Several weeks ago we shared an article on the Ridgetown (formerly S.S. William E. Corey), which is the former Great Lakes freighter that is now the permanent breakwater at Port Credit Harbour. The Corey was launched on June 24, 1905, and in the previous article we mentioned that the Corey/Ridgetown is the fourth-oldest surviving great lakes freighter. Last week I received an inquiry asking about the “Lakers” that were older. Finding the answer took some digging, and the search took me beyond Mississauga – although not that far away.
The three surviving Lakers that are older than the Corey/Ridgetown are the S.S. Victorious (launched 1895), the S.S. Douglas Houghton (launched 1899) and the S.S. Howard L. Shaw (launched 1900). An article by Bruce Forsyth at militarybruce.com pointed the way. All three of the freighters form a breakwater at Ontario Place.
When the construction of Ontario Place commenced in 1969, it was determined that a large breakwater was needed to protect the artificial islands and marina. An effective and relatively simple method for constructing this breakwater was to sink three decommissioned Great Lakes freighters, end to end, then covering them in concrete to form a breakwater. Unlike the Corey/Ridgetown, which still looks much like it did when it was in active service, the freighters at Ontario Place offer little visual connection to their past lives, at least at first glance.
The S.S. Victorious was built in Chicago by the Chicago Ship Building Company. Originally named the S.S. Victory, she was launched on June 29, 1895. The Victory served as a freighter for the Interlake Steamship Company, with a home port at Ashtabula, Ohio. In 1940 she was sold to the Upper Lakes & St. Lawrence Transportation Company of Toronto, and renamed the S.S. Victorious. The company was renamed Upper Lakes Shipping Limited in 1959. As her career wound down, the Victorious spent the winter of 1968 moored at the Canada Steamship Terminal in Port Credit (there is our Mississauga connection!), before being laid up in Toronto. The Victorious was retired and sold to the Toronto Harbour Commission in 1969 for use as the breakwater at Ontario Place.
The S.S. Douglas Houghton was built by Globe Iron Works in Cleveland, and launched on June 3, 1899, and had her maiden voyage on July 26, 1899. She initially traversed the Great Lakes for the Bessemer Steamship Company with her home port at Duluth, Minnesota. Within weeks of her first voyage, the Houghton was involved in a significant accident: on September 5, 1899, while traversing St. Marys River via the Middle Neebish Channel, the Houghton collided with her own tow barge, the John Fritz, and the Houghton sank. The sinking closed the channel to shipping for a week while the Houghton was raised, causing largest traffic jam in Great Lakes history in what became known as the Houghton Blockade. After repairs, the Houghton returned to service in the summer of 1900. In 1901 the Houghton was sold to the Pittsburgh Steamship Company, and was rebuilt in 1928. In 1945 she was sold to Upper Lakes & St. Lawrence Transportation Company of Toronto (renamed the Upper Lake Shipping Company in 1959). In 1969 the Houghton was sold to the Toronto Harbour Commission in 1969 for use as a breakwater.
The last of the Ontario Place freighters is the S.S. Howard L. Shaw. The Shaw was built by the Detroit Shipbuilding Company of Wyandotte, Michigan. She was launched on September 15, 1900. On November 1, 1900, the Shaw loaded 260,000 bushels of flax in Duluth, Minnesota, which was a new port record. In 1902 she was purchased by U.S. Steel, and in 1904 was transferred to the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. On May 25, 1906 the Shaw passed under the cable connecting the steamer Coralia and her barge Maia – the cable raked the Shaw’s deck of spars and the smokestack, causing the her to run aground. Repaired, the Shaw had a long career on the Great Lakes, before being sold, like her sister ships, to the Upper Lakes & St. Lawrence Transportation Company in 1940.
On September 6, 1963 the Shaw was dynamited in Chicago during a labor dispute between American and Canadian labor unions. The explosion blew a 2-foot hole in the port side of the vessel, in a failed attempt to sink her. The Shaw was towed to Chicago for repairs. The Shaw was laid up in Toronto in 1967, ending her career. Like the Victorious and the Houghton, the decommissioned Shaw was sold to the Toronto Harbour Commission in 1969 for use as a breakwater.
When the Ontario Government announced the creation of Ontario Place on three artificial islands in 1968, it was determined that a large breakwater was required to protect the islands (pods) from the wind and waves on Lake Ontario. Unlike the Corey/Ridgetown at Port Credit, visitors to Ontario Place can walk along the concrete walkways that cover and connect the three ships’ decks, which are known as the “Sunken Ships Promenade”.
NOTE: This story was previously published as part of the Way Back Wednesday series in Modern Mississauga by Heritage Mississauga.
It can be found on their website here: https://www.modernmississauga.com/main/2020/9/9/wayback-wendesday-a-freight-ful-thing-the-history-of-a-few-great-lakes-freighters