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Gallery - Remembering the Stonehookers

From the 1830s until after the First World War, the Lake Ontario waterfront between the Credit River and Burlington Bay was busy with men engaged in mining the shallow waters for shale and loading them onto small sail-driven vessels known as stonehookers. In order to mine Lake Ontario for stone, a new marine industry, unique in Canadian history, was developed. The stonehooker was a small vessel, usually between twenty to one hundred tons in burden. They had very little draft, and some drew only eighteen inches of water. Schooner-rigged, the typical stonehooker could sail fast in light winds. Stonehooking, as an industry, prospered between the 1860s until about 1915. Port Credit became the centre of the industry, and the village grew rapidly during this time. Many stonehooking vessels were built at the shipyards in Port Credit, and many more called the port their home. The elements of stonehooking were relatively simple. A stonehooker would anchor as close to the shore as possible, usually in anywhere from six to twelve feet of water. A cargo would be gathered by sending out a small, flat scow or barge onto which loads of stone would be piled. Workers would then pry slabs of shale from the lake bottom using long rakes with prong-like forks bent at right angles to the handle. The stone, in turn would be loaded onto the barge. When filled, the barges would be poled to the waiting schooner where the stone would be offloaded onto the stonehooker’s deck. Stonehookers such as the Lillian and the Newsboy could carry thirty tons of stone on her deck. The toise was the standard measure for stone. Piled in rectangles three feet high, six feet wide, and twelve feet long, with long slabs on the outside and smaller pieces of shale positioned in the middle, a toise would bring the stonehooking crew, depending upon the year and the demand, between $3.00 and $5.00. Three trips a week at two toise a trip was considered an excellent output for a two-man crew.

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