Sunday, 22 November 2015

Mystery Boat EDITH GAUTHIER

Old Iroquois Lock at the eastern entrance to the former Galop Canal has to be one of my most favourite locations to snap boats since starting this blog just over three and half years ago. The place has a lot of sentimental value for me because as my Dad told me just months before he died, it was a lock his boat, the BIRCHTON, would transit during their upbound passages to the Great Lakes. While so many other once historic structural marvels are torn down to make way for progress like what St. Catharines, Ontario did during the city's ongoing expansions by bulldozing over many sections of earlier Welland Canals to make way for the then new four-lane highway 406, this old 800' Lock 25 in Iroquois still appears a lot like what my Dad described twenty-four years ago.
True the gates are gone that once allowed canallers like my Dad's BIRCHTON (above, in a photo from Ron Beaupre's collection) to be lifted to the next level in the canal's 15.5' climb needed to bypass three sets of rapids, but the remaining original stone walls, tie-off snub-posts and weathered lockmaster's shack in plain sight offers an ideal setting to snap either an upbound in the distance slowing down as she approaches the current Iroquois Lock, or a downbound kicking up a wake while motoring on to the next Seaway lock, Eisenhower or destinations beyond below. Here's a few examples:
Upbound Algoma Central self unloader ALGOMA ENTERPRISE - September 14, 2015
Upbound Polesteam bulk carier OLZA - November 13, 2015
Upbound Algoma Central self unloader ALGOLAKE - October 18, 2015
Downbound former Canada Steamship Lines bulk carrier BIRCHGLEN - May 19, 2013
No matter what direction I gaze or snap, I can see what my Dad was talking about except, what's that across from the shack, along the lock's north wall? Is it a tug, or a fishing boat? All her curtains are drawn, so could she be a houseboat? One thing is for certain though, she's always there. With the exception of a Canada flag and wind-sock fluttering in the breeze in the more recent snaps above, the little boat has remained lifeless during every one of my visits to the lock which is also being used as a marina.
Her name is EDITH GAUTHIER  and according to what has been painted on her stern, her homeport is Midland, Ontario.  "So what brought you here, little lady to this lonely lock wall along the old Galop Canal.? What is your story?"

For much of my research, the 56' steel-hulled timid miss remained a mystery as all I could find out more from my friends, was that she was built as tug at George Gamble Shipyards of Port Dover, Ontario in 1934 for Charles H. Gauthier of East Windsor. Not much to go with, I thought until I found out more about Mr. C.H. Gauthier, who since before the turn of the twentieth century, owned a flourishing fishing fleet and packing plant near the mouth of the French River, which flows into northern waters of Georgian Bay. COOL!! c):-o, I thought but then thanks to Mr. Google, the story got even better.
In an article I found entitled "Commercial Fishing, Key Harbour Area" written by Susan McKay in the summer of 2009 KEY EXCHANGE, there's a description in one paragraph on page 3 that talks about the picture below which was taken in the 1950's and that the larger vessel (centre) is the EDITH G, Gauthier's new fish tug. The article goes on to say that it was a steel-hulled tug and she had the latest equipment. It's a very interesting article and feel free to check it out by clicking on to this link above:  (http://www.kraa.ca/KeyExchange/KeyExchangeSummer2009.pdf)
I must admit that with the exception of the current raised wheelhouse, the tug in the photocopied displayed the same lines and look as the tied off at Iroquois Lock, EDITH GAUTHIER and if it were her, how did she end up on the St. Lawrence River? c):-s The mystery continued...


...until I decided to contact her current owner, Ronald J. Cowalchuk of Gloucester, Ontario whose name was mentioned on the EDITH GAUTHIER's Transport Canada vessel registration document which was processed in 1973. I lucked out on my first call, and what a worthwhile discussion it was. Basically, Mr. Cowalchuk verified everything that I had found online and included that Gauthier Fisheries specialized in marketing whitefish and since the EDITH was the largest tug in their fleet and equipped with a refrigeration system, smaller fishing boats would transfer their catch to her. The EDITH GAUTHIER was a powerful boat, made of steel and had a reinforced ice breaking bow, which all were very important traits because she was tasked to get her valuable combined catch on the next available train to Toronto from the main railway terminus that was located then in the Midland, Ontario. Ah, Midland (homeport) c):-D  
When he purchased her in 1984,  Ronald Cowalchuk became the second owner of the GAUTHIER after the fishing company closed in the 1960's due to  declining stocks and the arrival of invasive species like lamprey eels which entered the Great Lakes soon after the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. After leaving the dry dock with an extended and raised superstructure along with a new Detroit diesel engine, EDITH GAUTHIER was motored to the St. Lawrence River and started a new career as a scuba-diving tender. With the St. Lawrence known for its fresh water diving, the EDITH offered easy access to the many well preserved 150 year old sunken wooden vessels and the space to accommodate up to sixteen divers and their equipment at one time. However due to ongoing classification issues with the Department of Transportation, Ronald Cowalchuk's dive  tender and excursion business closed in 2002.

From "Pride of the Fleet" fishing tug, to versatile platform for scuba-divers, to a home-away- from-home houseboat, EDITH GAUTHIER's outcome hasn't been that bad while others of her kind have become homes to spiders and snake while left high and dry in a farmer's field or fodder for a breaker's torch. As for me, EDITH GAUTHIER  makes a photo great either as a prop or on her own. Until my next visit to old Iroquois Lock, live on my little lady. c):-))

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this very interesting and informative story. I always wondered why she was there all these years.

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