Like her sucessor the Midland City, her steel hull was sheathed in wood to protect the plating if grounded on the Bay’s granite reefs. We haven’t learned if that ever occurred.
She provided seasonal service on the inside passage for only a little over a decade, running mostly from Penetang and Midland to Parry Sound. Early cottagers on the Bay often made use of the service, but they weren’t very happy if their property was on the main channel, as the Waubic was notorious for throwing a large wake.
Her best known skipper (and maybe only one as she was on the run a brief eleven years) was Captain John “Punch” Dube. He must have had a bit of the rascal in him, because he often had a little fun at the tourists’ expense.
When a light breeze ripples the surface of the Bay, often there appear smooth patches among the wavelets. When asked about this, Capt. Punch would grin and say, “That’s where they cut out some ice last winter.”
In 1922 the ship was sold to a Kingston firm for use on the St. Lawrence and Thousand Islands. In 1934 she was in Lake Superior running between Port Arthur and Silver Islet. In 1937 she was on Lake Erie running Kingsville-Leamington-Pelee Island. After burning she was rebuilt with a pair of diesel engines. In 1943 she moved to salt water with Northumberland Ferries on the Nova Scotia-Prince Edward Island run. Fire again destroyed her at Pictou, NS, in 1959 and her registry closed.
If you have read the post titled Searching For The Waubuno you will know the sad story of her demise described in the links at the end of that post. Following is some background about the ship herself gleaned from several sources.
The Beatty family of Thorold on the Welland Canal had been looking for timber stands along the north and east shores of Georgian Bay to harvest commercially. They decided that Parry Sound would be a central location for a mill site, and one son William Beatty Jr. was given the job of establishing the business. An intelligent and ambitious young man, he liked the task and the place so much that the family bought the land around 1867 and laid out the town site, and even set rules for its development.
Early on it became necessary to ensure supplies for their lumbering interests and the town in general, so in 1865 the Beattys had a ship built by Melancthon Simpson at Port Robinson, near Thorold. She would provide a link between the railhead at Collingwood and the new village of Parry Sound. This was the Waubuno.
When the hull had been built and launched, the Beattys had her towed to Georgian Bay where her steam engine and machinery were installed at Collingwood. She then began service from that town.
According to Toronto Telegram columnist C.H.J. Snider writing in the early 1950s, the name Waubuno meant something like “Chief Morning Light” in one of the First Nations languages. I would prefer to believe that interpretation rather than a more ominous (but perhaps truer) definition I have heard of since about a storm brewing or some other fearful event.
The Waubuno was 135′ long by 18.25′ in beam and 7′ in depth, with gross tonnage of 185. She was built of wood, and powered by a vertical, or walking. beam steam engine turning a pair of paddlewheels.
She was put to work carrying freight and passengers, running from Collingwood to Sault Ste. Marie and return, stopping at Parry Sound and other small ports along the way. She was such a frequent visitor to Parry Sound that her preferred route to that port outside of Parry Island became known as, and still is, the Waubuno Channel.
In 1876 John and Thomas Long formed the Georgian Bay Navigation Co. serving the Bay and running as far as Sault Ste. Marie. It is believed this company owned the Waubuno at the time of her demise. Perhaps the Beattys, or at least William, owned shares in the company as his interests were so dependent on marine transportation at the time. Also, his relatives were busy establishing the “Beatty Line” in Sarnia with service to the Lakehead. It eventually became the Northern Navigation Co. Ltd.
During her 14-year lifespan the Waubuno became a life-line of sorts to many people living around the east and north shores of the Bay, and one might believe was considered “their” ship. One of her early skippers had been Capt. Peter M. Campbell, of Collingwood, popularly known as “Black Pete” for his black hair and beard. This colourful mariner in 1882 became something of a hero for his efforts in saving lives as his steamer Manitoulin burned near Manitowaning with 11 people drowning.
At the time of her wreck the skipper was a Captain Burkett and her engineer was McQuade, both of whom have places named after them in the vicinity of the wreck..
“Queen of the Lakes”
During a low water cycle on the Great Lakes in the early 1920s, ship captains worried about their vessels grounding while carrying their expected loads along shallower waterways. They wondered if shipbuilders could design one to be long and wide but not quite so deep.
Midland ship owner and builder James Playfair heard them. He asked his Midland Shipbuilding Company to research such a vessel. The result was Glenmohr, launched in 1926. She was the largest ship on the Lakes, earning her that “Queen” title in the above heading. She was 621′ long, 70.16′ wide, and had 29′ of moulded depth.
While she was still fitting out, the big new bulk freighter and her fleet-mates were sold by Playfair and company to Canada Steamship Lines, which renamed her Lemoyne.
Soon after her sea trials the big freighter steamed on her maiden voyage to Lake Erie and proceeded to set a new record for coal cargoes on the Great Lakes, one which she was later to surpass at least twice.
Lemoyne seldom carried less than a half-million bushels of grain on a trip. In the next few years she claimed records for wheat, oats, rye, corn and mixed grain. During World War 2 she was pressed into service as an ore carrier and set another record in 1942.
In 1932 the Welland Canal had been rebuilt to accommodate longer ships. CSL was asked to have Lemoyne break a huge ribbon across the canal to mark the event, after which she floated in Lake Ontario for the first time.
As the St. Lawrence Seaway was completed in 1959, in Spring 1960 Lemoyne was at the head of a string of ships waiting to steam up the new waterway. One marine reporter described her as “still a doughty matron of the inland seas” as she led the way upstream.
She spent the winter of 1968 in her home port of Midland, and later that spring steamed out for the last time. The following spring Lemoyne was sold for scrapping in Santander, Spain. She was 43 years on the lakes, a respectable age for a hard working bulk carrier. At the end she set one last record as the largest and newest lake ship to be scrapped to that time.
Back in the 1950s and ’60s the Canadian Coast Guard buoy tender C.P. Edwards was a familiar sight around the Bay. Built at Collingwood in 1946, she was intended to serve as a military supply ship in the South China Sea with the name Ottawa Mayhill. Instead, when launched after World War 2 she was owned by the federal Department of Transport and named for a deputy minister, Charles Peter Edwards.
For over two decades this humble workhorse of the Parry Sound marine depot faithfully supplied lighthouses and serviced navigation aids on the upper lakes without much fanfare. Her very first officers in 1947 are believed to have been Capt. Jerry Masales and first mate George Johnston both of Parry Sound, and Chief Engineer George Smallwood and Second Engineer Richardson both of Midland.
The latter two tended the Edwards‘ triple-expansion steam engine, one of the very last of its kind installed in a ship anywhere. That engine is now displayed at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. Another unique feature of the ship, I believe, was that her steam whistle originally came from the Midland City after she was converted to diesel power.
The C.P. Edwards was 142′ long, 27′ in beam, and had 10′ of draft, with gross tonnage of 338. She was decommissioined in 1972. After being purchased by Peter LePage and laid up at Penetanguishene, she was sold again and ultimately scrapped in 1976.
So just maybe somebody somewhere has in their recreation room the Midland City‘s steam whistle, so loved by cottagers on the Inside Passage…? (See her story above.)