Toronto Telegram, November 19, 1932
Schooner Days LXII (62)
By C.H.J. Snider
Waiting for the Light
Capt. John Williams, of 57 Islesworth avenue, and his brother, Mr. Joseph Williams, the laird of Simcoe Point, down Pickering way, by Duffin's Creek, both veteran lake mariners, inclined to the opinion that the wreck again exposed by this year's low lake level on the beach south of the old Lighthouse on the Island is the remains of the Ann Bellchambers of Frenchman's Bay. While this identification does not seem to be the correct one, the story of the Ann Bellchambers is worth hearing.
A LITTLE schooner, built by Wm. Bellchambers, a hotelkeeper at Frenchman's Bay, in 1864, was christened after mine host's daughter, Annie. The vessel had different owners, Wm. Pizer at one time, and Wm. Edwards at another. She was one of the "mosquito fleet" engaged in the great cordwood trade which then supplied the locomotives and the steamers plying out of Toronto, and heated most of the homes of the Queen City
On the 25th of November, 1875, the Ann Bellchambers sailed out of Frenchman's Bay, loaded with cordwood till her deck was awash. Two years in succession, in 1873 and 1874, she had narrowly escaped destruction, waterlogging at her anchors after getting up abreast of the Eastern Gap, Her crew had to be taken off by the lifeboat, but she had been righted and pumped out and saved each time.
This trip was to be the last of the season, and as it was late in the fall, Capt. Edwards took along two sailors and his son, Joe. Ordinarily two men or a man and a boy were enough to handle the little schooner.
Capt. Jack Marks, commodore of the R.C.Y.C. launches, and an old Frenchman's Bay boy, remembers "as if it were yesterday" his playmate Joe Edwards, going on board for this last voyage with his pockets bulging with apples.
They had worked up abreast of the Eastern Gap by dusk of this November day, and then the wind failed. At this time there were no concrete piers or lighthouses or foghorns to mark the entrance here. The gap was merely a break in the sandbar, made a few years before by an easterly gale, and giving a short-cut into the harbor, hitherto always entered by the western channel, after sailing around the Island. Large vessels could not use this cut, but small ones did, creeping through between the sandbars with the aid of a buoy here and there to show the deeper water.
Capt. Edwards anchored and sent one of his men on ahead with the little scow the schooner towed. The man had lanterns to hang on the buoys to show the way in. But in the dark he could not find the channel marks, and after a vain hunt, he tried to scull back to the schooner. The wind meantime had sprung up again and was pushing a snappy sea ahead of it. The scow could not make progress, and after a hard struggle, the sailor, exhausted, drifted back into the channel and so across the Bay. He went uptown for the night.
Thus the schooner, left plunging at her anchors, had no means of rescue or communicating with the shore. What they should have done was to heave up and sail on around Toronto Point. But they held on, momentarily expecting the return of the scow. By midnight it was blowing a gale from the east, and between what she had shipped and what had come in through her straining seams, the schooner's hold was full of water. It was quite beyond the control of the pumps. Only the cordwood in the hold kept her afloat. The load on deck was being swept away on every sea that broke, and the crew were chased out of the cabin by the water.
Capt. Edwards lashed himself and his son in the rigging, breast to breast. The remaining sailor, a man named Young, of Frenchman's Bay, did likewise. Capt. Edwards kept crying: "Bear up, Joe; it won't be long before daylight and they'll see us and take us off like they did the last time. It'll soon be light now, boy! It'll soon be light now!"
Before day broke the schooner rolled over on her side and the sailor was washed away. And it began to snow. And freeze.
William Ward, veteran lifesaver, father of the Ward boys, who still live on the Island, saw the wallowing little wood wagon with the first light,
"At her old tricks!" he laughed, remembering her former experiences, "It's a bad habit. Three times and out."
He got together a crew, leapt into his skiff, and pulled through the breakers as only the Wards know how. In the teeth of the gale he made his way alongside and under the slanting, lurching spars. The frozen mass of ice in the shrouds gave no answer to his hail. Mr. Ward could not be sure what that mass was, it was so caked; but he sprang for the rigging, caught a ratline, and hammered and pounded until the falling icicles revealed a man's body, with the arms wrapped around a little boy, and lashings about both holding them to the shrouds.
With his clasp-knife Mr. Ward cut them free and dropped them in the boat, and skilfully pulled back through the surf. Willing hands dragged the victims to the Wards' cottage.
Seven long hours did a doctor work upon Capt. Edwards and his son. At last the man began to murmur: "It'll soon be light now, boy! It'll soon be light now!"
But for Joe Edwards the light that shone was from that place where there is neither sorrow nor crying, and there is no night there, for the her cables. She drove on up to the westward, a sodden hulk, and came in on the point about where this wreck now lies uncovered.
But the wreck is not hers.
The Dominion register shows that the Ann Bellchambers was 52 feet long on deck, 13 feet 6 inches beam, and 5 feet deep in the hold. The uncovered wreckage on the Lighthouse Point measures 57 feet and is therefore longer than the whole length of the Ann Bellchambers. This wreck's length runs out in the sand for twenty or thirty feet farther than is shown. She was certainly 80 feet long, and more likely 90; enough to make two of the Ann Bellchambers.
So far the pea-split Mary Grover, mentioned last week, seems the likeliest answer to this riddle of the sands, but if the wreck was old in 1884 that suggestion is knocked out.
Has anyone a builder's model of any of the sloop or schooner scows that used to throng the Credit, the Bay of Quinte, the Thousand Islands, or Long Point Bay or Lake St. Clair?
Sellers of everything from submarine ideas to stories on sponge schooners have chipped in their sixpences on the subject of the mystery wreck on the south shore of Toronto Island, exposed by this year's high water.
THE ROD RIDER
Another correspondent starts off ambitiously about a "one mast schooner with jibs," which is a novelty to be prized, but falls by the railway track and takes to rod-riding. Says he:
"Sir, — From your explanation of the reck on the island shore, something after the Old Soverign of Kingston, as we used to call her the agravating Bundle, a one mast scooner with jibs. I saild on her in 1893, from Belville, ont., we traded with the Rathbourn Lumber Company, at Deseronto, and made meny trips along the lake shore, calling at every station ports, including Carleton Island.
"I remember we got stuck once between the Woolf Island and Carleton Island with a load of lumber, and the steamer Alexander nearly cut us in two. As I just saved myself by comeing out of the well with a lantern, after pumping her out.
"I left her and joined the North King steamer and left the North King as Sharlott, N. Y. and joined the Hurbert Dudley at Rochester a 2 masted coal brig for toronto Congers Coal Dock. I got leaf to visit a brother Baden, and returned to Toronto on the Blind Baggage, and gave the coal a lively run when I got back and covered myself under the tarpolion at the main spar. He never caught me. I heard Captain Mike took the old boat to Toronto, 1894. Captain M. McGowen was the boss on the Herbert Dudley in my time. There was one named Peg leg obrien I knew him, another Riley.
"Another good road to travel those days was from Port Hope to Peterboro and catching the missing line to Omemee. I used to spend weekends from one place to the other and all the trouble I had was crossing the Big Bridge the baggage man and conductor never bothered me. But they would tell me not to fall off when crossing the Big Bridge at a snails walk.
"The mose difficult rail roads to travel in those days were the U. S. lines, and if those old rails could speak it would tell of meny poor fellow laid out and burried without there parents knowing where they are and no registeratun of there deaths. I nearly got it once.
"But after that rod riding I got a box car then they would be afraid to knock us out with a gat or a stone or coal knob. We always carried protection in the states because the brakeys, etc., were bruts, and we carried our brutus for protection, likewise the old K. and P. was a good road if old Ben Folger was not there. Sometimes he carried symphity sometimes none when we loaded his fire box with wood.
It would be better if those old days were here now. But after they put the old Plank Guard to shut off the water front at the old station it stoped Blind Baggage and Bumper rideing in or out of the Railway Stations, but we used to meet them and jump on and off to avoide the station operator catching us.
"Those were the good old days when we got no pay for our work. But could get plenty of free rides some times we got a crankey brakey or conductor. But as a rule I always got served well if I went alone, which was always the case. I wanted no backers.
I had one once from Windsor. I jumped a blind leaving Windsor and found a drunk ahead. When we got to london they grabed him. But I under the coach keeping the Lord God giveth them light. He had frozen to death in his father's arms, Meanwhile, in the continuing gale, the Ann Bellchambers had parted wheels as shelter, the fireman and engineer knew I was there but never split the cop and con. came on my
"But if they seen me they did not split and off we went I ran a few yards and jumped on and came back to tronto where I met the operator as I got off, he proved a friend I knew in Omemee Ont. as operator there. I got o. k. in traveling those days was liberty, now we can't look at a train or even the tracks it's trespassing, the free traveling enabled me to keep working.
C. P. R., G. T. R
Chicago gentleman wants "Schooner Days" in book form. Get thee behind me, Chicago. "Schooner Days" appear only in The Telegram; back numbers 5 cents a copy if available Last man who thus tempted fate — from Detroit—-paid $3 for clippings.
WRECK WAS OLD IN 1884.
Sir, —I was very much interested in your article on the "Riddle of Lighthouse Point," which concerns the old wreck of a vessel on the sand, on the south shore of the Island, near the lighthouse.
From personal experience, I can affirm that this wreck was there in 1884, as I lived on the Island at that date, when a boy, with my parents. Often have I examined it, and wondered at its age, for it was a very old wreck even at that date.
Your assertion that it was not the wreck of the "Toronto Yacht" came as a shock to me, for my father, who came to Toronto in 1834 as a boy (Toronto was only York then), always stated for a certainty that this was the "Toronto Yacht."
I never doubted his word, for my father (an early dry goods merchant of 1850) frequently rode on horseback from the mainland near the Don all around the Island to Gibraltar Point (the present Eastern Gap did not exist then), and in so doing passed the wreck mentioned in your interesting article frequently. If the wreck is not the "Toronto Yacht" it seems strange that someone still living cannot at least throw some light on this puzzling mystery. I for one would very much like to hear of any suggestions brought forward which would be helpful to clear up the identity of this intensely interesting relic of the early vessels on our Lake Ontario.
A. R. G.
"Toronto Yacht", 1799-1812
Is This Island Wreck Hers?
The mystery wreck on the island shore has been there ever since 1884 at any rate, to-day's correspondence proves. Tradition that it is the hulk of the "Toronto Yacht" goes back fifty years further. Presence of the centreboard box, mentioned last week, seems to disprove such identification, because centreboards were not commonly used before 1840. But a "slip keel schooner" had been on Lake Ontario by 1812, the year the "Toronto Yacht" was wrecked, and as the latter was built at the shallow mouth of the Humber, thirteen years earlier, there is the possibility that she, too, had a centreboard or "sliding keel," as this useful shoal-water equipment was sometimes called. Against this is the fact that no mention of such an outstanding novelty is made in any discoverable references to the "Toronto Yacht." The Upper Canada Gazette, of Sept. 14th, 1799, advertised: "The Toronto Yacht, Capt. Baker, will, in the course of a few days be ready to make her first trip. She is one of the handsomest vessels of her size" (she was of 80 tons and had 6 guns) "that ever swam upon the Ontario, and if we are permitted to judge from her appearance and to do her justice, we must say she bids fair to be one of the swiftest sailing vessels. She is admirably well calculated for the reception of passengers, and can with propriety boast of the most experienced officers and men. Her master builder was a Mr. Dennison, an American" (the Gazette should have said Joseph Dennis, U. E. Loyalist settler) "on whom she reflects much honor."