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"Under the willow"

Toronto Telegram, November 12, 1932
Schooner Days LXI (61)
By C.H.J. Snider

"Under the Willow!" First Mate Arthur Terris, of the S. H. Dunn, used to shout cheerily at the end of a heavy pull on the halliards. We would gaspingly catch a turn under a chock or thumbcleat for a final swig, all laying back with our whole weight, except him who had to take up the slack.

Why "the willow?"

Neither thumbcleats nor belaying pins were made of that soft wood.  Perhaps it was once used for sheathing bits and fiferails, to take the bite of the belayed rope.  Hemp and manila alike score the hardest oak under heavy strain.  Softwood lining, like willow, would be readily renewed.

Another kind of willow, however, is meant by the chapter head – the real tree, the ancient giant willow stump at the foot of Bathurst st., opposite the Maple Leaf Stadium, still marking where the vanished Queen’s Wharf and Western Channel used to be.

This willow, the last of six whose roots drank directly from Lake Ontario up to fifty years ago, has seen much in its century.  It was right on the doorstep of Toronto harbor until door and step as well were moved a thousand feet south, and the plunging lake became solid land.

The foot of the "L" of Toronto Island, now half obliterated under commercial construction and an airport, was a navigation hazard in the old days, some of it a hidden shoal, and the natural channel through it limited to 11 feet depth because there you were down to rock bottom.

We mentioned wrecks last week.  Some which the giant willow saw ended happily, all hands saved and the ship refloated.  One of this sort was the stranding on Dec. 10, 1866, of the small schooner Rapid, Capt. Pace, laden with rails for the Great Western from Kingston for Hamilton.  Blown on the bar in a westerly gale she seemed doomed, Capt. Tom Tinning with a volunteer lifeboat crew succeeded in reaching her.  By hoisting a little canvas to give her headway, and running all on board backwards, and forwards as the seas broke, so as to shift their ton of live weight, he worked her over the bar and into sheltered water within the harbor.

Schooners gone wild

Other themes of the giant’s song were how the Oakville schooner Baltic ran wild in a hard puff when the chain sheets of her square foretopsail parted, when she was entering port.  She hit the west end of the Queen’s Wharf, bounced off, and sank in the channel.  That was in 1878, when Threefinger Jack Andrew was sailing her.  He certainly missed his two digits.  She was heavy on the wheel.

And another wreck, almost under the willow’s leafless twigs – on the 4th of December, 1882, was when the three masted Midland Rover struck, coming into the channel.  Six men put out in the harbor yawl and took off the woman cook, Mrs. Welsh, Capt. Crogan, and two of the crew.  The sea was running so high the mate and two other men dared not leave the vessel.  The roaring of the lake that day, Dave Carey told us, could be heard in St. Mary’s Church up Bathurst street, where he was then a choir boy.  The yawl was capsized before it could reach the wharf.  The poor cook was drowned, along with John Freeman, one of the sailors.  Two men were washed on to some cribwork, the others were hurled ashore, alive.  A line was run from the vessel to the wharf, and the remaining three men were saved.  So was the ship.  She was refloated.

Under what curse?

This Midland Rover was a big vessel for her time, her dimensions being 140 ft. length, 30 ft. beam, 12 ft. depth and 353 tons register.  She was coming from Ashtabula with a cargo of coal for "Paddy" Burns, whose fine mansion long dominated the bank above Front Street near Bathurst.  The tug W. J. Aikins brought her over from Port Dalhousie.  Being a foot deeper in the hold than normal, the Midland Rover struck on the tall of the bar when straightening out for the harbor entrance.  The tug stood by manfully, but could not drag her off, and had to run, into port to save herself.  The harbor board’s yawl manned by six, then attempted to rescue.

"I knew her well." the late Magistrate J. J. O’Connor said of the Rover. "She carried lumber for the first grain elevator built in Port Arthur in 1883.  She was a two-master at first, and had a very large rig.  She was my ideal of a marine structure, all the beam her length would stand five feet more than the old canallers, fine lines and good ends."

She was, however, what was called a hoodoo.  Built at Cleveland in 1863, and christened Philo Scoville after some U. S. worthy, she prospered unit 1880, when she was wrecked at Big Traverse on Lake Michigan, Simon S. Cook of Morrisburg, Ont., became her registered owner.  She was enrolled in Collingwood, under the new name Midland Rover.

After her Toronto escapade she was bought by Thomas Marks and Co. of Port Arthur in 1883.  In the following year on a voyage from Port Arthur to Duluth under Capt. Findlay McPherson, an A1 man, she was dismasted in Lake Superior.

She may then have been re-rigged as a three master but the curse stuck to her.  Next she was wrecked in the Straits of Mackinaw.  By this time she must have cost her owners or the insurance companies two or three times her value.

Americans bought her back probably at an easy figure.  They changed her name again to the original Philo Scoville.

Even this could not save her but it gave her ten more years.  She was finally wrecked near South Bay in Manitoulin in 1895, this time completely.


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