Sunday 7 June 2015

Cement Barge MÉTIS

Whenever I have time to visit Toronto's Harbourfront, I'll do a pan to the east to see what boats maybe tied off at Pier 35 or at the Marine Terminal near the Ship Channel Bridge. Almost always parked along the south wall of Pier 35's north slip would be a cluster of vessels owned by the Toronto Drydock Company. In this snap taken in March 2014, the camouflaged coloured MERNIER CONSOL which was a former bulk carrier until she was converted into a floating drydock in 1984, remains locked in the ice with the tug RADIUM YELLOWKNIFE parked in her belly for repairs. To her stern is the red superstructure of the salvage tug SALVAGE MONARCH ( and just on the other side of the slip sits the laid up for winter and Essroc owned cement carrying barge MÉTIS with her notched stern facing the outer harbour.

When I returned to TO in September 2014 and visited the harbour along Cherry Street, I'll admit I was somewhat surprised to see the 331' MÉTIS still tied off where she was when I snapped her along with Toronto Drydock's support vessels six months earlier. It looked like she still hadn't moved in February this year when I was able to pick off her yellow coloured crane and amidships superstructure through the leafless trees on the pier. You never know what will happen when a vessel is placed in long-term layup. Take the 806' Interlake's ore carrier JOHN SHERWIN snapped in September 2013, barely visible through the trees while parked at an old coal dock near DeTour Village, Michigan since she was placed into long term layup in 2008. Click here to read more about her later, OK:

If you've been following my blog, you'd know about the run around the classic self unloader AMERICAN FORTITUDE got eh. She was placed in long-term layup also in 2008 in Toledo, Ohio, and is now waiting to be broken up in Port Colborne. Missed that post? Here's the link: c):-((
Then earlier this month while checking out's "Channel News", I read that the MÉTIS was in Oswego, New York unloading cement. She was paired there with the tug EVANS McKEIL, the same tug that towed the AMERICAN FORTITUDE all the way from Toledo to Côte Ste. Catherine Lock near Montreal and then most of the trip back upbound to Oswego for winter layup last December. That was one slow journey to nowhere and back for the FORTITUDE and her escort tugs. Meanwhile, MÉTIS's "Escape from Alcatraz" was no "Weekend at Bernie's" either. Since EVANS McKEIL notched together with the MÉTIS on April 30th, the "Not Dead Yet Duel" has been busy hauling cement from Essroc's Picton, Ontario plant in Prince Edward County to their bulk terminals in Toronto, and across Lake Ontario to Oswego and Rochester.
When launched in 1956 at Davie Shipyard in Levi, Quebec, the then 259' MÉTIS was a bulk carrier and the last canaller-size ship built for Canada Steamship Lines. Three years later, MÉTIS was lengthen to her current 331' and deepened by another 3.5' to 26'. Two five ton cranes and hoists were also installed which allowed her to self discharge various bulk goods instead of requiring shore-based equipment.
In 1966 MÉTIS was converted in a self unloading cement carrier and operated occasional along the Welland Canal but more often to her current Lake Ontario ports of Toronto, Oswego and Rochester for the then Lake Ontario Cement Company plant located in Picton. In 1991 her diesel engine was removed along with her wheelhouse, stack and aft accommodation quarters, at Kingston Shipbuilders in Kingston, Ontario. From then on MÉTIS was known as a self unloading cement "barge" and when she was not seen being pushed along by the 120' Purvis Marine tug AVENGER IV throughout the upper lakes, St. Clair or Detroit Rivers, she was placed in long term layup in Windsor. In 2001, Essroc  purchased the idle barge, had her towed to Hamilton to be refurbished and then while paired with the EVANS McKEIL began to re-servicing the same ports that MÉTIS did while under her own power for Lake Ontario Cement, a company Essroc had acquired in 1986.

In case you're wondering, MÉTIS is a French word that means "Mixed" and is referred to when describing the "Métis Nation" which are one of the recognized Aboriginal peoples of Canada with the formal recognition equal given to the Inuit and First Nations peoples. The Métis Nation's homeland includes the Canadian prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and parts of Ontario, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and the northern United States, specifically Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana. The Métis have a distinct culture and history, and are connected through an extensive network of kin relations that started with the mixed-race descendants of unions between First Nations women and European men during the 18th & early 19th century Great Lakes and Western fur trade.  "À la façon du pays" or "according to the customs of the country" unions or marriages usually involved mutual commitments with local First Nations kin and communities. The fur trapper husbands often lived out their lives with these indigenous families. Due to their skills as voyageurs, hunters, interpreters and knowledge of the lands, the Métis were well respected employees by both major fur traders of the day, the Hudson Bay Company and North West Trading Company. Apparently such cities and towns like Sault Ste. Marie, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay all originated as Métis outposts. I did not know that. c):-o
It's amazing how such a little boat could be given such a big or vastly important name. A small five letter word that acknowledges an "Aboriginal People" whose tireless work ethics and openness over several generations has helped Canada and America prosper and grow. Where would we be without them?

Just like her namesake, the little barge MÉTIS has shown over the years that she continues to be a valuable asset and remains useful regardless of her size. While other pre-seaway canallers have fallen victim to the ship cutter's touch many years before, the MÉTIS which was built to work has adapted. Mixing or changing her cargo trade from mostly grain to only cement products, has in itself made her a unique vessel. Though at times she's had to lie in wait, but when called upon, regardless of being self powered or pushed along the way by the veteran harbour tug EVANS McKEIL, the agile and shallow draft MÉTIS can enter narrow and winding rivers and channels with ease delivering cement which when "mixed" with water can be used to build lasting foundations for the homes and apartment buildings that we live in, sidewalks and roadways to help us get from 'Point A to Point B' by any means of transportation, and as seen in the background of the tied off MÉTIS below, the cluster of commercial skyscrapers that adorns Toronto's dynamic skyline built with concrete and reinforced steel. The cityscape icon and pinnacle of Canadian success and innovation, the 1,815.4' CN Tower consists of over 52,972 cubic yards of concrete all "mixed" on site to ensure batch consistency. So many applications achieved thanks to cement carriers like the MÉTIS. Which begs the question, where would we be without her? c):-()


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