Discovery North Bay
North Bay, Ontario

Gallery Thumbnail Gallery Stories Contact Us Search

Tracks of Time




Peter: Did your family, Was your family originally from this area?

Mac: No, my family comes from ?Gig? Quebec, Ville Murray area. Mon Pere, he was a logger in the bush in the wintertime, cutting pulp firs for the pulp and paper outfit in Temiskaming. And ah things went wrong, or whatever and then he just got a job down here, so he came down here.

Peter: By down here you mean to Callander.

Mac: To Callander, Yeah.

Peter: And that would be.. roughly when?

Mac: 1922. I was conceived in Quebec and born in Ontario. And I was born in September. So, they came down here in March.

Peter: And your Dad was in the lumbering business, so did he remain in that when you came down here?

Mac: Oh, yeah. Then he started to work for J.B. Smith and retired from there.
Peter: Where was the Mill?

Mac: The mill was behind, behind us here.

Peter: You're on Main Street North and Callander, that's where you live.

Mac: It was on Mill Road, if that means anything to you. But it was behind this.. about half a mile from here. Right on the lake.

Peter: Was there a creek or anything going into the lake at that point or..

Mac: No, no.. It was just the lake shore. No rivers close to it. Because everything was brought from Sturgeon Falls. All the logs were brought down from Sturgeon Falls for all the mills. Of which there was five of them here in this bay at one time. Yea. And they were big mills.
Peter: Do you remember them? Were they active when you were a young man?
Mac: Well, I remember them all except for the J.R Booth. Of course, they called it a mill, when in reality it really wasn't a mill. It was just a jack ladder. And J.R. Booth cut long up the Sturgeon River, drove them down to lake Nipissing, towed them across the lake, loaded them on railroad cars-you know the road to Astorville.. well that used to be a railroad bend, that's why it's called Booth Road-and he railroaded them out there and dumped them in lake Nosbonsing, toed them down to Bonfield and dumped them in the creek down there.. into the Mattawa, Ottawa.. a lot of it was cut up here. Like, say this winter wouldn't get to J.R. Booth mill in Ottawa for two years.

Peter: Is that right?

Mac: Yeah, by the time they got the drives, and the towing, and the loading, and transferring.. etceteras.

Peter: You said a 'jack ladder' that means they didn't refine the lumber at all.

Mac: They would tow the logs down and of course they would have storing grounds. But the jack ladder runs all the time, well, right up to freeze up of course. And the logs would go up this chain and they'd be rolled onto railroad cars, until the car was full. They used to haul three or four cars, they just had a little wee steam engine. The logs were just loaded here and continued on their way to Ottawa by drive and towing etceteras.

Peter: Did.. were you ever a lumberjack? Ever work in the woods lumbering at all?

Mac: I never went to the bush camps, I'm the only one in the family that didn't. But I worked around mills from about I was twelve years old.

Peter: Was it a short step to becoming involved with shipping on the lake?

Mac: Well...It wasn't very short for me, from twelve to.. to I started full time on the lake in 1947, under Captain Darling but my mentor was the first mate Andy Mesure. And that took me eight years, and then I wrote my exams for my master's ticket. And at the same time that I wrote my master's.. tug master's ticket I was given a first mate passenger vessel's ticket because the O&R was having trouble getting a first mate here every spring... Captain Moreson, who was the examiner, was sort of fed up with supplying them with people. So, he said to me ' If you give me another fifteen dollars, I'll give you a first mate's ticket because your exam warrants it.' Then he said then, ' When you go home I want you to apply for that job so they can get off my back.'(Laughs) So, as it happens.. I didn't apply for it because he must inform the O&R because I was working in service... See every winter when you work it's seasonal, so every winter you have to find something else to do, so that particular winter I was working at a service station I can probably remember, at the corner of Fisher and Main. And then Bill Rowe, Captain Rowe came to me and said 'I hear you got your ticket..' and I said 'Yeah', well.. I said 'I've got it, he told me I have it, but I haven't really got it yet...' It was that fast, him coming to see me. Then he said ' how would you like to come on with me in the spring?' Well I said, 'Well, I don't know, I'll have to think about it.. I'll have to see what happens there at Smith's.' Because the Captain there was getting honored for retiring.. so then when spring came, I was informed they weren't going to be doing any towing..(??) So then I went on the O&R, the Old Chief as first mate for Bill Rowe

Peter: Was there any particular reason why you went from being involved with the milling into.. into...
Did you just decide I'd like to work on the boats.

Mac: Well, yeah well of course you see again as kids, you know, when I was an early teenager, my oldest brother always had a gas boat. And me and a couple of chums in the summer holidays would go around the shores and pick up logs, company logs. And sell them back to the company..

Peter: You never took them out of a boom though?

Mac: No..(laughs) No, not us.. In a matter of speaking they gave us 25 cents a log for every log we brought in.. which was a lot of money in those days. And it just went from there, it just evolved.. you know.
Peter: When you were young, there must have been a fair number of boats on Nipissing... A reading from glancing at 'Dugout to Diesel' by Besel Vandenhazel, which outlines the history of... I looked at the names.. I had no Idea, the number of boats that were plying lake Nipissing.

Mac: Mr. Mesure, Andy Mesure told me that at one time.. with different boats.. but at one time, there would be twenty eight steam vessels on lake Nipissing, of various lengths and sizes..

Peter: What would most of them be doing.. and again, tie it down to a time period you'd be talking about.

Mac: Mostly in the logging area and transporting.. you know.. freight and bringing the loggers into the camps and towing logs and that's primarily what they were all for..

Peter: Are you talking the twenties?

Mac: ..and some passenger boats... Yes, we are talking the twenties and early thirties. Things started to break up in the twenties.. but prior to that.. now we're talking.. say between 1900 and 1918 or somewhere around there.. when there were a lot of steam vessels. But then, the mills started to disappear.. so the Booths for example was gone out of her I think in 1906 if I.. remember...(mumbling..) Then there was the Canadian Timbre Company they went out of here.. their burnt in 1933 I think it was... And Payette lumber company was at the far end of the bay.. in 1935.. somewhere around there.. and of course Booths was gone by this time... McBurney's they just went out of business.. maybe prior to the 30's. And Darling's mill.. it was .. it was done by the wartime.. by the first World War.. by 1918.

Peter: Why the decline? Why did these companies all fade away, was there some economic change, or did they start logging differently?

M: The little fellas particularly were sort of's the same as what happens today the little fella couldn't compete against the big guys. So they just sorta petered out. And the last.. the last one to last, was J.B. Smith & Son. They were here to 1968. So that was the end of the era.

P: You mentioned fire. And from glancing through the book, so many of the boats mentioned in this history either burnt in the off season, burnt at dock and then John B. Fraser, of course, burned right on the lake.

M: Yeah.. yeah.. She was on her way to Frank's Bay with a big scow load of horses and hay and supplies and two passengers as well as the crew.. loggers like you know. When she took fire.

P: The Idea seems to be now that had the crew been a little more experienced that everyone might have gotten off without any dead.

M: Yeah.. That's true a situation like that it's not that the weather was against them because it was fairly calm that morning. And.. it wasn't the captain apparently it was the wheels man that gave a stop bell and then they started to get off the boat.. they had a life boat off on the side. And then he gives the engineer a backup.. two bells to backup and the boat went to bed and went underneath the paddle wheel. So, of course they're into the lake so when where talking, it's November so you're not in there very long. Then of course the scow came along, and hit the back of the boat with it's momentum and then of course the hay started on fire on the scow, and the horses were on there, and the horses panicked, so it was quite a disaster.

P: It was just a bad sequence of events wasn't it, some things sort of.. one after another.

M: Yeah.. you wouldn't be all day for these things to happen.. you're talking a matter of minutes. So, and then it was quite a little while before anyone was able to come to the rescue. Mr. Green, Mr. Wellington Green, who was a captain on the lake, he had a big sailboat, he was on Frank's Bay when they saw the smoke, and they started.. they didn't have much wind it was fairly calm, so it took him a long time to get there but he picked up the few.. I forget.. four or five I think.. if I remember right that was saved off of that thing.. the rest all died.

P: You mentioned paddle wheeler and you served as skipper of the Alligator. Which...warping tug, a side wheeler tugboat, a warping tug. Tell me what a warping tug is.

M: That's.. where's that little.. wait.. I can show you here..
P: A steam driven Alligator, is a side wheeler. There is a wheel.. A paddle wheel on each side, it's not like a Mississippi..

M: No, It's not a stern wheeler.

P: Not a stern wheeler.. OK. The one that you served on was the Woodchuck and maybe you can describe exactly how the mechanism worked. And what that craft was suited to do.

M: The machinery inside, of course, was designed to run both the paddles and a warping winch at the bow end. Whatever you were prepared to start to bring a tow of logs out from the river which you had to do because the water was too shallow, for the tug boats that were going to get the logs to bring them to Callander could only get in within about a half a mile of the mouth of the river. So this alligator had to warp the tow along out to the tug. So whatever he'd hook on to the.. he'd go out first put it in gear for the paddle wheels to work, run out the.. he had four thousand feet of cable, run out to where he thought was far enough, drop his anchor, then take it out of the winch or put the winch in neutral, put the paddle wheels in gear, and then paddle his wheel.. paddle his way back to the tow. Then he'd hook the stern cable on to the tow, and then take the paddle wheels out of gear, put the winch in gear and start to warp. It would warp about a half a mile an hour.. is as fast as it could tow the logs. He'd have to do that twice to get to where the boat was anchored that was going to take the tow from him to bring down the lake.

P: How would the logs be all together.. how could.. was there some sort of enclosure that the boats.. err.. the logs were in?

M: I'll show you one so you know what I'm talking about.

P: OK.. Actually, it's a little model with a small craft and a lot of logs they've got logs chained around the outside edge of that.

M: It's called the store boom.. you see. That was to catch.. in case you broke a pocket.. these were called a pocket timbres.. if those broke well then you always this big one. These boom timbres here averaged sixteen to eighteen inches in diameter and forty feet long.

P: They made a pocket right.. they were chained together too, in a circle and we have three circles in one of these large..

M: On a total tow, yeah... And that represented about ten thousand logs, or a million feet of lumber.

P: That's a lot of wood(awed voice).

M: Yeah.. and then, as you said there, there was this big one outside none of these were under thirty six inches in diameter.. these store booms.. and that was three quarter inch chain, holding them together.

P: Now they would be used time and time again then.. the outside.

M: Oh Yeah... the outside ones we just.. when we let the tow.. put the tow way down here, we would bring this back up with us. A towing season at the last eight tows, or representing ten million feet.. it what they used to cut.

P: When was the last tow on lake Nipissing.. can you remember?

M: 1961 was the last year we towed.. yeah.

P: When that happened what.. how did you feel about it?

M: Well.. I felt pretty bad about it.. cause that was my life.. I enjoyed doing that.. I was happy doing that.

P: Now, you mentioned the Siskin as another one of the craft.. in fact the Siskin.. is the last boat you captained.

M: The Siskin.. when the old Woodchuck.. it deteriorated it had been re-hulled several times and the machinery was getting pretty well dilapidated. So they bought a new steel tug from the same company that built these.. Westin Peachy from Old Town.. then they started to make steel ones. They also built the Mel Thompson.. the Ice Breaker.

P: And then you served on the Mel Thompson as captain as well. Now, an Ice Breaker.. on lake Nipissing. Tell me the story of that.

M: Well the fall that they worked the bind on the Island.. Beauceage Isle. Then the O&R did all the cagin from North Bay to mine timbers and fuel etceteras.. etceteras with the barge. We made some trips with the Chief, and the Ale had a regular run of taking a crew in, in the morning, back out.. picking them up again at night.. and another crew would go back in once they got operating. But then of course the time came that the ice took hold, and they had this Mel Thompson on order but it was late coming. So the chief engineer off the Comanda and I came down took her off the transport here and put her in the water and brought her to North Bay in a snow storm and we had to break ice getting out of the bay. And we found there's no compass on it, nothing's ready.. and it's snowing and blowing like hell, so we just snuck our way up the shore and got to North Bay. So the next morning that I had to take the men over to the mine. When I came back I was to escort the barge, the O&R barge, and the Elitist to Callendar so they could be pulled out and stored away for the winter. By this time the ice.. the lake is frozen right over, and we had just gotten nicely underway and I didn't want to get too far ahead of them, but I wasn't breaking a path quite wide enough for the barge and the ice started to cut in on her sides. Of course those barges, those old landing crafts, they had a double hull so it made it's way back all right. But the Elitist, whenever I broke off a field of ice, and then the ice started to come together, it just cut the sides right out of the Elitist and she sank and Captain Lory Rowe, Bill's oldest son, he was on there with Captain.. or who became a captain later Lawrence DeKis. They were.. of course then I turn around and went back to get them.. she was sinking down, about half of her up out of the water. So They got on with me and we got a rope on her and we were going to tow her back into shallow water. As soon as I started, and of course I give the axe to Lory Rowe and I said 'Look, if this thing starts to pull us down with it, you cut that rope.' Of course when I started ahead, naturally the water rushed to the stern, so Lory cut the rope, so she sank there in about twelve feet of water. And they raised her the following February, we put a buoy there, and they raised her up the following February, dragged her across the ice to shore and brought her down to the O&R shop, refitted her all, and sent her up to Moosenee and she finished her days up there.

P: That's a great story.. The Mel Thompson I guess would have a specially reinforced bow?

M: She was built.. there's a picture here I think.. she was built just like this.. there was lugs welded on, there was a great big square tank came out here..

P: At the front.
M: At the front and that held sixteen drums of fuel oil, for ballast.

P: Oh, I see.. So it didn't so much as cut through the ice as it hammered it's way through.

M: Just push her ahead until it mounted up on the ice and then the weight of that thing would break the ice down. When I stopped for the Christmas holidays it was taking seven hours to go from North Bay down to the Manitous and back. In fact, a man would get so discouraged, that they'd just get off and walk.
(laughs..) That's true you know. But, I had to go, to get supplies, groceries.

P: The Mine.. the Beauceage Mine you were talking about I've head about it, and you see the remnants of it, what was the story about that? What were they mining for? And what stopped it?

M: Uranium, it was primarily Uranium but apparently ,as the rumors went, it was quite in Columbium and Tantalum, which was a very precious metal at that time that was apparently one of the reasons they were able to go to the moon it was a real metal conditioner. Early Nineteen-hundred there was two or three fishing companies, there was one here that did it in the bay here, one over in front of the south river and of course the ones up on sturgeon lasted.. I guess maybe still doing it for all I know, primarily Sturgeon.

P: Were steam driven, I suppose coal or wood as the fuel, and then in 1946 the Chief Commanda was the first diesel on the lake. How did you feel when diesel appeared?

M: Well, if you had a of bit fire on the Seagull you would have been glad to convert to diesel. That was a hard job but it just was the end of an era, everything was going to be internal combustion from then on and you just had to accept it, that's all.

P: It would be safer in a respect too, because we talked about fire.

M: Oh yeah.. it had many, many advantages like, you know.. a lot less maintenance, lot less help. That's what's happened in this world we've advanced too much in technology there's nothing for people to do. With all our brainstorms that we've had.

P: The first Chief Commanda was also a side-wheeler right?

M: Oh no, no, the first Chief was...

P: It wasn't a paddle wheeler?

M: Oh no.. she was a screw yeah.. just single screw thought. The seconds got two.

P: Yeah, number two is a catamaran sort of thing. Did you like the Chief Commanda? The first boat.

M: She wasn't a nice ship to handle, she wasn't a nice ship on lake Nipissing. She was too shallow a draft, too pot bellied so to speak. She was hard to steer, you had to just be.. you couldn't even turn your head to talk to somebody, the boat would be over there. You just had to steer all the time. When the.. the lake got up, particularly a broad side sea, she just rocked like crazy.

P: And Nipissing, was not Nipissing.. or is it not still a lake that can be calm one second and trouble the next.

M: Oh yeah, don't take long.. don't take long, in fifteen minutes you could go from calm to six foot swells. Because it's so shallow. By and large it's shallow, not right down the middle, your average water is around forty-five, fifty, fifty-five feet but when I say down the middle, I mean down the middle. Once you take off from the center and head say.. to the north shore like its three miles.. well, if I remember correctly from the North Bay dock to the Manitous you're more than half way, and still in eighteen feet of water. And then you hit that hole in around the Manitous and you'll drop down to forty-five, fifty feet of water. On the south shore it's the same, because when I helped an old fella by the name of Raddick make the first map for lake Nipissing, back in the early fifties. It was.. I found it quite interesting cause.. first we went out and posted flags all over, on the Manitous, on Bird's Island, and on the Goose Islands, and on ?Ire? Island, Gull Rock, and Lonely Island. And then I'd run him out with the Alligator and I'd just put the boat right on the rock so then I'd be nice and solid for him to set up his tripod and shoot his line, you know. And he'd say things to me that sort of baffled me, he'd never been on the lake before.. and he'd say 'well now, that's all rocks from here over to that Island were we put that flag the other day?'
And I'm talking twelve miles of water. Well I said 'I don't know if it's all rock or not but there's one here about a mile down that comes up about two feet from the top, that's about the average water. 'Oh yeah' he says and he just goes like this Well I said, 'how can you tell that?' He said, 'what makes you think the bottom of the lake is any different than the shore? You go up a hill and in the bush.' He said, 'you go to the top,' then he said, 'you got to go back down, you go down into a valley.' Well he said, 'that south shore, the way you see it there..' Well he said there was a valley between there then it comes to here. And.. I've got him on gull rock there now And he said, 'the high points of that ridge was this rock, the Goose Islands and the rest is just underwater maybe.. but still the top of a ridge' you see

P: You say the early fifties because you metion the Woodchuck, the Alligator the Woodchuck that you took him out in and that went the way of all flesh in about 1953 - 1954 or something like that, according to the Bendn..

M: Fifty four.. we got the new Alligator in Fifty Five, The Cisco yeah

P: Is it a surprise to you that that was the first comprehensive map that was being done.. in the Fifties?

M: Um.. Yes and no, people went by smell and feel for all the years before that, nobody ever thought of mapping anything. We asked a fellow.. said 'do you know were all the rocks are?' 'Oh, yeah yeah..' and then bang.. you run into a rock 'There's another one there!' (Laughs).

P: (Belly Laugh)

M: But that's the way they learnt the lake. By Feel.

P: The hard way.

M: Yeah, the hard way.. and a lead line. I wish I had a nickel for every time I threw a five-pound lead over the side of the seagull To get your depth, you know and thats how we could tell we were in the centre dip of the lake. By the depth we would get on our lead line.

P: (Mumbling, Something cuts out, then back in) Would you do it all over again if you were starting?

M: Oh, definitely. Oh yes.. yeah if I'd have stayed on the lake, I'd probably be feeling better today. I started to deteriorate when I quit working for a living and went to work for the government. I got paid there but I didn't do any work.

P: You need the exercise.

M: That's right, I had to be physically doing something. But, that's life..

P: Mac, many many thanks for giving us the time and talking to us, really appreciate it.
M: You're welcome.
P: We just scratched the bloody surface, I mean, you've got a lot of things to say.


Print Page

Important Notices  
© 2017 All Rights Reserved