Toronto Telegram, July 7, 1945
Schooner Days DCC (700)
By C.H.J. Snider


Schooner Days in their 700th number, with further effort at describing "OLD OAKVILLE SHIPS AND SAILORS"

THE little vessel we are trying to identify looks much more like a saltwater craft than a lake schooner, but she seems to be lying in a Lake Ontario port, and the circumstances of the finding of the picture point to Ontario.  She has a figurehead, with cheek-knees and trail boards, and these were unusual in Oakville vessels after the American Civil War.  The Sea Gull, 1864, is the last one mentioned on the Oakville register as having a real figurehead – a gilded gull, of course – and only two or three others are credited with "scrolls."  All the rest are marked "none" or "plain."

Dave Reynolds, Oakville sailor from 1870 onwards, said that in his boyhood the old Oakville vessels had figureheads and trailboards, and were beautifully painted in stripes, yard, half way down the mast, does not seem to complete the square rig which this vessel appears to have used forward.  She looks like a topsail schooner that was giving up her square tophamper, as many of them did.  She may even at one time have been a "brig," as lake sail the thick-strakes, cover boards,etc., being picked out in red or green or black or yellow.  He mentioned the Coquette, built in 1857, painted white, with seven or more stripes in contrasting colors, and the figurehead a lifelike full-length figure of a young lady with flowing brown hair. From a portrait of the Coquette painted by a lady in Oswego, when the poor Coquette was wrecked long ago, which confirms these details, it does not seem probable that the Coquette was our mystery vessel of the daguerreotype.

The arrangement of the headsails differs from that in use on the lakes. This vessel has two only of about the same size.  The lake usage was three or four, with the fore staysail, if set on the bowsprit as this vessel’s is, twice as large as the others.

This vessel’s high cabin is typical of the lakes, but is twice as long as usual in a craft of her size.  What appears to be another deckhouse under the foreboom is probably the base of a barn or storage warehouse on the bank.  The double springstay or triatic stay was never usual on the lakes.  It may be that the second line is that of a pair of braces for a topsail yard, for the meagre foreyard, halfway down the mast, does not seem to complete the square rig which this vessel appears to have used forward.  She looks like a topsail schooner that was giving up her square tophamper, as many of them did.  She may even at one time have been a "brig," as lakesailors called them, meaning brigantine, but strictly speaking, no brigantine ever had so large a gaff foresail and so little square canvas as is left of this this lady.

The brigantine idea suggests the Peerless of Bronte, which became an Oakville vessel and later a Brighton one, and gradually lost her square sails, but the picture does not fit the descriptions we have had of her.

This Peerless, about which more later, was the largest vessel Bronte builders, four miles from Oakville, turned out.  Capt. Nelson Palmateer described her as he first saw her in the Welland Canal in the 1860s.  To him and his brothers, who were venturing up Lake Erie for the first time in the little scow, Flying Scud, the Peerless looked like the Queen Mary would today.  She was then painted green,and her square sails on the foremast, shaken out for drying on a still sunny morning after a night’s rain, hung in breath-taking curtains of pure white, for they were new linen from Scotland.  Capt. Palmateer remembered a big square foresail, topsail and topgallantsail.  He thought she had triangular bats wings or raffles above the latter.  He heard she had run the length of Lake Erie under her foresail alone, in fourteen hours.

The Peerless was later rebuilt by Shickluna at St. Catharines, and passed from Oakville ownership to Toronto and the Bay of Quinte.

Other Oakville vessels which Capt. Reynolds described as having figureheads and tailboards were the Royal Champion, Flying Club,and Royal Albert and possibly the Victoria.  Some of these were larger than the little vessel pictured.

In the 1850s a fast shoal clipper model was evolved in Manitowoc on Lake Michigan by a saltwater man, and some smart schooners were built from it.  They had tiny forecastles on deck, and amidships.  This vessel, with her long lower masts and short topmasts, looks more like one of them than an Ontario schooner.

(Caption) THIS may be assumed to be an early Oakville vessel, for it is a reproduction from an early daguerreotype, in a quaint old case of which the gilt beading alone shows here, in the effects of the late Capt. Robert Wilson of Oakville, who was sailing schooners eighty years ago.  He was the grandfather of R. S. Wilson, 50 Hillcrest avenue, Toronto.  Mr. Wilson can not identify the vessel, nor can Schooner Days; nor can we identify the port Oakville?  Bronte?  1850? The latter is a "probable," for the vessel has tarred standing rigging, hemp shrouds, etc., and these began to go out in 1860, when wire began to be used.  Both rig and model are unusual for the Great Lakes after that date.  So step up, gentlemen, answer the questions correctly and you will receive another 64 Schooner Days if our leadpencil holds out.

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