Toronto Telegram, January 21, 1933
Schooner Days LXXI (71)
By C.H.J. Snider
Mosquito fleet or Vulgar Jim’s vengeance
Nearly all of them scows of from 20 to 50 tons, and manned largely by French-Canadians, the "Lake St. Clair Mosquito Fleet" carried cordwood, tan bark, slabs, jags of lumber until Michigan and Canadian woods were denuded. Later they carried bricks, brick clay, sand, gravel and crushed stone. Their sand and gravel operations widened the mouth of the Detroit river by hundreds of feet. They hauled crushed stone from Raisin and Rouge rivers to Detroit.
Larger scows of a later date traded coastwise up the Lake Huron shore, around Point Au Barques and Saginaw Bay, carrying ties, small jags of lumber, cordwood, tan bark, trap net stakes, spool wood stave bolts or anything that offered. Eventually they extended their coasting pick-up trade to Alpena, Oscoda, Cheboygan and Mackinac. When the Michigan trade was exhausted, some of the larger scows sailed to Georgian Bay. These later vessels were 100 to 200 tons burden.
There were more American vessels than Canadian in the fleet. Canadians along the Canadian shore of the west end of Lake Erie and Pelee Island, had a fairly good trade of general cargoes from Toledo to Amherstburg carrying coal, kerosene oil, rough manufactures, lime, cement, etc. Larger vessels – such as propellers of the earlier type, and schooners cut down for tow barges, took up the trade of the smaller craft as cities and towns grew and absorbed larger cargoes. Their names? Lily of Amherstburg, Jennie of Pelee Island, Josephine of Port Huron, Ellen Sebawing, Oak Leaf of Bay City, M. J. Spaulding of Port Huron, Julie of Marine City, Guest of Amherstburg, Reliable of Windsor, Black Bird, Gerald, Minnie, Shoo-fly, Newell Hubbard, Nellie May, St. Frances, Eugene Pelletier (hailing from Detroit or Mount Clemens), Pinafore of Detroit, Red Cloud of Saginaw. Nearly all painted green with white bulwarks.
Guest, Red Cloud, Shoo-fly, Nellie May, were "schooner built." The Gerald was a Port Credit model scow; all the others had "V" bows. There was a spoon bow or half barrel scow at anchor in Sandwich Bay for several years. Brother Roy, whose trick at the wheel it is again, thinks her name was Dauntless.
LIKE many another craft of the St. Clair mosquito fleet, the Per Haps was built at a time when good timber was plentiful and cheap and ship carpenters were scarce and expensive. She was a "V"-bow scow, a type of vessel which did not entail great skill of craftsmanship in her building, and possessed certain advantages of shoal water handiness which were generally accepted as compensating factors in balancing her shortcomings in windward work.
The Per Haps hailed last from Sault Ste. Marie, but she was a product of one of the "muskrat" yards of Lake St. Clair or St. Clair River. She was 70 feet long and was said to carry little better than a ton of bunker for every foot of her length. She was as strong and as clumsy as a profligate use of heavy hardwood timber and planking could make her, and withal a capable ship, if handled right and not required to function beyond her capacity.
She was owned and manned by a collection of McGillhooligans, each rejoicing in the Christian name of James, and known respectively as Old Jim, Big Jim, Red Jim and Vulgar Jim. She carried jags of lumber, railroad ties and cordwood and did well at it, and on occasion she also earned the McGillhooligans a few dollars by loading lime, household goods, limestone, gravel, camp supplies or what-have-you.
James senior was slain by the inexorable hand of pneumonia, and Vulgar Jim became the Per Haps' owner. In a desperate and gory battle he overcame his uncle Big Jim and made dire threats of likewise overcoming his cousin, Red Jim. Both relatives severed their connection with the Per Haps forthwith.
Times were not good. Cargoes were hard to find and the Per Haps was growing old. Vulgar Jim was far from prosperous.
There came to him one Lardface Oliver, a hewer of railroad ties, who was also non-prosperous.
"I been done dirt," Oliver mourned. "Me and four Chippewa 'breeds has been hackin' ties all fall and winter and spring and we ain't been paid only half what we was supposed to get and that's all gone for grub an' tools and a few odd snorts of likker. We're busted and we mean to get even. That skunk that gypped us has thousands of ties lyin' on the bank of Two Rats Creek and your boat could easy get into the creek mouth at night and we'd just load up all them ties that she'd carry and take 'em over to Bruce Mines an' sell 'em to the C. P. R. for two bits apiece. We'd only be takin' our own and the breeds'll help, and we'll give you an even hand share with the rest of us and an extry share for usin' your boat."
Vulgar Jim pondered the idea.
"Speakin' of takin' yer own," he said, "just happens to remind me that the money I've spent in DuGalley's saloon is considerable in excess of the drinks and general satisfaction that I've got out of that same establishment, to say nothin' about bein' put out several times with force and against my will and plainly expressed wishes. I got a hen on my mental nest that I think is goin' to hatch somethin'."
Vulgar Jim had schooled himself in certain niceties of diction by reading the Police Gazette and the Youth's Companion, the Christian Science Monitor not having yet swum into his ken. He had also schooled himself in the finer points of assault with intent to maim, from both defensive and offensive angles.
"Wait here until I return," he bade Lardface Oliver, "and be ready to leave with suddenness and despatch when I arrive. We'll be startin' for Two Rat creek shortly."
Fondling a segment of rock elm two-by-four, he strolled up to and into the saloon of Baptiste DuGalley. Business was slack. There were no customers in the place. "Kumma-see-vaw," Vulgar Jim addressed DuGalley cordially. "Go jump off the dock, " DuGalley replied. "I'd ruther have the cubic itch around here than you. Haul yer freight."
Vulgar Jim retorted with the segment of two-by-four and DuGalley's interest subsided completely.
Vulgar Jim helped himself to a pound of tobacco, three bottles of "sealed goods" from the liquor case, and the contents of the cash drawer and strolled back to the Per Haps.
"Leggo the dock lines without singlin' them out," he ordered Lardface Oliver. "Then help me make canvas whilst we're driftin' away from the dock. The wind's off shore and'll help us some."
THE Per Haps was two hundred yards away when Mr. DuGalley appeared at the dock end, wrathful and wielding a ten-gauge shotgun. His intentions were murderous, and his aim good, but his execution negligible. Vulgar Jim was beyond effective buckshot range.
The trip to Two Rat creek-mouth was uneventful, except for the hilarity arising from the despoiling of one of the bottles of high proof sealed goods. Lardface rounded up the disgruntled halfbreeds and plans were laid for the looting of the tie piles and the loading of the Per Haps.
It was a man-killing undertaking, drifting out heavy tamarack ties, hauling them aboard the hooker and stowing them. The work was hurried and by dawn of the next day the Per Haps had as much of a cargo on board as the marauders dared take. She sailed at dawn.
Providence was kind to them on the trip to Bruce Mines and there were no serious casualties enroute, except to the remaining bottles and to one of the halfbreeds, who inadvertently intimated that Vulgar Jim could drink wheesky lak that big w'ite 'orse on the Oranch Parade.
The ties found a ready market, and a casting up of accounts showed that the six adventurers and the Per Haps had earned wages of approximately ninety-five cents per day each in their venture.
"Tis a scandal and an iniquity," Vulgar Jim declared. "I've been led away from the paths of honesty by the allegations of a pack of ignorant tie-hackers, and damn my dolphin striker if I don't lick the alligators." He attended to two of the alligators, but the others escaped.
He induced a drunken river driver to help him sail the Per Haps to Sault Ste. Marie. A timber drogher, downward bound, lay at the dock where the Per Haps berthed. A mate with a broken nose accosted Jim and the river man.
"Wanna ship?" he queried gruffly.
"Ship!" the river man yelped. "I wouldn't go on another ship for a million dollars. Not if I was sober enough to know it. Why, hully jeeze mister, while I was on this here Per-Haps there was the dangedest goin's on...."
The mate ignored him. "Wanna ship?" he asked Vulgar Jim. "I gotta go uptown first," James started to explain.
"Go to hell," the mate advised unemotionally. Then he went about the business of casting off the drogher's lines, which were already singled out. He had sailed with a short crew before and could do it again.
"Hey! yuh untrimmed scut of a half witted so-and-so-divinely condemned, lob-livered, grave-robbin'— Vulgar Jim commenced to tell the mate what he thought of him as a preliminary to practicing his highly perfected assault with intent to maim. He changed his mind. Baptiste DuGalley was coming down the dock. So was a constable. So were several tough friends of DuGalley's who were equally tough enemies of Jim's.
The mate spat on his hands and prepared to engage Vulgar Jim in combat. Don't git excited now," Jim warned pompously. "I on'y wanted to tell yuh that I've postponed that trip uptown indefinitely, and I wanna ship bad."
The mate unclenched his maul-like fists. "Lay aboard and turn to," he growled.
Jim escaped the vengeance of DuGalley, but the Per Haps did not. Baptiste claimed her for his own. When he ceased his ravaging, she had neither spars, sails nor gear. For years her dismantled hull lay in the boneyard at the Soo. Firewood was cheap and plentiful, so she was permitted to disintegrate in her own way with the aid of dry rot.
Vulgar Jim sailed two seasons in the timber drogher in which he fled. Then he shipped mate in a leaky fore-an-after in the coal and limestone trade. Later on he acquired title to a spoon-bow scow and had an old man, a boy and a darky for a crew.
White oak shavings
The White Oak, of Oakville, and her adventures as set forth in these columns, "have produced further repercussions." Mr. George M. Coote, of Hamilton, writing to find what publisher printed "Schooner Days," says his grandfather, Capt. George Coote, built and launched the White Oak, and he has her original barometer. An interesting memento of a worthy vessel.
As for "Schooner Days," the series is contributed to The Evening Telegram exclusively, and is protected by copyright. If, as Mr. Rowley Murphy Toronto artist, kindly hoped recently seconded by Mr. David Williams in the Collingwood Enterprise-Bulletin, "Schooner Days" develops into a series of volumes, due notice will be given.
Great Gale of 1913
Friend I.S.B. in Burlington, writes again suggesting a story some time of the Great Gale of November 9th, 1913. Coming, sir, before long. It is strange that, out of the great mass of material on record regarding this comparatively recent event, the most appalling in some ways in the history of the Great Lakes, so little in the way of good narrative has emerged.
All straight accounts of experiences in that disastrous hurricane will be welcomed. There is another stewpan on the fire for I. S. B., and we shall do our best with this dish also.
Toronto Yacht wrecked 1817
Mr. V. N. Roberts, of the Toronto Harbor Commission staff, makes an important contribution from his extensive records of harbor history.
This is an extract from the Montreal Herald of 1817, giving a despatch from York, Upper Canada, telling of the wreck of "H. M. schooner Toronto," with a cargo of Indian goods, on Gibraltar Point on June 2nd, 1817. The date is highly important, as it is five years later than the year given by most historians, following the lead of Dr. Scadding in Toronto of Old. Dr. Scadding, writing many years after the event, set the belief that the Toronto Yacht, built at the mouth of the Humber in 1799, was wrecked on Gibraltar Point early in the year 1812. As Mr. Roberts points out, it is highly improbable that there were two government vessels, each named Toronto, and each wrecked on the same spot five years apart. The Toronto Yacht, was so named and described at the time of her launch, in accordance with 18th century practice, which called all government despatch vessels and similar official craft "yachts" and did not confine the term to pleasure or racing craft. Indeed yachting as we know it was then in its infancy, although it was a lusty infant of well over a hundred years of age. Charles II and James II both had yachts.
Mr. Roberts is familiar with the tradition that the wreck now once more uncovered opposite the lighthouse on Gibraltar Point is that of the Toronto Yacht, and has known the wreck since 1887, but he is not convinced of its identity.
The case for the Toronto Yacht being wrecked in 1817, not in 1812, seems watertight, but it leaves open the question of what the Toronto Yacht was doing in intervening five years. There appears to be no mention of her activities during the War of 1812. The Toronto Yacht, by the way, cost £305-12-6 for labor and £675-9-4 for material, to build, in 1799.
Resting place of the Sarah Ann Marsh
The Picton Times errs in quoting from "Schooner Days" Port Whitby as the home port of the Marsh fleet of vessels. Port Hope was what The Telegram said, and Port Hope was the place. But the Picton Times adds an interesting piece of information regarding the fate of the Sarah Ann Marsh, variously reported as sunk outside of Owen Sound harbor and becoming a dance hall in Oswego at the end of her days. "Mr. George W. Collier of Picton says that both these guesses are wrong. The Sarah Ann Marsh was lost near Nicholson's Island off Huyck's Point, in a December snow storm. He is not sure as to the year, but he has reason to remember the occasion very vividly. His brother, the late Sidney D. Collier was one of the crew. The crew reached Nicholson's Island where they were cared for by the woman occupant of the farm home on the island.
The crew were in the lifeboat for some time before they found a landing place. It was snowing and blowing so heavily that they could not see for any distance and had no idea as to their distance from land. It was their good fortune to find safety on Nicholson's Island."
Mr. James B. Chalmers, Acton, Ont., writes: "The Sarah Ann Marsh laid up in Owen Sound harbor and rotted there. Was afterward towed to the brook shore about two miles from the harbor and there lies at the present date, frame somewhat visible, and all of white oak."
Mr. Chalmers concludes with references to several sailing vessels, which will receive fuller attention later. Meantime possibly a symposium might be arranged between Messrs. Collier and Chalmers under the joint auspices of the Owen Sound Sun Times and the Picton paper. The writer of "Schooner Days" will cheerfully hold the stakes.