Month: March 2017

HMS ST LAWRENCE (1814 – 1832)

St Lawrence had her keel laid on 12 April 1814, and was launched on 10 September 1814. British naval commodore Sir James Lucas Yeo commissioned her as his flagship, with Captain Frederick Hickey as Flag Captain, in the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard in Kingston, Upper Canada. The ship cost Britain £500,000 or over CA$120 million in today’s dollars.
At the time, Lake Ontario was effectively landlocked for any but the smallest vessels, due to shallow water and rapids on the St. Lawrence River downstream and Niagara Falls upstream. As a result, warships operating on Lake Ontario had to be built on site, either in Kingston or in the American naval dockyards at Sackets Harbor, or converted from merchant ships already operating in the lake.
Control of the lake, which was the most important supply route for the British for military operations to the west, had passed back and forth between the Americans and the British over the course of the war. The construction of a first rate ship of the line, in a campaign that had been dominated by sloops and frigates, gave the British uncontested control of the lake during the final months of the war. HMS St Lawrence never saw action, because her presence on the lake deterred the U.S. fleet from setting sail.
After the war ended in 1815, the ship was decommissioned. In January 1832, the hull was sold to Robert Drummond for £25. Between May and August, the hull was towed out of Navy Bay. It later formed the end of a pier attached to Morton’s Brewery in Kingston and was used as a storage facility by the brewery, for cordwood among other materials. Later, it was sunk in 30 feet (9.1 m) of water close to shore at 44°13′14″N 76°30′18″W and is now a popular diving attraction.


1923 The wooden steamer JAMES P. DONALDSON was built in 1880 and often worked in the lumber trade. At the end, it was used by N.M. Paterson & Sons Ltd. to bring wet grain to the company elevator for drying. The ship caught fire at the Canadian Lakehead on this date and the remains were sunk off Isle Royale, Lake Superior, on May 6, 1923.


Other names : none

Official no. : C116575

Type at loss : propeller, wood, bulk freight

Build info : 1880, Anderson & Holland, Marine City, MI [US# 76183]

Specs : 185x30x12 522g 426n

Date of loss : 1923, Mar 18

Place of loss : at Thunder Bay, Ont.

Lake : Superior

Type of loss : fire

Loss of life : none

Carrying : empty

Detail : She caught fire and burned to a total loss at her winter layup dock at the Paterson elevator. The remaining hulk was towed out and scuttled near the Welcome Islands May 6, 1923.

Sold Canadian, 1922. Owned by Paterson Steamship Lines.

Heavily damaged in a fire at Bay City, MI, in Dec, 1898.

Sources: ns3,mv,csv,mpl,rf

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Categories: Lake Superior


Located off the Nine Mile Graveyard  N44 06 966 W76 33 652  Here are some tidbits I have found over the years.

Propeller SARNOR.* Official Canadian Number 133824. Built at West Bay City, Mich., U.S.A. in 1888, rebuilt at Marine City, Mich., U.S.A in 1896. Of 1319 gross tons; 1152 tons reg. Home port, Montreal, Que. Owned by Frederick R. Johnson, of Port Colborne, Ont. 227.6 x 43.1 x 16.6 and 95 horse power.
* Foreign name, BRITANNIC, a recovered wreck.
List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion
of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1920

Steam screw BRITANNIC. U. S. No. 3400. Of 1,121.90 tons gross; 904.34 tons net. Built West Bay City, Mich., 1888. Home port, Cleveland, Ohio. 219.2 x 36.2 x 17.0
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1895
Most of the ships which we have featured in these pages over the past few years have been ships which were particularly famous for one reason or another. They may have been of an unusual design, or have participated in some history-making event, or perhaps even have done nothing more remarkable than to serve one particular route for such a long period of time that they became institutions to local observers. But this month’s feature ship did nothing such as that. In fact, she was a particularly nondescript wooden bulk carrier and probably only the most avid and exacting Great Lakes marine historians have ever heard of her. But SARNOR, even if not famous in her own right, was involved in one of the most interesting and unbelievable legal hassles ever to occur on the lakes. Read on and you’ll see what we mean.


SARNOR began life back in 1888 when she was built at West Bay City, Michigan, by the well-known shipbuilder James Davidson. Christened BRITANNIC and given official number U.S. 3400, she measured 219.2 feet in length, 36.2 feet in the beam and 17.0 feet in depth. Her Gross Tonnage was recorded as 1,121. For the first few years of her career, BRITANNIC was operated by Captain Davidson in his own fleet, an operation which was, over the years, to include some of the largest and most famous wooden freight steamers ever built on the lakes.This part of BRITANNIC’s career was, however, to come to an end after only six years. According to the History of the Great Lakes published in 1899 by J. H. Beers and Company, Chicago, BRITANNIC was wrecked in 1894 on Lake Michigan. This was not the end of the steamer, however, for she was salvaged and in 1896 was rebuilt at Marine City, Michigan, the vessel having been acquired by Henry McMorran of Port Huron. The reconstruction finished, she emerged with a length of 227.6 feet, a beam of 36.0 feet and a depth of 21.3 feet. Her new tonnage was registered as 1,319 Gross and 1,152 Net.

McMorran operated BRITANNIC for a good few years, primarily in the lumber trade, but in 1912 she was acquired by H. M. Morris of Cleveland and Montreal. Officially owned by the Lake Erie and Quebec Transportation Company, Ltd., Montreal, she was transferred to Canadian registry (C.133828) and was renamed (b) SARNOR. Not much is known about the Lake Erie and Quebec operations but it seems reasonable to assume that SARNOR was used mainly in the lower lakes and St. Lawrence River coal trade. The service, however, does not seem to have been successful and by 1916 SARNOR was out of service and up for sale. Her story for the next decade is one of the strangest we have ever heard and we base our narrative on details as reported in a 1926 issue of Canadian Engineering and Marine World.

SARNOR was bought at auction by A. B. MacKay of Hamilton on April 1, 1916 for the princely sum of $6,700 and was placed in service under the command of Captain F. R. Johnson. While MacKay actually owned SARNOR, he had her registered in Capt. Johnson’s name, an agreement having been drawn up as to how the vessel’s earnings were to be divided. Percy Bonham, who was connected with Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., was also a party to this agreement.

Although Capt. Johnson was SARNOR’s first master under MacKay’s ownership, he was later replaced by Capt. J. P. McLeod who was in command of the ship when she went into drydock at Ogdensburg for repairs in August 1917. At that time Capt. Johnson and Percy Bonham claimed to be equitable owners of 60% of the value of the ship. Johnson and Bonham had certain negotiations with Capt. J. W. Norcross who was Vice-President and Managing Director of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., and a short time thereafter Norcross managed to obtain a duplicate register for SARNOR. He proceeded to take possession of the vessel on October 23, 1917. A. B. MacKay then obtained an injunction to hold up this somewhat strange transaction and it was served at Cornwall on October 27, 1917.

Meanwhile Norcross, who, strangely enough, was also director of wartime ship construction for the Canadian government, managed to obtain the release of SARNOR on the grounds that there was a shortage of coal at Montreal and that SARNOR’s coal cargo was badly needed. The vessel sailed for Montreal and when she arrived there, Canada Steamship Lines arranged to have certain repairs done. The MacKay – Johnson – Bonham litigation continued but meanwhile C.S.L. succeeded in having the vessel requisitioned by the Canadian government under wartime legislation. C.S.L. then chartered the ship back for a period of ten years! The two hats of Capt. Norcross were indeed coming in very handy as far as Canada Steamship Lines was concerned and it seems that those who might have been in a position to do something about this most irregular situation were willing to turn a blind eye on what was obviously a case of conflict of interest.

It should also be borne in mind that during this period Capt. Frederick R. Johnson of Port Colborne was still shown as the registered owner of the ship and the actual owner, A. B. MacKay, could do nothing but sit back and watch all the hanky-panky taking place while his legal action had still not been heard in court.

SARNOR continued to run for Canada Steamship Lines until the early twenties. During 1923 and 1924, lake shipping was in a rather severe slump and many of the older wooden vessels were laid up, their places being taken anyway by new steel canallers being built in Canadian and British yards. SARNOR was one of the steamers which was no longer needed by C.S.L. and as such she was laid up at Kingston where she proceeded to settle to the bottom of the harbour.

The most amazing part of the whole story is that in 1924, when SARNOR was lying in a sunken condition at Kingston, Canada Steamship Lines had the colossal nerve to tender her back to MacKay. The latter gentleman, of course, was not impressed with this magnanimous action on the part of the shipping giant as he still considered himself to be the rightful owner of the vessel during the time that C.S.L. had usurped her services.

MacKay continued with his litigation and in February 1926 it was reported that Mr. Justice Latchford of the Ontario Supreme Court ruled to the effect that MacKay was the actual owner of the ship. The judgment given MacKay included an award of $15,000 in damages. This may have been a great moral victory for MacKay, but meanwhile the poor old SARNOR, in her lay-up below the LaSalle Causeway in Kingston, was in a sorry state. To make matters worse, she was badly damaged by fire on March 15th, 1926.

The damaged hull was towed around to Portsmouth Bay and was laid to rest in the boneyard along with several other worn-out wooden hulls. And there she was to lie for ten long and quiet years. In 1936, the Portsmouth boneyard, by then a notable Kingston eyesore, was cleaned up and the various hulls were cofferdammed and raised, the majority of them having lost their upperworks to a combination of rot and fire. SARNOR was dug up out of the mud and, once raised, the tired old hull was towed out into Lake Ontario where it was scuttled in deep water.

Perhaps SARNOR should have been restored as a monument to the effort expended by her rightful owner in his battle to protect his investment in the ship from those who converted her to their own purposes.

Run Down In The Detroit River Yesterday By The RUSSIA — One Man Drowned.


Detroit, Aug. 10 – The lake steamer BRITANNIC collided with the steamer RUSSIA about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon opposite Wyandotte in the Detroit River and sank in a few minutes in 30 feet of water. All the crew escaped with the exception of one foreman, who was known as Charley and who shipped from Cleveland. He was asleep in his bunk at the time the boats struck and had not time to escape.

Capt. Benham of the BRITANNIC stated last night that he had sighted the RUSSIA in good season and that the proper passing signals had been given and answered for each boat to go to port. Just as the two boats were about to pass, the wheel chains on the BRITANNIC fouled, and, taking a sudden sheer, she ran directly across the bows of the RUSSIA. A collision was unavoidable, and with a fearful crash the two boats met. The BRITANNIC was struck amidships on the starboard side.

The BRITANNIC was bound down, loaded with iron ore, while the RUSSIA was bound up light. The BRITANNIC was owned by W.J. White, the Cleveland Chewing gum manufacturer, and measured 1121 gross tons, was 219 feet long and 36 feet beam. She was built in 1888. The RUSSIA is owned by the Lackawanna Transportation Company. She had a bad hole punched in her bow, and is leaking some. She will be docked here for repairs. Vessels should take the American side of the channel while passing this spot to get the best water. The BRITANNIC is insured, but the amount is not known by Capt. Benham. She had a load of iron ore for Erie, Pa. The crew of the steamer will leave for Cleveland today.

Buffalo Evening News

Saturday, August 10, 1895

. . . . .


Propeller MONTANA Strikes The Detroit River Wreck — Hold Full Of Water.

Amherstburg, Ont. Aug. 17. – The big propeller MONTANA, owned by the Western Transportation Company, and bound down with a cargo of flour for Buffalo, ran afoul of the sunken steamer BRITANNIC, lying in the Detroit River near Ballard’s Reef, early this morning.

The MONTANA was injured so badly she was run aground on the Island, where she lies with her hold full of water.

It is claimed that there were no lights on the BRITANNIC wreck.

Buffalo Sunday Morning News

Sunday, August 18, 1895

. . . . .


Wrecker McMorran of Port Huron has, after three months work, raised the wooden steamer BRITANNIC, which was sunk near Ballard’s reef, Detroit river, by the steamer RUSSIA The BRITANNIC is now in Detroit and will be rebuilt there during the winter. The value of the wreck has not as yet been determined.

Marine Review

December 5, 1895


. . . . .

Work on the steamer BRITANNIC sunk last season in the Detroit River, is being rapidly pushed at Marine City by M.P, Lester. She has been entirely rebuilt and has no semblance of the dilapidated old hulk that was towed up the river last spring.

Milwaukee Wisconsin

May 26, 1896

Steam screw BRITANNIC. U. S. No. 3400. Of 1,121.90 tons gross; 904.34 tons net. Built West Bay City, Mich., 1888. Home port, Cleveland, Ohio. 219.2 x 36.2 x 17.0

Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1895

Propeller SARNOR.* Official Canadian Number 133824. Built at West Bay City, Mich., U.S.A. in 1888, rebuilt at Marine City, Mich., U.S.A in 1896. Of 1319 gross tons; 1152 tons reg. Home port, Montreal, Que. Owned by Frederick R. Johnson, of Port Colborne, Ont. 227.6 x 43.1 x 16.6 and 95 horse power.

* Foreign name, BRITANNIC, a recovered wreck.

List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion

of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1920



1888, Jun 9 Temporory enrollment Port Huron.

1888 Towed barge MARY WOOLSON in Ashland ore trade.

1889, Mar 21 Permanent enrollment Cleveland; towed barges GALATEA, HATTIE WELLS, & H.P. BALDWIN.

1895, Aug 9 Collided with steamer RUSSIA in Detroit River, sank with loss of one life.

1896 Rebuilt Marine City; 227 x 36 x 21′, 1319 gross / 1152 net tons. Towed barge ALEX ANDERSON.

1899 Owned Alvin Neal, et al Port Huron; towed barge RACINE.

1912, Oct 15 Owned Lake Erie & Quebec Trans. Co., Montreal. Renamed SARNOR, #C133824.

1916, Apr 1 Sold at auction to A.P. McKay.

1917, Oct 23 Owned Canada Steamship Lines.

1919 Apr 4 Sunk Sorel, QUE, raised.

1924 Abandoned Kingston Harbor.

1926, Mar 15 Burned.

SM Douglas ex White Star


Paddle wheel steamer WHITE STAR.* Official Canadian No. 103961. Built at Montreal, Que., in 1897; rebuilt Cornwall, Ont., in 1905. Of 629 gross tons; 313 tons reg. and 37.5 horse power. Home port, Montreal, Que. 167.2 x 41.8 x 8.2 Owned by Oliver Gillespie, Cornwall, Ont.
List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion
of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1905

1897 Illegally renamed COLONIAL

1899 Owned Oakville Navigation Company

1903 Burned, Toronto, ONT; repaired; owned W. W. Paterson, Oakville, ONT

1905 Rebuilt, Cornwall, ONT; 308 gross/112 net tons; 158.1 x 25.3 x 8.2; owned Oliver Gillespie, Brockville, ONT

1906, Aug 5 Struck by steamer MUNCY, Buffalo, NY

1906, Sep 5 Removed from Crystal Beach route, sent to Montreal

1909 Owned St. Lawrence Canadian Navigation Co., Ltd., Montreal

1916 Owned A. Cartier, Montreal

1920 Owned Canada Steamship Lines, Ltd.

1926, Jan 3 Burned, Hamilton, ONT; rebuilt as barge, John F. Sowards, Kingston, ONT; 160 x 25.33 x 7.42; 224 gross tons

1942 Out of commission; sank, Brockville

1950 Raised, rebuilt as sand dredge; 160.5 x 25.33 x 8; 286 gross tons; owned Simpson Sand Co., Ltd., Brockville

1976 Used as breakwater, Brockville  raised 1980?

1896 Towed out to Main Duck Island and Scuttled.

Barge WHITE STAR.* Official Canadian No. 103961. Built at Montreal, Que., in 1897; rebuilt Cornwall, Ont., in 1905. Of 224 tons register. Home port, Montreal, Que. 160.0 x 25.4 x 7.5 Owned by John F. Sowards, Kingston, Ont.
* Formerly a steamer.
List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion
of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1933

Paddle wheel steamer WHITE STAR. Official Canadian No. 103961. Built at Montreal, Que., in 1898; rebuilt Cornwall, Ont, in 1905. Burnt at Hamilton, Ont., March 1, 1926 and rebuilt as a barge. Rebuilt as motor vessel. SM. DOUGLAS at Brockville, Ont., in 1950

Some of the lake passenger steamers of the late nineteenth century proved to have extraordinarily long lives, many of them lasting, albeit not in their original condition, well into the second half of the present century. One of these was the famous little steamer WHITE STAR whose active career on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River spanned a period in excess of seventy years.

WHITE STAR (C.103961) was an iron-hulled, beam-engined passenger vessel built in 1897 at Montreal by W. C. White whose shipyard was located on the Lachine Canal above the St. Gabriel Lock. The new steamer was 167.2 feet in length, 25.3 feet in the beam (hull only) and 8.2 feet in depth. We do not have a record of her beam over the guards. Gross tonnage was 451. Her engine came from the Allan Line tug ROCKET which had originally been fitted with two beam engines. In 1892 ROCKET was rebuilt as the passenger steamer BRITANNIC and at that time one of her engines was removed. It was held for five years until its installation in WHITE STAR.

The first owner of WHITE STAR was W. W. Paterson of Oakville, Ontario, who operated the Oakville Navigation Company. Her original route was from Toronto to Oakville and then on to Hamilton. During 1901 she operated under charter to the Pan American Exposition at Buffalo, New York, while her place on Lake Ontario was taken by the former Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company steamer RICHELIEU (C.33476). The fair at Buffalo over, WHITE STAR returned to her original service in 1902.

The date of July 11, 1903 was a bad one for WHITE STAR. She was seriously damaged in a “very suspicious” fire while moored at her dock at the foot of Bay Street in Toronto. Hedley Shaw of Toronto and St. Catharines held a large interest in the ship at the time. While WHITE STAR was insured, it is said that the underwriters refused to settle the claim and the hull was abandoned.

WHITE STAR was later purchased by Charles Mignault of Montreal and the St. Lawrence and Ontario Navigation Company. She was towed to Cornwall, Ontario, and was rebuilt there in 1905 by Oliver Gillespie. She emerged from the reconstruction with revised dimensions of 158.1 x 25.3 x 8.2, her Gross Tonnage being reduced in the process to 308. The rebuilt WHITE STAR was quite a handsome little steamer. Sporting a single tall funnel and mast, she had a long cabin on the promenade deck but, of course, no overnight accommodation as she was a dayboat only. Her paddleboxes were very elaborately decorated and her pilothouse was a masterpiece of Victorian architecture in wood. A six-sided affair with the front corners chopped off, it carried an ornate nameboard not under the windows but rather mounted on the railing above the pilothouse.

In 1908 WHITE STAR was owned by the St. Lawrence Canadian Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, of which Alexandre Desmarteaux was the manager. She was placed on the Montreal – Quebec run with IMPERIAL (C.121945) which had earlier served as SOVEREIGN (C.94887), and the two operated in opposition to the long-established service of the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. By 1910 WHITE STAR was in service for Desmarteaux’s King Edward Park Company, operating from Montreal to King Edward Park which was located on an island a few miles down the St. Lawrence from the city. It is interesting to note that the same firm also operated on this route the former Lake Ontario steamer GARDEN CITY which was purchased in 1918 and ran to the park into the twenties.

In 1915 WHITE STAR was acquired by Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, in an exchange involving the ferry BOUCHERVILLE (C.90546), (a) HOCHELAGA (I). C.S.L. placed her on the service from Toronto to Lorne Park, Hamilton, and Jordan Harbour. She later operated for C.S.L. between Hamilton and Wabasso Park, a short run across Hamilton Bay.

But once again WHITE STAR fell victim to the scourge of fire which struck while she was in winter quarters at Hamilton on March 1st, 1926. The vessel was virtually destroyed in the conflagration. The burned out hull was purchased in 1927 by Kingston coal dealer and vessel operator John F. Sowards who cut her down and had her registered as a barge of 224 tons for use in the Lake Ontario coal trade. She was finally abandoned in 1940 and her registry was closed, the hull being laid away in the inlet back of the De Wattville Island range lights.

But this was not the end of WHITE STAR. In 1949 her remains were purchased by the Simpson Sand Company Ltd. of Brockville, Ontario. Towed to the Brockville yard of her new owner, she was rebuilt as a stemwinder and was fitted with diesel power in 1950, the intention being to use her as a sandsucker. She was reregistered as (b) S. M. DOUGLAS, her dimensions now officially revised to 160.6 x 25.4 x 8.1. Her new tonnages were listed as 286 Gross, 230 Net. The DOUGLAS served the Simpson firm well for almost two decades and was to become a familiar sight as she went about her new duties in eastern Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River.

S. M. DOUGLAS was sold in 1968 to Black Douglas Contractors Ltd., Ivy Lea, Ontario, and she operated five years under this ownership. She remained idle at Brockville during 1973 and, her 77 years telling on her, was dropped from the Canadian register in 1974. It is reported that the iron hull of the ageing vessel became a breakwater at Kingston during 1975.

And so ended the active life of a small steamer which for many years served the travelling public of the Lake Ontario region. Already cast aside once, she was treated to a new lease on life when well into her second half-century. Her tired bones deserve a bit of rest now.
Preliminary List of Canadian Merchant Steamships
Inland and Coastal, 1809 to 1930

In our Ship of the Month article last month we featured the passenger steamer WHITE STAR and with the help of Lorne Joyce we can now pass along a bit more information. WHITE STAR was built in 1897 at Montreal and in our last issue we stated that the Oakville Navigation Company was her first operator. As it now develops, this was not so. She was not purchased by that firm until 1899, so we are now faced with the problem of not knowing what she did during her first two years of life.

The Oakville Navigation Company was formed in the spring of 1899 when the sum of $25,000 was subscribed by a group of local merchants and fruit growers in order to ensure the existence of a regular steamship service for Oakville. The existing service operated by the steamer GREYHOUND was very unsatisfactory and the ships of the Hamilton Steamboat Company were unable to call at Oakville regularly because of the shallowness of the harbour. The founding group consisted of Allan S. Chisholm, T. C. Hagaman, George Andrew, John McDonald and W. H. Speers. Hedley Shaw of Foulds and Shaw who owned the flour mill at Oakville was named president of the Oakville Navigation Company at its formation. The company bought WHITE STAR, apparently from a St. Lawrence River operator, and placed her on the Oakville service under the command of Capt. William Boyd. Her purser was W. S. Davis who in 1902 became general manager, secretary and treasurer of the company.

Later in his career, Hedley Shaw set up a flour mill at St. Catharines using machinery and materials taken from a dormant mill at Oakville. This was the beginning of the Maple Leaf Milling Company and Hedley Shaw was its founder. Mills were soon set up at Thorold and Welland, and in 1911 the big mill at Port Colborne was opened.

WHITE STAR – (CITY OF DUNKIRK) – (EMPIRE) – A 229 ton, paddlewheel steamship, built in 1879 at Montreal and registered there (#103961). She was owned by the Oakville Navigation Co. of which W.H. Speers was a director. She ran regularly from Oakville and Bronte to Toronto and Hamilton. She was sold to Buffalo owners for the 1900 Exposition there, and renamed CITY OF DUNKIRK. After the exposition she was brought back to Oakville and her old name returned. In 1905 she was owned by Capt. Gilphie, of Cornwall and was named EMPIRE. She was listed in the 1913 American Blue Book as WHITE STAR, 629 tons, 167′, built in 1897 and rebuilt in 1905 (likely after the collision with the stm. HOSANNA); owned by the St. Lawrence Navigation Co. Ltd. of Montreal.
From the notes of Gerry Ouderkirk