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The schooner Oliver Mowat (1873-1921), including her loss

Oliver Mowat
The three-master OLIVER MOWAT, built 1875, lost 1921. Willis Metcalfe fonds, Naval Marine Archive. Click for enlargement.

Port of Kingston Register, no. 1 of 1873; Port of Bowmanville Register, no. 1 of 1905.

General (as built, 1873)

Name: OLIVER MOWATType: Schooner
Official Number: 92584Tons: 295 215/3500
Where Built: Mill HavenPort of Registry / Hail: 12 in 1873 - Kingston, Ont.
Build Year: 1873Value: $12,000
Builder’s Name & Date of Certification: Fraser & George, Mill Haven, 28 July 1873
Master’s Name: Patrick [illegible]Subscribing Owners: Fraser & George, Kingston Ont.
Length: 131 and 2/tenths feetBreadth: 25 and 9/tenths feet
Depth of Hold: 10 and 8/tenths feetMasts: Three
Stern: SquareBowsprit:
How Built: CarvelHow Rigged: Schooner
Figure-head: Straight (without)Decks: One

General (differences after rebuild, 1905)

Name: OLIVER MOWATType: Schooner
Official Number: 92584Tons: 169.98 Register / 197.68 Gross
Port of Registry / Hail: 1 of 1905 - Bowmanville, Ont.
Re-build Year: 1905
Builder’s Name & Date of Certification: Fraser & George, Kingston Ont. March 15, 1905
Master’s Name: George Robertson (March 5, 1905)
Length: 116 feetBreadth: 25 feet & eight tenths
Depth of Hold: 9 feet & eight tenths
How Built: Carvel, built of oak

See also the entry for the schooner Oliver Mowat in our ships Database.


Builders certificate
Oliver Mowat, builders certificate, 1873 Click for enlargement.

Ownership history

Notes and press reports

  1. See this explanation of the tonnage rules leading to the Oliver Mowat having "295 215 / 3500" given by the surveyor using "old" measurement rules.
  2. The name of the schooner is sometimes given incorrectly as the Oliver Mowatt with a double "tt". The Premier of Ontario, the Hon. Oliver Mowat, was the brother-in-law of one of the co-owners, Mr. John Fraser.
  3. The location of the collision, off the Ducks, is sometimes refered to as Pennicon Shoal.
  4. The date the Oliver Mowat was built is sometimes given, incorretly, as 1875.
  5. Daily British Whig of Kingston, July 16, 1873 : The launch of the OLIVER MOWAT
  6. Toronto Telegram, "Schooner Days" series : C.J.H. Snider reminisced about the Oliver Mowat in several issues, significantly in no. CCXXXV of April 11, 1936, "Mill Haven and the Oliver Mowat") noting that "she was fast, too, especially in light airs, in comparison with other schooners" and "and could carry 700 tons of coal or 21,000 bushels of grain." He also recalls his own association with the Mowat, including where "this schooner was on November 28th, 1905, when she was in the breakers off Bluff Point east of Oshawa, with her yawlboat gone and the crew sending messages ashore in bottles."
  7. Also in "Schooner Days": Again old Port Darlington, White oak shavings, White oak shavings, White oak shavings
  8. Report of the Chief Signal Officer (Detroit) Filed June, 1881 : Schooner Oliver Mowatt had her bowsprit broken at Port Colborne. (Telescope, Vol. 6, no. 3)
Swimming from the bow, Picton Harbour
Swimming from the bow of the Oliver Mowat, Picton harbour. Willis Metcalfe fonds, Naval Marine Archive.

SCHOONER SUNK : Two are saved

Rest Of Crew Perish In Night Tragedy On Lake Ontario

Special to the Toronto Mail & Empire:- St.Catharines Ont., September 4, 1921

The steamer KEY WEST, which went up the Welland Canal yesterday, reported when she reached Port Dalhousie, her first stop after leaving Lake Ontario, that on Thursday night she had collided with and sunk the schooner OLIVER MOWAT at Duck Island, down the lake. All but two men on board the OLIVER MOWAT had been lost. The KEY WEST Captain reported he had picked up the two men in the water, their names being George Keegan and John Menaker. There were either five or seven on the lost boat. The two men were taken on with the KEY WEST up the canal, and could not be interviewed, nor could the KEY WEST captain, as the boat had left Port Dalhousie before the facts of the loss of the OLIVER MOWAT was known here.

According to the brief story of the wreck, told by the Captain of the KEY WEST, at Port Dalhousie, the OLIVER MOWAT apparently had not been carrying lights and was not seen by the KEY WEST until she was right on her. It was thought there was plenty of time for the MOWAT'S crew to get off, as they were all standing ready, but the boat suddenly gave a lurch and sank in a few seconds.

The KEY WEST lowered boats and cruised about trying to find the other men, but only rescued Keegan and Menaker.

The OLIVER MOWAT is owned by Hepburn, of Picton, and the KEY WEST by the Keystone Transportation Company of Montreal. The OLIVER MOWAT was an old boat, having been built at Milhaven in 1875. She was registered at Kingston and was a vessel of 541 tons.

Bad Marine Tragedy Late Last Thursday Night

Oswego Palladium, Tues., September 6, 1921

Captain Tom Van Dusen One of the Victims.

Captain Thomas L. VanDusen, one of the best known sailing masters on Lake Ontario, Mate Jacob Corby and an unknown woman, a cook, were drowned late Thursday night off the Main Ducks when the steamer KEYWEST rammed the schooner OLIVER MOWAT and cut her in two. Two sailors on the OLIVER MOWAT, George Keegan of Belleville, and John Wannacott, of Picton, were saved. They were picked up by the KEYWEST and carried to Welland canal from which place the first news of the tragedy was wired to Kingston. The OLIVER MOWAT, one of the old-time lake schooners, purchased this Spring by Captain Van Dusen, was bound from Oswego to Picton with coal when the accident happened. The captain of the KEYWEST reported it was a clear night, but that they saw no lights on the schooner and that they were on her before they knew it. The KEYWEST, a powerful boat, slashed into her midships and tore the old schooner in half. The two sailors who were on deck were rescued. Captain VanDusen and Mate Gurley were below and endeavored to save the cook. It is thought they lingered too long. At any rate, Captain VanDusen was seen swimming in the water just as the schooner went down under the water. It is believed the suction carried him down. The KEYWEST had endeavored to keep the stern of the schooner afloat and stood by for some time after the accident, but as there was nothing could be done proceeded westward to the canal.

Captain VanDusen was 65 years old and for over 40 years had been a prominent sailing master on Lake Ontario. He had sailed into Oswego for many years. His home was in Picton. Mate Gurley resided in Deseronto. The cook was about 60 years old and is thought to be a Canadian.

An investigation will be made of the accident by the Canadian Marine Department and efforts will probably be made to recover the bodies. The water, however, is deep off the Ducks. Among the other commands Captain VanDusen had was the schooner BERTIE CALKINS and several other boats.

Two Masts Showing Of the Ill-Fated Schooner OLIVER MOWAT.

Oswego Palladium, September 7, 1921

Two of the three masts of the ill-fated schooner OLIVER MOWAT, projecting from the water at a point two miles this side of the Main Duck islands, mark the scene of the disaster that occurred last Thursday night when the steamer Key West rammed the vessel admidships, causing it to sink, carrying with it three members of the crew, including its master, Captain Thomas VanDusen. Such was the report brought here today by Captain Clinton Daryaw, of Picton, who arrived here early this morning in the schooner MARY A. DARYAW. The trip across was made around the foot of the Main Ducks and not around the head, where the Mowat was sunk. Captain Daryaw picked up his information in Kingston, which is agog with the particulars of the accident.

Besides Captain VanDusen, First Mate Jacob Gurley, of Deseronto, and Carrioe McGulgan, the stewardness, were drowned. The name of the stewardess appears on the records of the custom house here, where the boat was last cleared.


Le CANADA - Montreal. Mardi, 20 septembre 1921 (Vol. XIX No. 144)

Il rendra probablement cette semaine son jugement dans la collision survenue entre le "Oliver Mowat" et le "Keywest"

Le capitaine Demers, enquêteur dans les collisions de navires, a terminé son enquête sur le naufrage du chalutier "Oliver Mowat" qui était venu en collision aves le cargo "Keywest" de la Keystone Transportaion Co., entrainant trois pertes de vie, dont le capitaine.

L'incident est survenu le 1 spetembre à False Ducks à l'ouest de Kingston. Le "Keywest" se dirigeait vers Montréal et le chalutier traversait le lac, de Picton à Oswego.

La question que cherche à élucider le Capitaine Demers fut de savoir si le chalutier avait ses lumières allumées et étaient-elles assez nettes pour être vues. La collision est survenue dans une nuit très sombre. Le capitaine Whitley, du "Keywest", fut l'un des principaux témoins ainsi que les deux pilotes. Les témoignages ont montré qu'immédiatement après l'accident les èquipages des deux vaisseaux firent tout leur possible pour éviter d'avoir à déplorer des pertes de vie. Aussitôt que la collision se fut produite, le "Keywest" conserva sa vapeur à haute pression afin de ne pas sortir du flanc du "Oliver Mowat". Plusieurs éohelles de cordes furent jetées pour aider à sauver les marins du chalutier. Il a falu 9 minutes au chalutier pour sombrer. C’était un 3 mâts, en service depuis 47 ans.

Le capitaine Demers réserve son jugement qui sera donne dans le cours de la présente semaine.

The following based upon Dave Swayze's Casualty List

Other names : none also seen as OLIVER MOWATT
Official No. : C92384
Type at loss : schooner, wood, 3-mast
Build info : 1873, Beaupre, Millhaven, Ont.
Specs : 116 x 26 x 11, 341 t.
Date of loss : 1921, Sept 1
Place of loss : near Pennicon Shoal off Main Duck Isl.
Lake : Ontario
Type of loss : collision
Loss of life : 3 of 5
Carrying : coal
Detail : Rammed and sunk by the 1700 ton steel steamer KEYWEST, whose Capt & Mate were jailed for keeping such a poor lookout. She was owned out of Bowmanville, and known as a fast sailer. Ashore & heavily damaged by storm near Oshawa, Ont. Nov 28, 1905.


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