Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Photographer Unknown, Brock at Ontario Streets


The City of Kingston operates a Paved Paradise art space at this major downtown intersection. While it might be art showing birds or contemporary photography, on a recent downtown walk it featured historic photos mostly from the Queen's University Archives.  The provenance of the photos is incomplete - not even the archives fond is listed, and almost all are apparently taken by the famous photographer U.N. Known.
Nonetheless, I do like the photos and I've seen most of them before. Obviously, the reproductions are nice and big! But the CP train leaving the former K&P station across from City Hall is backwards. You'd only realize this if you know the track layout, or if you look closely at the locomotive's number board!

Trenton Builds Tugboats

It is said, 'The more you know, the more you realize you have yet to know.' Having published posts on Kingston Shipyards and Canadian Dredge & Dock's small-vessel production, the Trent Port Historical Association recently posted some photos on social media of a large number of World War II tugboats built in Trenton, admittedly slightly west of the Hanley Spur, but just as interesting! Trenton's Central Bridge once covered 52 acres at West Street and Creelman Avenue (top photo) with rail access at bottom, centre of photo and the Trent River at top left. 

Over several decades, beginning in 1937,  the company was involved in such projects as bridges, airplane hangars, a Highway 401 overpass, a Thousand Islands tour boat and the Ontario Pavilion at Expo '67.

One of their largest contracts began in 1942 when Central Bridge received a contract from the Royal Navy to build invasion tugs. Senator William Fraser asked Herb Ditchburn to oversee the building of 156 tugs used around the harbours of Europe. The tugboats were loaded on flatcars, sent to the Trent River two miles away, then launched into the river sideways just north of the swing bridge, behind Benedict-Proctor. The tugs were numbered CT31-CT46 (built 1942), CT66-CT85 and CT130-CT205 and CT216-CT250 (built 1944)

A total of 265 ocean tugs were built by Canadian shipyards and transferred to the British Ministry of War Transport.  They were officially called Canadian Tugs, with the symbol CT, but were universally known as TANACs, a name that is believed to have been intended to be the Canadian equivalent of the TUSA label used for the tugs that were built for Britain in U.S. yards.  They were 60-foot, 55-ton, diesel-powered boats: all but 35 of the 265 were steel-hulled, the ten built by Smith & Rhuland in Lunenburg, NS and the 25 built by Industrial Shipping in Mahone Bay, NS being wooden-hulled.  The first TANAC was delivered in late 1942 and the last in 1946.  Some were returned to Canada after the war and the last few were completed after the war was over and never left Canada, but almost all of them were sold to tug operators worldwide and many are still active. 

Naval historian Roger Litwiller describes the production process this post

"All the components of the ship were pre-fabricated on site and the finished components installed on the hull,  This included cabins, wheelhouse, winches, fire-fighting equipment, etc. At peak construction, Central Bridge was producing three tugs a week. At 65 feet, the tugs were small enough to start construction inside the plant. The hulls were built upside down to make welding the steel easier. Once the hull was complete it was turned over onto a flat car and a CP engine would pull the tug out of the plant.

When the tug left the yard it was completely finished, the only stage that remained was launching. During the first year of this contract the tugs were transported to the river and launched sideways into the river, the same way as the lighters.

Again, Ditchburn’s shipbuilding experience made a dramatic change.  That winter he had a long track laid from the water’s edge into the middle of the river.  The entire track was built on top of the ice of the frozen river. In the spring when the ice broke up, the track sank to the bottom of the river.  Divers were sent to inspect the track. 

Now the tugs could be launched directly into the river.  During the winter months, construction of the tugs continued and the finished ships were literally stockpiled at Central Bridge. After the ice broke up in the spring, two to three tugs a day were being launched. The tugs were moved onto a flat car and pushed to the river by a CP engine. A winch car was then placed between the engine and tug.  At the water's edge, the winch was released and the flat car rolled down the track into the river.  Once it reached deep enough water, the tug simply floated off the flat car and the winch then pulled the flat car back to the train. To accommodate the increase in shipbuilding a second siding was constructed into Central Bridge. The tug would travel by rail past the paper mill to the launching area located a mile further down river.

The tugs were completely finished when they were launched and the crew would start the engines and sail the ship under her own power to the dock.  The CP engine would then return to Central Bridge for the next tug.

The tugs would complete their “sea trials” in the Bay of Quinte.  Once accepted, they were formed into flotillas of twelve tugs and sail as a small fleet from Trenton, exiting the Trent River, crossing the Bay of Quinte and Lake Ontario.  The fleet would then take the Erie Canal to New York City where they were loaded as deck cargo on a Liberty ship and transported all over the world. Several of these tugs are still in service today."

Bridge girder for the Skeena River Bridge in British Columbia:

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Walking the Urban K&P Trail from Binnington Court

After leaving Allan Graphics, having transferred all the files for my upcoming book, Stories on the Waterfront - A Curated Collection of Memories and Photos of Kingston Harbour, we joined the Urban K&P Trail. We went as far west as a wetlands section near Highway 401, approximately 3 km each way. Technically, the Binnington Court trailhead marks the demarcation line between the Urban K&P Trail and the K&P Trail proper. After a short connecting trail running from the end of Binnington to the former CP right-of-way and short bridge (below) near Highway 401, the trail runs straight and level toward Sydenham Road:
It's quite a challenge to get a good photo of the former Knight's Siding. This spur reached the bulk fuel tank farm at Sydenham Road and Highway 401. This time of year, before all the weeds and foliage take over, it's slightly more visible. This view looks north, and the culvert, just visible to the left of the tree at centre, is a giveaway for the embankment of the former spur. Otherwise, who would install a culvert in the middle of the trees?
There are very few vestiges of the CP left. After all, it's been 35 years since the line was finally abandoned, and nature is quick to reassert itself. This pole for a crossing signal relay box is east of Sydenham Road, behind houses on Brass Drive:
Your humble and hydrated (it's important to stay both) blogger with the pole just to the left, and the trail to the right:
Crossing Sydenham Road. In Toronto, it's Mind the Gap; in Kingston, it's Wait for Gap. The traffic does not slow down for ambling trailwalkers! The bulk fuel tank farm is behind the trees at right of photo. There used to be another set of tanks at left, across Sydenham Road, but these are now gone and only the Sydenham Road trailhead parking lot is there.
The informative signage at Sydenham Road (as always, click for larger version):
The original Kingston & Pembroke builders did not concern themselves with ornate culverts. In fact, many of the original, sturdy but cheaply-built stone culverts were only replaced and modernized once CP acquired the line around 1913. The CP upgraded culverts and right-of-way over several years in the 1920's and 1930's. This concrete box culvert, west of Sydenham Road near the 401, is dated 1928:
This one, located closer to Sydenham Road, is still doing its job 94 years later:
My wife, walking partner (and acknowledgee in my books) precedes me as we leave the right-of-way and walk the last few hundred feel on the connecting trail back to Binnington Court. Here, we encounter the only pine trees along this section of the trail, as it backs onto businesses at left (hence the fence). The trail is well used - we encountered cyclists, fellow trailwalkers, families with strollers and even noticed a few horses' hoof marks! But sadly, no iron horses. Only wistfulness would bring back the tolling CPR steam engine bell, the easy lope of the short train heading downhill to the Inner Harbour, and the imagined whoosh of air through open coach windows as southbound passengers prepared to disembark across from City Hall.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

Companion Volume at the Printer!

It's time for another trip to the printer! Since December, I've been curating stories, memories and photos of life around Kingston harbour. The main streets and sidestreets, sidings and spurs, docks and piers- all within a block or so of the water.

While my first book Smoke on the Waterfront led readers through the little-known history and seldom-seen locations of waterfront transportation and industrial activity, this companion volume seeks to breathe some life into those dry bones. In order to do so, I've collected interesting reminiscences - from many viewpoints - of what life was like in those same places. 

Its working title is Stories on the Waterfront - A Curated Collection of Memories and Photos of Kingston Harbour. This second book will include even more photographs, thanks to the amazing holdings of the Queen's University Archives.

Watch for further updates as Allan Graphics works their graphic design magic over the next little while!

Tuesday, 18 May 2021

Got the Itch, Again!

Photo selection. Just as last June, when I got the itch to create a new book and Smoke on the Waterfront was published in November, you'll never guess what happened a month later. Yes, in December, I got the itch again, resulting in an as-yet untitled companion volume. The pandemic has been very kind to book creators who still have access to photos and text during lockdown!

The photo in this post shows photo selection and grouping, using a large chalkboard, printed thumbnail photos and lots of post-it notes. 

Stay tuned!


Thursday, 13 May 2021

Thomas McLeod - from the Antarctic to Kingston

Thomas McLeod is buried in Cataraqui Cemetery. George Lilley photographed him in December, 1958. (Queen's Archives photo, top). He made three trips to the Antarctic, receiving at least three medals that he kept in a folde handkerchief, meeting the King at more than one presentation.

  • Able Seaman on Terra Nova 1910 - 1913 on Robert Falcon Scott's voyage, during which Scott fatally failed to return to the ship.
  • Able Seaman on Endurance 1914-1917 on Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated voyage during which the ship was crushed by ice.
  • Able Seaman on Quest 1921 - 1922 on Shackleton's next voyage during which Shackleton suffered a fatal heart attack.

After the Quest expedition, McLeod emigrated to Canada at the invitation of George Vibert Douglas, the expedition’s geologist. He settled in the Kingston area where he fished for a couple of years off Belle Island in the Cataraqui River, before finding employment as a school caretaker at the one-roomed Sunny Plains School and as a watchman at the disused silica mine. This Toronto Telegram despatch was published in the Kingston Daily Whig in January, 1926:

In 1928 he made one further bid to return to his beloved Antarctica. He applied to Admiral Richard Byrd to join his first expedition south. “There is a lot of little things I know”, he wrote, “would be handy when you got south.” His application came too late – the places had been filled – but he was assured that had his application come to hand in time, a man of his experience would have been most welcome. A January 4, 1926 Daily British Whig article noted that no two people in Kingston knew that he was one of the hardy, self-sacrificing hands that carried the flag into new continents.

In 1947 he moved into the Rideaucrest retirement home, where he regaled his fellow residents with tales of his adventures. Most weekends he went to stay with a local family and enjoyed watching their television, particularly the boxing on a Friday night. He kept an active mind and maintained an interest in world affairs. He once told a Canadian reporter, “You know sailing is the finest life there is. If I had mine to live over again that’s what I’d do” and he later resided at the House of Providence. Thomas McLeod passed away on 16th December 1960 and is buried in Cataraqui Cemetery. His gravestone commemorates his achievements in the heroic age of polar exploration.

This intrepid seaman's obituary, in his native Hebrides Islands:

The names of McLeod (misspelled MacLeod), and Shackleton (misspelled Shackelton) are incorrect on the headstone. His date of birth, thought to be around 1873, is also not shown. Interestingly, McLeod's historic marker is only a few feet from my parents' plot, near the intersection of West and Basswood Avenues at the north end of the cemetery. This is how I discovered this interesting bit of Antarctic history in my own, personal exploration of Cataraqui Cemetery.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Not Just Blowing Smoke

It's impossible to say for sure what these smoke columns are emanating from. This 1940's photo of Market Square shows a busy square behind City Hall. But what caught my eye were the two plumes of smoke in the background? One is behind the Fire Hall, above its hose-drying tower.

I don't think it's from a fire - it's not billowing. I don't think it's from a chimney - it's too tall. I think it's actually from two steam engines working the CN and CP tracks along and crossing Ontario Street. I can almost hear the chuff-chuff-chuff!