Shipwrecks Hamilton Harbour Just Mishaps

Port  Of Hamilton: Ports Of Call ?
Sunday February 2011

Great lakes shipping

The enforcement of the Embargo Act of 1807 across the American – Upper Canadian border commenced American Shipbuilding.  Did you know during the War of 1812 – 1814 with the United States, the British squadron fled downwards to Burlington Bay (Hamilton Harbour) and they could not be overtaken.  Chauncy called off the chase when the British anchored in Burlington Bay (Hamiilton Harbour).  The General Pike was a Rolls Royce  of its time in the Engagements in Lake Ontario in the War of 1812.  It was named after Brigadier General Zebulon Pike and armed with broadside long guns with longer range carronades, 26 guns, patterned 1794, 24-pounder long guns.  Hamilton’s first shipbuilder, William Chisholm, was noted in the April 21, 1827 publication: United Empire Loyalist.  Although Chisholm owned five vessels, this publication noted three: Mohawk Chief, General Brock (weighing 60 tons), and Rebecca and Eliza passing through the Burlington Canal after wintering at Hamilton Harbour.  On March 19, 1923 the people of Hamilton and district  interest  focused on the passing of an Act (of Parliament) authorizing construction of the Burlington Canal. Then, on June 4, 1826 a race was pursued for the honour of being the first ship to pass through the Burlington Canal, the victor being Rebecca and Eliza.  Today, Hamilton Harbour is entered through the 90 metre Burlington Canal.  Hamilton Harbour finally appeared on the sailing lists in 1830 as an advertisement in the Niagara Herald gave the sailing schedule of the steamboat Alciope leaving Prescott on Friday mornings making the following ports of call :  Brockville, Kingston, Cobourg, York (Toronto), Burlington Canal (Hamilton), Grimsby, Port Dalhousie and Niagara.

Water sports

Summer Boating

Silent wind

The side-wheel steamers (steamboats) were a dominant form of commuter transportation through the Great Lakes in the second half of the 19th Century.  And, these steamers played a major role in the development of the region and the lives of the people.  That fact is important because without a human side of ships/shipwrecks, the stories are just a chronology of events and inanimate objects.  In 1847, Ivan S. Brooks painted the steamboat Britannia at Commercial Warf.  But, going back to the 1829 vessel list in Hamilton Harbour, it included: Britannia, Brothers, Kingston Packet, Margaret, Trafalgar and Telegraph.  The steamboat Traveller, under Captain Sutherland was placed on the Hamilton – Rochester service including other ports of call, namely : Presqu’lle Bay, Cobourg, Port Hope, and Toronto.  The Traveller made two trips a week and the ship’s agent  D.C. Gunn was in Hamilton.  By 1864, the steamer Argyle berthed (docked) in the Desjardines Canal, in Dundas.  The Jane, owned by Col. Crooks came to Hamilton Harbour unloading flour brought from Dundas.  And the barkentine Etowah was at anchor at Mackay’s Warf on her first visit to Hamilton carrying goods for Montreal, Hamilton, Cleveland and Detroit.  There was also the Royal Mail Line steamboat Princess, as many people had families in Europe and they communicated by letter (snail) mail.  By 1888, postcards were being mailed to Europe of the Macassa steamboat.  Also, in Hamilton Harbour three steamboats ploughed the waters from Toronto to Hamilton for commuter travel (no Go Trains in these days).  The steamboats were the Macassa, Modjeska and Turbinia.  In 1917, the Turbinia was drafted as a troopship in World War 1. By 1900 the ships carried iron oar and steel.     In 1920 Hamilton Beach began to change from a popular summer resort to a residential community where the cottages were winterized due to housing shortages of WW1 and WW11.  Then in 1927 the Macassa and Modeska were sold.   More recently in 1953 the Lady Hamilton travelled three times a week form Hamlton Harbour to La Salle Park (Burlington) and Hamilton Beach.  On August 21, 2,010  the GM Grand Mariner Cruise Ship docked overnight at Pier 8, Hamilton Harbour.  The GM Grand Mariner is the first ship in 2,010 to  include Hamilton on a  regularly scheduled itinerary from New York to Toronto via the Erie Canal making ports of call stops at Kingston, Port Weller and Hamilton Harbour.

Heading to port

Busy day


Mishaps!  Among the many stories of ships/shipwrecks in Hamilton Harbour are the ones captioned “Mishaps.”  The foremost mishap from 1850 -1899 was the common practice of pushing the shipping season to its limits well into December and even into the New Year, until the vessels could no longer navigate around winter ice.  Gales came in a series  during the winter of 1829 – 30 and ships trembled in the wind as  the galeforces  destroyed the breakwater and lighthouse at the Burlington Bay Canal, plus nine ships wintering in the Bay (Hamilton Harbour) were trapped by a 40 ft. wide sandbar. Fortunately,  a 70 ft. Swing Bridge was installed in 1830.  Unfortunately, another ship destroyed the Bridge.  To rectify the matter, a Scow Ferry was installed in 1832 and remained in use until 1896 when  it was replaced by a succession of Bridges.  The most interesting mishap was Lieut. Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland was to sail General Brock to open the Burlington Canal.  Unfortunately, the General Brock was hit by a crosswind as it entered the breakwater near the Burlington Canal entrance and it was closed.  As Blackbeard aptly said: “Shiver Me Timbers!”  Even Robert Louis Stevenson in Long John Silver used “So! Shiver me timbers, hero’s Jim Hawkins!” Fortunately, the Lieutenant – Governor had presence of mind and utilized Risk Management by rowing through the entrance of Burlington Canal on a six-oared barge to open the canal.  Did  anyone look at the flags on these ships ? Going back to the 1700’s Calico Jack Rockham is credited by some as the creator of the skull-and-cross bones symbol used on ship flags.    In the earliest history of Hamilton Harbour, besides Canadian Indians were there pirates on Lake Ontario ?

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