Saturday 21 June 2014

The Canaller BIRCHTON (Revisited)

Not much was unknown when I snapped this photo from the north wall on the former Galop Canal's Iroquois Lock last November. The far distant upbound in the background approaching the current St. Lawrence Seaway Iroquois Lock was the 740' WHITEFISH BAY. Though it was a 'newbee', or 'first-time photo op' for me, I knew it was the second of four CSL state-of-the-art Trillium-class self discharging bulk carriers which were built in 2012-13 in China and since I had already posted two of her sisters, the BAIE ST. PAUL and BAIE COMEAU, I wasn't expecting any surprises, but rather another opportunity to say, "GOTCHA" as I clicked on my camera. But if you want to read more about her, click onto this link, or not at:
However, when I first saw this black & white photo, below on the website '', I had all kinds of questions because the upbound entering the then Iroquois Lock was my dad's boat, the BIRCHTON.
When and who took the photo is unknown but it's part of a unique library of Seaway related photos and documents that my friend and fellow 'Boatnerd', Ron Beaupre of Mariatown, Ontario has collected over the years and has given me permission to post it today. As mentioned in the WHITEFISH BAY post, I recall my dad, who was Third Mate on the BIRCHTON until 1947, telling me about his boat's many passages along the Cornwall and Galop canals. The key question is, was my dad on the BIRCHTON when his boat was photographed above? Was he in the wheelhouse that day when the steamer was edged into position? Was he the person you can see standing on the foc's'le just above the ship's name closest to the lockwall keeping and eye on the lines which was a responsibility of the Third Mate or Safety Officer. Or, perhaps it was my dad who is standing behind the lifering on the BIRCHTON's bridge wing on the port or left side marking the ship's movement or getting direction the lockmaster, also key responsibilities if my dad was the Officer of the Watch. So many questions and no Wikipedia or my dad, who passed away in 1991 to clarify the unknowns.

For certain though, when the 261' BIRCHTON was built in Dumbarton, Scotland in 1924, she was owned Mathews Steamships Company of Toronto. The Mathews fleet consisted of three canallers all named after  trees known to Canada, the birch, cedar and oak. Each had the suffix "TON" added to their names which was short for the city where the company's head office was located, or "Toronto-ONtario". In the 1930's, the canallers were purchased twice, first by Lake Steamship Company 1931 and then in 1938 they were sold to form the 'new' Gulf & Lake Navigation Company. Regardless of the change of ownership, each ship kept their name with the "TON" or "Toronto-ONtario" suffix even though the company was based in Montreal. While under the Gulf & Lake Navigation banner, the BIRCHTON, CEDARTON, and OAKTON, were kept busy tranferring cargoes of grain, coal, and pulpwood through the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River canals and across the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the then British colony, Newfoundland. The runs across the Gulf were sometimes quite rough like in this photo that my dad took while he was trying to get back up forward after lunch. The trips were especially necessary because that's where my dad met my mother in Corner Brook. Though my dad quit sailing and moved to Port Colborne with my mom in 1948 to have my sisters and I, (among other things, of course c):-o), the BIRCHTON continued to be useful for G&LN until 1961 when she was sold and converted into a floating drydock in Bathurst, New Brunswick. She was eventually was scrapped in Halifax in 1978. Meanwhile, the CEDARTON was scrapped in 1963 in Montreal after being used for salt storage in Port Cartier, Quebec for one winter, and the OAKTON was torpedoed by the German U-517 and sank in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 1942.
More photos from Ron's library includes the BIRCHTON (above) tied off during winter layup in Toronto harbour snapped by Alf King "many moons" ago and below, her fully loaded sister, the CEDARTON appears to be motoring along downbound in then 'new' Welland Canal in the early 1930's. To see more great photos and descriptions about the St. Lawrence River canals including the Galop, be sure to check out It'll be time well spent.

Though the gates and light standards have long been removed, the lockmaster's shack and tie off posts remain at the old Iroquois Lock which is active now as a slip or entrance to the Galop Canal marina. Tied off along it's wall sits the built in 1937 tug then converted into a dive tender and pleasure craft, EDITH GAUTHIER, as another 'tree named ship with a suffix', the 730' BIRCHGLEN gently passes by. As I get back to my yard work chores, feel free to read more about the BIRCHGLEN on this exciting link: She too is now gone but not forgotten. c):-))

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