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Schooner Days CXLVIII (148)

The Vanished Maggie Hunter, 21 July 1934


This is Mr Snider's account of a "mystery which long exercised the imagination." However, we are not convinced that this is the defintive account and we are still researching the histories of the John S. Clarke the Maggie Hunter and the Helen which are all somehow intertwined in this legend.

Mrs Bongard
The schooner shown above under sail is the Wm. Jamieson, built at Mill Point (Deseronto) in 1877. She was three feet longer than the Maggie Hunter. Capt. Wm. Savage also owned the Jamieson, and lost her in 1922, off Amherst Island. She was crossing over from Oswego and began to leak badly. After hours at the pumps all hands escaped in the yawlboat, ten minutes before the Jamieson went under..

The Maggie Hunter mystery was one which long exercised the imagination of Port Credit mariners. Even at the beginning of this century it was still a standard topic for argument and theorizing when the stonehookers, coming in at sunset like homing gulls, lay snuggled at the Lake Shore road bridge so closely packed that you could cross the harbor on their decks. Yet at that time the Maggie Hunter had been under water for a quarter of a century.

She was not a Port Credit vessel by build, but she had become so by ownership and use. She was really an Oakville schooner. She traded into Port Credit, bringing the occasional cargo of coal and hardware then imported from the United States, and carrying out big jags of grain and lumber or bricks or barrels of apples. This was in the late 60's or early 70's of last century.

The Maggie Hunter was not large, even judged by the standards of her time, but she was a big vessel for Port Credit; much larger than the stonehookers. She was a contemporary and rival of the Minnie Blakely, built in the Credit in 1873; and the Minnie Blakely was 92 feet on deck, 20 feet 6 inches beam, and 7 feet deep in the hold. She was a scow, square-ended. The Maggie Hunter was schooner-built; each could carry about 300 tons.

About the time the Minnie Blakely was launched the Maggie Hunter changed her name. She was bought by someone in Kingston, possibly Ferguson and Co., and was there rebuilt and renamed. She became the Helen, a smart-looking black fore-and-after with a good sheer and a plumb stem.

Everybody in Port Credit commented on how much the Maggie Hunter had been improved. The rivalry with the new Minnie Blakely was intense. The former Maggie Hunter continued to use Port Credit crews, although she was now the Helen of Kingston. George Sharpe of Port Credit was mate in her, and one or two Port Credit men sailed in her before the mast.

Her skipper, though, was a wild hard-swearing chap from the foot of the lake. Nothing wrong with him, but his language on occasion would make the young ladies of 1934 envious. Port Credit was no sissy seminary, but the Methodists labored patiently and effectively there, and in consequence no Port Credit stonehookers ever worked on Sunday and profanity was diluted into "dangs" and "goshes."

Dan Sharpe, George's elder brother—later harbor master in Port Credit for many years was captain of the Minnie Blakely. The two rivals lay side by side in Oswego in 1874 or 5, in the fall of the year, laden with coal, the Minnie Blakely for Toronto, the Maggie Hunter, or Helen, for Kingston, her new home port.

Mrs Bongard
The crew shown here had, fortunately, nothing to do with the unhappy Maggie Hunter, or Helen of Kingston, but this is a typical picture of the men—and woman, for the cook was usually a woman who drove two-masters of the Maggie Hunter's size up and down the lakes. Few hands for a big job – captain, mate and two sailors to wrestle a 300-ton schooner with a 60-foot mainboom. This particular crew is that of the schooner D. Freeman of Napanee, taken at Belleville in 1911. Left to right: Capt. Wm. Savage, of Picton, owner; James Goodwin, Picton; – Babcock, of Belleville; Mrs. Frances Shaver, Picton, cook, in her smart white apron; and Alexander Clark, Point Peter, mate. The D. Freeman was a little larger than the Maggie Hunter.

"I'm not going out this day," said Dan emphatically, with a second look at the weather.

"We are," said George, "but it's not of my choice, I tell you, Dan. The Old Man says neither Hell nor Helen are enough to hold him back once he's loaded, so I'm to strike the fly for the tug as soon as I see him coming down the wharf with the clearance papers."

Captain Dan hailed the master of the Helen as she towed out and warned him of his misgivings as to the weather. In reply he got a cheerful broadside which blistered the paint on the Minnie Blakely's bulwarks. That night it did blow a gagger from the northwest.

George Sharpe had married Mary Naish, of Port Credit, and they had a snug little house on the Carr property down by the lakefront on the east side of the harbor, in the shade of the big cottonwood tree which was so long a landmark. They had at this time a little son, named Jimmy, who is still living in Mimico, and another baby was coming.

That night when it blew so hard Mrs. George Sharpe had a fearful dream. She sent for her sister-in-law, Mrs. Dan Sharpe, so long "Aunt Bessie" to the Port Credit community, and told her about it in the morning.

She had seen, in her dream, her brother-in-law, Captain Dan, hanging in the rigging of a vessel, all dripping water and unable to extricate himself, because, she seemed to know, one of his legs was broken.

It was Dan Sharpe she had seen in her dream, as plainly as though it was all happening in her room, but she had a terrible feeling at the time that it was her husband who was in this peril, and as she told the dream this impression grew upon her until she became frantic.

"Why, dear," said Mrs. Dan, bravely undisturbed, "you know dreams always go by contraries. As it is, your dream had nothing to do with George. He'll be safe enough in that new-built Helen. They'd be down at the foot of the lake, in the shelter of the land, when that nor'-wester blew up. You only have dreams this way because of the little one that's coming. And if it is a warning, all it means is that my Dan will be home soon with good news of George. They always go by contraries, these dreams, as I'm telling you."

To confirm her, Captain Dan himself strode in ere the week was out, hale and hearty and never a limp in his leg. The Minnie Blakely had made a good run up to Toronto and was unloading at Burns' dock, and he had come on to Port Credit by train. As for George, he must be snug in Kingston long ahead of him, for the Helen had towed out two mornings before the Minnie Blakely left, and all were well on board.

Captain Dan did not add that he had telegraphed Kingston the minute he reached Toronto and had not had an answer.

Mrs. George, despite his assurances, went white. Her pains came upon her, and in great grief of body and mind she brought forth her second child, a daughter. The little one lived with her uncle, the late Abram Block, J.P., of Port Credit, all her orphaned life.

For the new-built Helen, once the Maggie Hunter, never made port. Long did they look for her, at Kingston and the Credit. Nothing was ever found about her or her crew of five, except that her jibboom was picked up, long afterwards, with the guys attached. Some argued that this indicated she had been run down in collision at night, others that she had been over-driven in an effort to reach Kingston against the nor'-wester, and had foundered. Mrs. George Sharpe's dream and this battered spar were the only intimations of what had happened her. Her fate is one of the many mysteries of Lake Ontario.


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