While disposing of leftovers from past columns I found a couple of intriguing trim ends from a column of a few weeks ago, about shipping lumber from Parry Sound in the pine logging days.
Titled “The Parry Sound waterfront once reeked of sawdust and prosperity,” that story described the traffic jam of schooners and steamers that, in the late 19th century, arrived each summer to convey the annual output of local sawmills to distant Great Lakes ports. It also noted how the activity contributed to the local economy, making the point with a photograph of dockworkers swarming over the steam barge “Seguin” as they piled on lumber, one or two boards at a time.
A measure of the payroll involved in loading each vessel — coupled with a swipe at Parry Sound’s labour pool — is found in a brief news item in an October 1888 edition of the Canada Lumberman, the bible of the lumber industry.
It reported that the crews of a fleet of five American vessels that had recently taken nearly two million board feet of lumber out of Parry Sound were unhappy about the unduly long time it took to load, blaming inept dockhands for the delay.
But no wonder they were slow, quipped the Canada Lumberman, for “a man doesn’t throw himself for $1.25 per day.” Not knowing who hired such workmen, the ship owner or the lumber company exporting the product, I cannot say who this jibe was aimed at. But likely it was the American ship owners, for seldom did the Canada Lumberman print anything critical of its main subscriber base, the nation’s thousands of lumber producers.
But it does put a figure on the prevailing daily wage for manual labour, one that, apart from a short-lived upward surge following the Great War, remained much the same through to the end of the 1930s.
Another tidbit, gleaned from the diary of Duncan F. Macdonald, sheds additional light on the logistics of transporting the products of Parry Sound’s primeval forest to market.
On May 15, 1876, Macdonald wrote, “the Mittie Grew towed the Annie Mulvey up [from Parry Sound] to Blair’s Bay for to load with lumber,” following two days later with, “Mittie Grew towed Annie Mulvey out to the ship channel, and towed in the Ontario.”
The 50-foot steam tug Mittie Grew, built in Buffalo in 1869 and owned by the Parry Sound Lumber Company, was busily engaged throughout the shipping season both with towing in booms of sawlogs and with shuffling schooners about the harbour. (Apparently the Annie Mulvey took on a part-load of lumber in Parry Sound then topped it off at a small sawmill at the outlet of Blair’s Creek, on the far side of the Big Sound).
Also, the Mittie Grew aided both arriving and departing sailboats in negotiating the twisty, rock-ribbed Parry Sound Ship Channel, a challenge to any vessel, then as now. Macdonald’s diary entry for July 22, 1877, includes the remark “[Arthur] Starkey came in from the [Red Rock] lighthouse and reports the Vanderbilt on the rocks. The Seymour went out to her assistance.”
When she wasn’t carrying lumber, the 123-foot schooner Annie Mulvey, built in St. Catharines in 1867, was busy in the coal trade. On August 4, 1885, when the devastating “Esplanade fire” swept the Toronto waterfront, the now leaky old vessel was scuttled at her moorings in order to save her valuable cargo of coal.
The Mittie Grew is best remembered in history for discovering the fate of the steamer Waubuno, wrecked in a November 1879 storm with the loss of all hands and passengers. When the Waubuno failed to appear in Parry Sound on her scheduled run from Collingwood, J. C. Miller, owner of the Parry Sound Lumber Company, sent his little tugboat down the South Channel to look for the missing vessel. An overturned lifeboat, life belts, a ship’s ledger, and other furnishings found floating in the Sans Souci area, revealed that the Waubuno was no more.